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Dave Matthews Talks Lady Bird, Boyd Tinsley’s Departure, and Men in Black in New Interview

David Marchese’s latest revealing long-form interview for New York Magazine is a candid talk with one Dave Matthews. The two Daves did a deep dive discussing public perception of Matthews’s career and music, the singer-songwriter’s feelings about his fan base and cultural significance, and his relationship to touring (and alcohol). For one thing, Dave Matthews is a more conflicted man than one might expect when it comes to his art.  One of the essential dilemmas of his career seems to be summed up by this statement to Marchese: “I’ll write a funky song about lust and sex and it makes you want to dance. I feel like that’s okay. But I also have to write songs about the dilemmas of being alive.”

Matthews also recognizes that even if someone might be otherwise disposed to like a Dave Matthews song or two, observing the culture around the band might well (even rightfully) put them off. “I’m trying to answer without attacking the culture that’s grown up around us — I could imagine that someone who had heard a recording of ours and liked it and was faced with our big, raucous audience might think, What is happening here?” Matthews explained.

Matthews said he sometimes retreats into himself to deal with his confusion and overwhelmed feelings about his career. He chose a very strange analogy to evoke his experience: “You know there’s the scene [from Men in Black] where an alien’s face comes off and there’s another little alien inside? I like being that little alien observing from the inside. That helps me feel distance from everything going on around me.”

Later, he shared some intriguing tidbits about his music listening habits, which involve both alt-J and Yes. Here’s Dave on his prog fave:

What are listening to you lately?

I hate to — no, I don’t hate to admit it.

Admit what?

I can’t stop listening to the album Fragile by Yes.

Are you kidding me?

I can’t stop.

You’re talking to a Yes fanatic.

[Laughs.] I’m glad. I don’t know why it’s that one album, but I’m just like, “Good God.” I’ll be sitting somewhere and that music will pop into my head and then I have to go put the album on.

I know exactly what you mean. Close to the Edge is the better album, but yeah, Fragile is a mind-blower.

I should try Close to the Edge, right? I just keep coming back to Fragile. A friend of mine was playing me a few tracks from the new N.E.R.D album, and it was great. Then I said, “Let me play you this.” I played him Fragile and after he goes, “Fuck man. You win.”

The takeaways here are that Dave Matthews is still in the fledgling stages of his Yes fandom (Close to the Edge is obviously way better) and that he has the correct take about the issue of whether or not Yes is better than N.E.R.D. Matthews also expressed his thoughts on the use of his 1996 hit “Crash” in last year’s unexpected indie sensation Lady Bird:

…everything to do with Lady Bird was flattering. It was so lovely to see the song used as a central tool in someone else’s story. And the moment in the movie when it plays is so beautiful: Lady Bird takes a stand, you know? It was also nice for me to see the song through someone else’s eyes because I have a strange relationship with a lot of music that I’ve written. I listen to it and I’m like, “What am I talking about? This is bullshit.” So seeing “Crash Into Me” in Lady Bird allowed me to hear my music without having to impose myself on it.

In February, iconic and longtime DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley announced that he was be taking a break from touring with the band, explaining that he needed to “focus on my family and my health 4 a while” and “bring more balance to my life.” Matthews worked through his feelings about Tinsley’s decision with Marchese. “I have a deep love for Boyd, and he has to deal with his stuff,” he explained. “In many ways I’m sure it would’ve been a lot easier for him to just say, “I’m good. Let’s go play.” But you can’t just throw yourself away, your wellness away, because you play violin in a band.”

He continued: “I’m used to turning to my right and seeing him going bananas — some days doing it better than other days. You know there’s that idea of genius as something that, like, comes into a room through the window and into a person rather than lives in the person all the time? Sometimes I’d hear Boyd and I’d be like, Holy shit, you are good. Other times it’d be like, Clearly today you left the window closed. But that’s beside the point. We’re all like that…The answer is that I don’t know how it’s going to be without him there.

“Nobody is happy about this situation,” Matthews concluded. “Except that we’re happy he can figure some stuff out. I hope he does. But I’m going to miss having that whirling-dervish Adonis-Muppet over there on my right.”

Other good quotes from the piece: “By anyone else’s standards but my own I am a raging alcoholic,” “Don’t get me wrong, Jimmy Buffett is amazing,” etc. Read the excellent full interview at New York Magazine.