Boyd Tinsley: Reflections with BT
Photo by Bill Kelly
When you’ve been in the same group for upwards of 25 years, finding something new and fresh can be one of the most daunting tasks. Enter Dave Matthews Band. This year the road warriors found something new in something old, as DMB will return to their two-set format this summer during their annual tour, mixing in acoustic and electric material.
For violinist Boyd Tinsley, this is just another chapter for the guys, who have embraced the ability to change their live approach when necessary to keep things fresh for their wildly devoted fan base. Tinsley explains that the late saxophonist LeRoi Moore, is responsible for instilling that mindset. “He said, ‘What you did yesterday was yesterday. This is what we’re gonna do today.’ Those words got ingrained into our heads and it’s still like that.” We caught up with Boyd following the band’s trip to South Africa and South America earlier this year to discuss all things DMB Tour as well as his love of Twitter, fans, and the band’s bizarre video for “What Would You Say.”
To start, you guys just returned from your first run of shows in South Africa. How’d you like performing there?
It was really great to get down there, man. We had a great time. Honestly, the sad part was that LeRoi wasn’t there with us. It’s almost like we were doing it for him. He was with us when we were there. It was also cool to visit where Dave is from [Johannesburg] and see the love we got from the people there. It’s just a really cool neighborhood; really chill. There’s coffee shops and great restaurants; it’s really hip. It’s just one of those places you can walk around. And there’s this huge rock mountain called Table Top Mountain, that was cool. I went up there with our photographer and we walked around the base of it and took some pictures and filmed some video and it was really beautiful.
Transitioning to the shows, what was the band’s approach in South Africa given that you were playing in front of a group of people who may not have seen the band before?
They were so appreciative that we came and they just gave us so much love. It was really beautiful, man, how excited they were. I think that we wanted to give them some of the familiar DMB songs because here in the States people can travel around and they hear some stuff that other people may not be able to hear, except on recordings and so forth. As far as that whole tradition of us breaking out all these older songs and songs we haven’t even recorded – and playing very few radio hits during the concert – that’s something you get used to here in the States. But there, there’s a lot of people who know who we are but maybe don’t know who we are to the degree that people here in the States do. So we wanted to give them “Crash” and “Ants” and all the radio tunes that they would be more familiar with. But I think the crowd was very DMB-hip, because there were people singing the lyrics and singing them very well. That’s a telltale sign of how much your fans are into the music, when everybody starts singing the words. And they sing very well in South Africa and in South America.
I got to meet some and they were just very nice people; “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and “We hope you come back soon.” And I hope we go back soon. It was just a great place to be.
When you play cities and countries for the first time, is it still cool to hear thousands of people singing the words despite not having seen the band before?
It’s really cool, man. It’s really, really cool. Playing in the band, you can get this one sided perspective which is just playing the music, but not necessarily being the fan listening to the music. I think over the last few years, because I’ve had a lot of contact with fans, I’m beginning to understand what the music means to them. I play the music, but now I get to understand how it affects them and what it means to them. This music is special to people; people say it gets them through things; people listen to this music every day and people meet at our shows and get married. There’s all these beautiful things; there’s entire families that come to our shows. We see that a lot: Grandmothers, the kids, the grandkids. And nobody was forced to come; they all wanted to come! It might’ve been Grandma who said “Let’s go!”
The music is cross-generational, and it brings people together. A lot of that I really just sort of discovered – and my eyes were opened up to it – over the last few years, meeting a lot of fans and talking to people. And people tell me what the music means to them and it’s good to know. I can only speak for myself, but you sort of get lost in your world and my world is going to shows and playing the music. And from all of that – giving 150 percent of my heart as we all do every night – the music is affecting us, too. There’s an emotional explosion from all of us every night. It is so much fun to play that music and there’s this energy that comes over you. But to think of it how the fans think of it is something that’s taken me a long time to think about. This music is so special to them and that’s really cool.
