[9 June 2008]
Relaxing on a plush couch backstage after a concert with Dave Matthews Band last week, guitarist Tim Reynolds was tired. Little more than a half-hour before, he was playing a fiery cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and DMB’s own “Tripping Billies” as the band’s lead guitarist during a spirited encore in front of over 20,000 fans at Camden, N.J.’s Susquehanna Bank Center. Now, the seats were empty and DMB’s crew was packing up equipment for the night. Matthews milled outside Reynolds’ dressing room, conversing with friends. The backstage area was notably quiet—with drumsticks, copies of the set-list and empty water bottles scattered alongside duffel bags, guitar picks and left-over trays of melon and crackers growing staler by the minute—hardly the making of an E! True Hollywood Story.
Reynolds, now 50, was modest and hushed throughout our interview, often lowering his voice to a whisper whenever he spoke about himself. Unlike many guitarists considered among the best of their generation—and Reynolds certainly is—Reynolds revels in finding ways to not dominate songs with a powerful lead riff, especially when he plays with Dave Matthews Band, the jam-friendly multi-platinum rock-band from Charlottesville, Virginia which Reynolds has been associated with since it formed in 1991.
Reynolds, who grew up as an oft-moving Army brat with devout religious parents before settling for many years in Charlottesville where he first met Matthews, has enjoyed playing on the band’s current summer tour—a consistently sold-out annual American music rite that mirrors the following of the Grateful Dead at least in terms of fan fervor and dedication. This summer’s DMB tour is Reynolds’ first with Matthews & Co. in a decade.
Reynolds hasn’t exactly been slacking since his last outing with DMB in the studio on 1998’s Billboard-topping Before These Crowded Streets. He currently fronts his own rock-trio TR3, which has been through numerous incarnations since it began in 1984 but seems to have found new life this past spring during a cross-country tour of colleges and clubs.
After living in New Mexico for the last eight years, Reynolds recently relocated to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where he ran across two musicians, bassist Mick Vaughn and drummer Dan Martier, who eventually joined Reynolds in reigniting TR3 this past January. Being in the Outer Banks has also given him a shorter commute for his DMB studio work.
ON THE ROAD (AND IN THE STUDIO) WITH DMB
Far from being a side-player, Reynolds is undoubtedly an integral part of the current Dave Matthews Band sound, especially after keyboardist Butch Taylor unexpectedly quit DMB in late May after ten years of playing with the band.
“It’s just really a lot of fun,” said Reynolds about Dave Matthews Band’s current summer tour. “I’ve played some of these songs for a long time but I’m feeling the songs now more than ever. It’s hard to describe—it’s really nice. I’m really connecting with the music. It’s great to be able to play a gig and just like some of these songs so much—even more than in the past.”
For Reynolds, coming back to Dave Matthews Band this summer has only endeared him more to the music he began playing alongside Matthews in cramped Charlottesville bars and cafés over 15 years ago.
“(Dave Matthews Band music) has been around as long as a lot of other great music that you’ve been around and you’ve heard it long enough that it hasn’t faded away,” said Reynolds. “When you hear it, you still go ‘that’s a great song’. There’s nothing better for a musician to be able to play then some great songs, because that’s what you live for.”
Reynolds is currently joining Matthews and other DMB members Carter Beauford (drums), Boyd Tinsley (violin), Stefan Lessard (bass) and LeRoi Moore (saxophone) at Haunted Hollow, DMB’s personal recording studio on a private farm outside Charlottesville, for the group’s yet-untitled upcoming studio effort. Producer Rob Cavallo, best-known for producing Green Day’s blockbuster 1994 album Dookie, is DMB’s choice for producing its next release.
In an April interview with Matthews before he played an acoustic concert with Reynolds at Indiana University for Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, I asked DMB’s vocalist and guitarist about the band’s progress with Cavallo in the studio.
