TR3 - The Left Hand of Darkness
TR3 - On This Mountain Born in Clouds

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Marquee Mag: Early Days w/Dave

By Timothy Dwenger

In the early 1990s, while grunge and the Seattle sound was dominating airwaves, the vibrant music scene of Charlottesville, Va., was giving birth to a band that is today one of the biggest and most popular in the world — Dave Matthews Band. While most of the members of the group had played locally for years in various projects, it wasn’t until the band’s namesake moved into town that things really started to come together.

“When I first met Dave he was working as a bartender at Miller’s, where I played every Monday and almost every weekend,” said Matthews’ friend and DMB guitarist Tim Reynolds in a recent interview with The Marquee, at the tail end of the band’s fall tour. “He has such a charismatic personality and was a great bartender and I remember that he was always letting musicians come in after hours to drink and play.”

It was during some of those late night jam sessions that Matthews met Carter Beauford and LeRoi Moore, who later helped to found DMB, and also began to cultivate a fruitful musical partnership with Reynolds. “After we got to know each other at Miller’s we would hang out in his basement and make home recordings of some crazy shit, man. Space rock, rock and roll, we were as crazy as we could be. That’s how we got to know each other as musicians,” Reynolds said. “During that time I had my band TR3 and he even came out and sang at a couple of our gigs and it was just so much fun.”

While the main focus of their careers took different paths, with Matthews obviously focusing on DMB and Reynolds on his solo work and TR3, the two remained great friends and frequently collaborated musically. Reynolds has been featured on many DMB studio releases and frequently showed up on stage at gigs, until he finally joined the band as a full-time touring member in 2008. While DMB is certainly where the bulk of their commercial success lies, it is the low-key acoustic shows that the two began to perform in 1993 that many fans point to as the highlight of the music that Matthews and Reynolds create together.

“After their band had been playing around the East Coast for a while, Dave and I did a benefit for the Middle East Children’s Alliance, where he played a guitar and I played this Ashiko African drum,” said Reynolds. “Not long after that we played a gig with two acoustic guitars at The Prism Coffee House and that went over really well because Dave already had a following around town and so did I. As their band was coming up we did these little acoustic gigs from time to time, first in Charlottesville and then finally we took it on the road.”

The acoustic shows were a huge success for the pair and a bootleg of their first show at The Prism Coffee House was one of the most sought-after recordings in college dorm rooms on the East Coast and beyond for much of the mid-’90s. Despite the mediocre quality of dubbed and redubbed cassettes, the obvious talent and legendary “davespeak” was still clearly audible. Today, a pristine copy of that performance is available from the DMB website as an official DMBLive release and allows the listener to hear more of what made that evening so special and why Reynolds remembers it as being so fun.

Seventeen years later, the duo is still playing acoustic shows together and according to Reynolds, they are still having as much fun doing it as they did all those years ago. While the full fledged tours that they staged a few times over the first ten years of the project seem to be a thing of the past, fans are constantly scouring the web for signs of upcoming one-off shows, or maybe a short string of dates, to satisfy their cravings to hear their favorite songs stripped down into different arrangements.

While it’s Matthews’ songs that bring the masses, it’s often Reynolds’ name on the lips of slack jawed concert goers as they leave the venue. His virtuosic abilities on the acoustic guitar and his masterful use of a wide array of effects pedals summon sounds from the instrument that most couldn’t dream of. Intricate loops, lightning fast riffs and swells that at times sound like a full string section, add incredible texture to Matthews’ rootsy pop songs.

At most shows, Matthews will yield the spotlight to his friend for a couple of solo tunes, where Reynolds truly shines as he showcases the wide influences that make his original music so eclectic. “I’ve always tried to garner different kinds of musical education from different styles of music; jazz, classical, etc.,” Reynolds explained. “I played the sitar for a while and I taught myself a little violin to educate myself on sonic structure and then I took it all back to the guitar and used everything I learned to expand my playing style as much as I could.”

Any one of Reynolds’ 14 studio releases will clearly demonstrate that the enormous variety of music he has absorbed during his lifetime shines through in his playing. His most recent, The Limbic System, (sic) is a double album recorded several years ago that is comprised of an entire disc of solo acoustic guitar pieces and a second disc of songs that feature his unique vocal style. “I had been wanting to put out The Limbic System for a while,” Reynolds said. “I had recorded a lot of that before I left New Mexico. It wasn’t all stuff that I was doing with the intention of releasing. I was just doing it for personal expression and I had the space in New Mexico to record the tracks.” Despite the fact that he moved out to the Outer Banks of North Carolina about three years ago, he spoke about his time in New Mexico very fondly. “I love it out west. I’ll hopefully return to the West at some point,” he said.

Though it will only be for a few days, Reynolds will return to the West this month for two shows with Matthews in Las Vegas and one right here in Colorado, where the two haven’t played a public acoustic gig together since 1999 when they held court for two nights at the Paramount Theatre downtown.

“It’s just fun to play acoustic. It’s a whole different thing,” said Reynolds. “I learned last year when we played Vegas that going acoustic in a big venue kinda takes some adjustment. Just because you are playing in a big room with acoustic guitars doesn’t mean you have to hit the guitar harder to make it louder. In fact, if you take the opposite approach it works better. If you play softer and let the soundman crank it up you have somewhere to go. If you start out hitting it really hard, you have already blown the dynamic of what an acoustic instrument can do. I just try to remember that, it was a lesson that I took away from those shows last year. I’ve been doing it for years and years but every gig is a new opportunity for education.”

The gigs will be some of the last for Matthews for some time. He announced earlier this year that his band plans to take a break for 2011 and some of 2012. The Dave Matthews Band — lest we remind you — has been named the top touring artist of the past decade, selling in excess of 11 million tickets and grossing more than $500 million.