On September 11 the Dave Matthews Band will release their eighth studio album, Away From the World, which marks a return to form of sorts for the group; after 2009’s more rock-heavy Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, DMB is working again with Steve Lillywhite, who produced the band’s first three albums. We recently caught up with Dave Matthews Band bassist Stefan Lessard, who opened up to us about the new album, how the band stays fit on the road (see their tour dates here!) and what Tool’s Maynard James Keenan has in common with Dave Matthews.
DMB are famous for touring nonstop. How do you kill time on the road? Do you have any sort of pre-show routines?
It varies from guy to guy. Everyone has their own schedule and their own routine. Going into these shows I like to have my mind free and clear, and my body feeling good. So on show days, I’ll let myself sleep in as late as I want, and I’ll try not to do too much during the day. I usually wake up and start practicing my scales just to tell myself, “Today I’m a bass player.” We get together as a band in the afternoon and rehearse for the show. We have great caterers, and they have good food for us. And we have our own travelling gym. Some of the guys will go work out before the show to warm themselves up. Typically, I wake up and think “Tonight’s the show” to get ready. Because, especially in places with no curfews, we can play for over three hours, so you never know how much energy you’ll need. It’s taken me many years to perfect making sure I feel great on stage, but this last tour I’ve been getting on stage feeling great, ready to play for three and a half hours.
What’s the portable gym like?
It’s a tractor trailer truck. It’s a gym, and everything is tied down. There’s a stair-master, there’s a running machine, and crossbars and weights and a bench. It’s good enough to get a work out in.
So does Dave lift a lot of weights?
[Drummer] Carter [Beauford] and [violinist] Boyd [Tinsley] work out in the gym a lot. Dave and I tend to get on our bikes more. There are lots of biking enthusiasts on this tour. Most days before rehearsal starts, I’ll see Dave take off with a crew member and go for a ride. I usually grab my bike, too. A lot of these places we play are near really great bike trails. They’re near parks or inside state parks and so there’s nice biking. It’s nice to get out when it’s nice out, go for a ride before you start work.
You guys have notoriously loyal fans. Any especially crazy or notable interactions?
What sticks out the most for me is have fans that tell me their moms turned them on [to DMB music] when they were 7 and they’re like 20 now. The generation gaps are pretty small. Our fans love to share our music with their friends and family. There’s a big sharing component. It started out that way with us, too. Our tapes were sent to different fraternities, and they’d share those tapes with other fraternities. It sort of continued that way. The fans are very connected. But as far as crazy fan interactions, you’re always going to get people who are so passionate that they tend to get so excited when they meet you they’re shaking and crying. You try to reassure them, like "I’m a real person, just like you."
I know it’s been a while since you worked Steve Lillywhite, who produced DMB's first three albums. How was it working with him on Away From the World?
It was great to work with Lillywhite again. There were 10 years or so between our last record with him and now. We didn’t feel like we were finished with him, and I think he felt the same way with us. It was exciting to go back. In the history of this band, this was the first time we came back to a producer. It was a nice reunion. When we recorded with Lilywhite the first few records, it was really a fun time. It was when the band was really bubbling, a lot of inspiration and creativity. So to get back together felt really good. We didn’t have to grease the wheels too much. It just came together. It was a really good time. It’s hard to find any negativity working with Steve. I love his production quality.
What are you listening to these days?
I have my old school favorites: Beastie Boys and Tool and A Tribe Called Quest. But bands that are coming up, too. I’m really into Mumford and Sons. It reminded me of listening to folk music with my friends in Virginia. And from there, I got into Of Monsters and Men. I got in them before they even got on the radio. I’d play them for everyone because I love them. I listen to Lumineers now. I’m really into this new folk music coming out. The Lumineers are such a cool band and their record was just awesome. And Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes just opened up for us. I really want to dive into more of their stuff. We also had Old Crow Medicine Show open for us. They’re a great band. Growing up in the country, I like hearing that type of music coming back around in a popular venue.
Speaking of opening bands, are any band you’d love to open for? Or any bands with whom you’d love to share a bill?
There are a few. I always thought a Radiohead/DMB show would be a great concert. We’re so different but similar in many ways. I always wanted to play with any band that Maynard (James Keenan of Tool) was a part of, so I always thought a Tool and DMB show would be huge. We did a festival and Puscifer opened up for us. So that was pretty cool. I never thought Maynard would be opening up for a band I was in. I’m a huge Maynard fan, so that was a lot of fun. We’ve opened for the Rolling Stones a few times. I’d love to do something with Pink Floyd, but I’d want to do it with Roger Waters. That’s probably it.
Do you think you’d ever work with Maynard in the studio? Maybe a DMB/Tool collaboration?
Dave has some wine stuff going on, he got together with a winemaker. Maynard makes wine. Maynard actually stomps the grapes himself. He’s so involved with the process. He has a vineyard in Arizona. So at this festival, he gave us a bunch of his wine. I don’t think everyone in the band knows who he is, but I’ve definitely talked to Dave about Tool more than anybody. I actually incorporate some of their songs into my solos on stage, I do "Schism." A little crossover.
So Dave and Maynard talked about wine?
Maynard invited us to the dressing room before our show to give us a couple of bottles of wine. So we went in there and we wanted to say, "Hey, great show." But he didn’t want to talk about the show at all, he just wanted to talk about wine. He loves it. He’s really passionate about it right now. So Dave and I, we enjoyed spending some time talking to him about wine. And one little spark could be anything. So maybe in the future, there will be something musically between us.