I can still remember playing at Trax in Charlottesville in the early 90s and playing at Eastern Standard or playing at the Flood Zone in Richmond; playing at the Wetlands and playing at smaller venues; the rehearsals we did in garages and Dave’s mom’s basement and the attic above Trax. There was nothing but dreams and the willingness to just follow this music and to believe in what we were doing. And at the same time we were in disbelief that this music actually works. It was like, “Wow, what happened here?” It was like the perfect people came together and played the perfect music. It was always, for us, we had to create this; we had to create how you put together a violin and a tenor sax – and sometimes a soprano – and an acoustic guitar and a killer drummer and a sixteen or seventeen year old jazz bassist. (Laughs) But it just came together! It just happened. It wasn’t like we were sitting down and trying to figure stuff out; we’d figure stuff out by playing. We would just play and everyone knew where their place was and when to come in and when to come out.
That’s pretty much the way that it still is; we write in the studio but a lot of the songs that we play live we haven’t recorded yet. You know how a lot of our songs come about? Basically Dave or somebody just starts playing, and then Carter jumps in and then me and then LeRoi. And all of a sudden there’s a song that came out of nowhere. I can think of at least one – I know there’s a few others – that we’ve played live and just spontaneously appear from playing. But it’s like that. What are we? Who are we as a band? What do we call this? We never defined ourselves; we just wanted to make the music as best we could and we also wanted to take the music to always grow and explore and never get to the place where it’s like, “This is where we are, let’s just keep going with this thing.”
I think that if there was one person in particular that ingrained that philosophy into the band in the beginning it was LeRoi. He said, “Let’s take it to the next level.” He said, “What you did yesterday was yesterday. This is what we’re gonna do today.” Those words got ingrained into our heads and it’s still like that. We’re always about exploring and not accepting that we’ve arrived somewhere. It’s like that with anything; music or anything else. You can arrive. But there are limitless possibilities; it’s just whether or not you keep going for them. It’s still like that, you know? The last couple of albums – GrooGrux King and Stand Up particularly – a lot of that came from just playing. We’d get into the room and an individual musician just started playing something. It’s just the stuff that happens in the moment and that stuff is from the heart. When it’s not contrived and you’re not sitting there trying to figure out to play this or play that. It’s just from the heart, and that’s where our music come from; it does come from the heart. We just listen and we feel it and it’s really fun. We still have no definition for this band and what kind of music this is because it doesn’t matter. We dig it and we’re having fun and the crowd digs it so whatever. It’s music. I don’t think that will ever die; that attitude of exploring and taking it to the next level.
This summer we’re gonna be doing a slightly different format to the shows. But in some respect, some of the stuff that we’re gonna be doing this summer is actually stuff that we had done at one point or another in the career of the band. In the very beginning we used to do two sets, and they were two long sets, too. (Laughter) We were working hard back in the days, because we were doing sometimes five gigs a week; six gigs a week. But we always delivered two sets; we worked, man. So we’ve done that before. And sometimes – if not all the times – Dave would start off the show acoustically. He’d come out there with just an acoustic guitar and just sing. I remember “Redemption Song” was one that he did a lot; there were quite a few. That aspect of starting off in an acoustic way has been there before.
The idea of different groups of us – subsets of us – doing acoustic things together, that idea has been around for a while. It was something that was definitely talked about. It was like going to South Africa. It was something we always talked about and this is one of those times that we’re actually doing it. And I think people are gonna see a lot of variety – a lot of different sides of the band – in one night. People are gonna see the band in an acoustic setting and then a full band setting and then a smaller acoustic setting with one or two other people. And all that music comes from different places. How I approach something acoustically is different than how I approach something with a full band. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s something that’s different for us and I think it’s something that will just sort of allow us to expand. I think playing in so many different formats in one night is gonna make it even more fun; I’m looking forward to it. Some of these things we’ve talked about before and then we’ve done them, but we’ve never done this before and it’ll be fun. We are explorers, DMB, and fearless ones. Wherever we go we have fun, and I can honestly say that.