Talking taxes and bush turkeys with the main man behind Dave Matthews Band
29.01.2020

Talking taxes and bush turkeys with the main man behind Dave Matthews Band

Words by Fergus Neal

With a career spanning 28 years, Dave Matthews Band are one of the most influential bands in rock history.

Now the band are returning to Australia, where they hope to see some of Byron Bay’s bush turkeys between headlining Bluesfest.

In 1991, vocalist/guitarist Dave Matthews decided to put some songs he had written on tape and sought the assistance of drummer Carter Beauford and saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who were both accomplished jazz musicians in the local Charlottesville music scene. A sixteen-year-old bassist, Stefan Lessard, came on board shortly thereafter.

“When we started, we had four songs. I’d written three songs, and we had one cover,” says Matthews.

“Our first show was on Earth Day and I was still a bartender. We didn’t notice it when we were jamming in Carter’s basement, which is where we started, but when we played our first show, right away, every person there was dancing.

“Something happened that none of us expected, which was telling for all of us. I couldn’t have imagined where we are now, but I certainly could imagine that maybe we might last a couple of years.

DMB have an infectious and distinctive sound, which quickly attracted lots of early attention and a die-hard loyal fan base, catapulting the band into one of the most successful touring acts of the past three decades.

“We were making a noise that was unusual; it feels good to be part of something that is fresh. We had jazz players and I have no idea what kind of music I was into – something between Cat Stevens and Motörhead, and lots of different music from around the world.

“Everyone in the band has a different but pretty eclectic collection of music, which is why I think when we got into a room together and we said, ‘What kind of music do we play?’, we all agreed, ‘Well let’s find out’. So we just played music and what happened, happened. It’s still kind of how we approach things now by saying, ‘What the hell’s going to happen now?’. We don’t plan to be something.

“The fact that I have a gig tomorrow with this band where a couple of us have been together for more than 20 years, and we’re still super psyched to play with each other, that’s a real measure of success for me. We might get tired on the road, but all of us are as psyched as we’ve ever been to play together, which is a remarkable thing to be part of.”

As well as spine-tingling performances, the band are known for their philanthropic efforts and, in 1999, founded The Bama Works Fund. When asked what inspires the band to pursue an artistic route while concurrently being activists, Matthews replies with the learned wisdom of going from nothing to something.

“We all came from different backgrounds but all of our backgrounds certainly made us grateful for whatever we got. We’ve also been so lucky that the people around us agree with this philosophy, which helps a lot.

“For instance, this is the first time in history that I – meaning someone who’s overpaid – will pay less tax than someone with a medium income. We love playing music, but we also know we won’t slow down our environmental and philanthropic work until the governments of the world raise my taxes and start using it for the right things.”

DMB are headlining Bluesfest 2020, and although Matthews is excited to play the main stage, he’s also excited to run into the little creatures that will be pecking away backstage.

“I’m excited to see those strange bush turkeys that you’ve got down there, I’ve heard a lot about them, and I’m a big fan.”

Dave Matthews Band headline Bluesfest 2020 from Thursday April 9 – Monday April 13, tickets via bluesfest.com.au. They’ll also hit Margaret Court Arena on Friday April 17. Grab your tickets to that show via livenation.com.au.