“(Cavallo) has done some great stuff. He’s just sort of slipped in like one of us,” said Matthews in April. “(Cavallo) is very subtle. I enjoy having him there. He’s very involved in the whole process… somehow we’re all very calm, and then the music is what seems to be inspired.”
“We’re laughing a lot, which I think is important,” said Matthews at IU about DMB’s new studio work. “We’re all writing together, which I think is important. It’s a change right now. It’s difficult to be in an organization, a group of people, in a gang that stays the same for so long. There’s a lot of crap that comes along with it. This time, for whatever reason, it’s really open and we’re in each other’s faces a lot. It’s good.”
Reynolds has already noticed a new energy within Dave Matthews Band during the band’s first few summer tour dates after a spring spent working diligently in the studio.
“I think (the energy) is actually going up now—even more than in the studio, because we were kind of just dead vibe” as the recording sessions stretched on, said Reynolds.
Reynolds said that after this summer tour Dave Matthews Band might return to the studio for some more recording sessions. Reynolds thinks that returning to the studio after the tour will only lead to good things for the next DMB record.
“I think it’ll be really good to get that (energy) after all this kind of symbiotic (performing) becomes morphed into one membrane of a band—when a band becomes a band again, and again, and again. It just gets to be a singular entity in some ways—that’s always far out and fun,” laughed Reynolds.
Reynolds sees the current musical direction of Dave Matthews Band as “kind of wide-open.”
“When people just play longer in their life, then the music gets wider and deeper and more colorful and has more breadth—if you let your life and your music become one,” said Reynolds. “I can feel that happening with all of us right now. It’s really cool.”
Reynolds first gained widespread national acclaim as Matthews’ playing partner on the two friends’ 1996 acoustic tour. A live performance by Matthews and Reynolds from February 1996 at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa led to RCA releasing Live at Luther College, which has since sold over three million copies, in early 1999 shortly before Matthews and Reynolds embarked on yet another national acoustic tour together. Matthews and Reynolds still enjoy performing acoustic shows outside of DMB studio and road efforts. In April, Reynolds joined Matthews at Seattle’s Key Arena for a “Seeds of Compassion” benefit with the Dalai Lama, a few days after the two close friends played their free Obama support concert at Indiana University.
Still, joining the entire Dave Matthews Band in the studio and on tour has given Reynolds the opportunity to catch up and jam with a group of musicians he considers to be among the best in the world.
“It’s great to hang out with all of these guys because I’ve known them since the ‘80s,” said Reynolds. “It’s just really great to get to hang out with everyone again. Everybody is just so super nice and sweet.”
For Reynolds, playing with Dave Matthews Band this summer is not as simple as plugging his guitar into the amplifier and remembering chord changes. Reynolds seeks a connection that goes beyond the melody or chorus—and he feels that the ten-year gap between his DMB tours has given him a chance to rethink many songs in DMB’s expansive catalogue.
“I know for myself, just being a little older and in a different head-space, I like this (tour) just from having ten years of life to draw upon,” said Reynolds. “When you start to learn the music, you have to get it to where you don’t have to think about all of the little parts—so you just play the music and let it become almost like tribal music or music that’s much older that’s rhythmic and has certain things that just happen repetitively in a way—which creates this vibration.”
On Dave Matthew Band’s current summer tour, Reynolds, who has usually played an acoustic guitar during all of his popular duo tours with Matthews, has solely played electric guitar. For Reynolds fans, this should come as no Dylan-plugs-in surprise, since Reynolds has been showcasing his talents on a variety of electric guitars for years with his band TR3 and on his numerous solo projects—notably his eclectic self-released 2005 album Parallel Universe.
“It’s really fun for me,” said Reynolds on playing the electric guitar in a live setting with DMB. “I get to create this interaction with musicians and play in space. I just feel as I’ve gotten older, I’m more into letting space just be—you play longer notes or less things and then you can almost hear everything because you’re having space between notes. You just hear the music more than ten years ago.”
Reynolds says he has enjoyed playing new covers with DMB this summer—many of them songs that Dave Matthews Band has never covered before. The night we spoke in Camden, Reynolds played a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Money” with DMB, which Reynolds said was “just really fun to play… you can improvise for days on a good song and just go off.”
Reynolds, who often covers Pink Floyd during his solo shows, said “I’m still trying to learn the guitar solo (on “Money”).”
“There’s a way to play that solo and not really play it note for note because that would take a long time—but just know the points that it really hits,” said Reynolds. “At that point it doesn’t matter if you play it exactly (correct), you know what the singing aspect of it is.”
“I’m not that scholarly in terms of every little nuance,” said Reynolds about his playing style. “I’m really so broad-based when I learn anything, it’s ridiculous. I feel like I just learn everything way too simply and as soon as I’m close I stop. Then, I go back years later and go ‘man, you didn’t learn (anything) from that song,’ you just learned the chords and that’s about it.”
“You learn, somehow,” said Reynolds about his musical development, “that your intuitive sense fills in the space where the little details are and you create your own little details after you own it. You just know the song and you feel it. It doesn’t really matter if you know the song… I just kind of play music from the body.”
RESURRECTING ROCK TRIO AS EASY AS TR3
Outside his work with Dave Matthews Band, Reynolds is also very busy with his own trio TR3, recording a new album and planning a fall tour. “We just really finished,” said Reynolds about recent TR3 recording sessions—which like the upcoming DMB record were also recorded at Haunted Hollow.
“(TR3) spent a week in the studio and pretty much finished with our record. I thought it went really well,” said Reynolds. “We just played three gigs right before that and really got into a groove and then went into the studio and recorded a bunch of music… it’s almost the best experience I’ve ever had in the studio, of anything that I’ve done. It came out really fast with the right kind of energy.”
The new TR3 album that Reynolds just wrapped up recording is different in both sound and structure than any record Reynolds has previously released.
“Some of it is more fleshed out with vocals and a little bit of color overdubbing—but not a whole lot,” said Reynolds about the new TR3 tracks. “There are some other songs that we recorded as a trio with no extra overdubs or anything, but just to capture the energy. I’m really psyched about this recording.”
Reynolds sees TR3’s new music as part of the great rock-and-roll tradition of playing rock as a three-piece ensemble—with a drummer, bassist and guitarist forming a concise, tight sound.
“This approach had more history to it in the sense that it’s the power-trio, rock-trio, three-piece, whatever you want to call it,” said Reynolds. “Over the years, that’s been a mode I’ve been really comfortable with, starting in the ‘80s when TR3 first started.
“Now, being a little older and listening to music more,” said Reynolds, “revisiting that format, I’m really liking it and learning a lot every time we play.”
“The first power trio I really got into was Grand Funk Railroad, then Led Zeppelin, which was like a power-trio with a singer,” recalled Reynolds about his inspirations for TR3. “Band of Gypsys, Jimi Hendrix, as well as Jimi Hendrix Experience—but particularly Band of Gypsys—amazing trio stuff because of the space that the drums and the bass used. Whereas with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which was great as well, the drummer was kind of jazzy and the bass was not playing a whole lot of stuff… Band of Gypsys is just like from heaven, it’s transcendent.”
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
This summer’s Dave Matthews Band tour may be Reynolds’ focus for the moment, but he is really looking forward to the release of the new TR3 record sometime this fall. Balancing TR3 with DMB is something Reynolds has come to enjoy, since it enables him to pursue his own musical interests while playing for thousands of fans each night with a group of old friends from Virginia who just happen, surely partly due to Reynolds’ able axe-work, to be considered one of rock’s greatest live bands.
As our interview concluded, Matthews stepped into the backstage dressing room to say hello. When I asked Matthews about what it is like to have Reynolds back with DMB on-stage for their summer tour, he smiled and said “It’s the best thing in the world.”
Most DMB fans would tend to agree.