When Dave Matthews walks into a room, he does so smoothly and calmly. He’s not bothered by eyeballs – and if he was, he’d just as easily leave through the front door. Matthews, when he meets you, offers to buy you a coffee. Then he sits and begins to open up as you ask questions about politics, naturopathy and his upcoming tour with guitarist, Tim Reynolds. The man who made the words, “Crash into me” and “Satellite” famous explains and expounds in conversation and he’s not afraid to make a monkey face or use a cartoonish voice. Matthews, on a warm spring afternoon, drinks red rooibos tea and says, “Oh, that’s exciting!” when the barista tells him the espresso machine is broken. He also just turned 50 years old.
You recently had a birthday, do you find yourself being more health conscious lately?
I think I’m going through a change in my – well, I don’t know about a change, but I’m a little more health conscious because I’m older.
You look good!
Well, that’s nice. Yeah, well, that’s just only because my kids are getting older. I don’t think I was particularly health-conscious. I’ve never considered myself that but I’m becoming more like that just because I figure I should probably start investing in staying around a little longer if I want to see my kids graduate from college. Or enjoy what adventures they get up to, I probably should ease back a little at least on Irish Whisky, ease back on beer.
Is there a food you love? Are you a pizza person?
Oh yeah, I love all those things. I love ice cream and pizza and tons of animal products, if the animals are happy and I conk them on the head and take their flesh. But I’ve also spent the last week being a vegan. Only because it’s good exercise.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be a vegan forever. First of all, I’m sure there’s a huge school of people that would say I’m wrong and there’s a huge school of people who aren’t paying attention, but I do believe that there’s a kind and sustainable way to raise animals because we’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve been talking. So, the morality of it, if an animal is treated well and if an animal is treated respectfully, and the quality of life is there, the act of slaughtering, if it’s done respectfully, all of that I think is, I don’t think you can say there’s an immorality there.
There are so many mouths to feed.
There are. But I do think there’s a way to do it. We don’t need to eat or waste as much as we do. I don’t think we need to eat as much as we do. That element could use some changes. But I think the way we relate to the planet, the way we farm is not strategic.
So, let me ask, what level of responsibility do you feel for something like that? For me, I see people who need groceries or hear of someone who got kicked out of their house and they have an autistic son and I have the inclination to always help – but you have to have boundaries, limits.
The one place where I think, as far as government is concerned, I think governments have a much greater responsibility to care for the population. I don’t care whether you call it socialism or whether you call it a safety net. The greatest flow of money is in the hands of a very small group of people and corporations and they should pay a greater amount of money back, in my opinion. Or at least an equal amount of money, percentage-wise, as everyone else. Then, I think, culturally we need to try and look after each other. Socially, we need to look after each other. But I don’t think guilt is a useful relationship to have with yourself. I don’t think that emotion does anything. And I think some people do good things. And some people make an effort, but we can’t all. It’s hard to always be available. But it’s easy to indulge a respect and also not fear each other. I think our society is more and more getting obsessed by the individual, as opposed to the collective. America loves to obsess on the individual. I’m not saying it’s bad to say, ‘I’m me and I deserve the respect of all individuals.’ Yeah, we all do. But at the same time, if that individual figured out a way to exploit the system – to use the society they’re in – and make a billion dollars, it doesn’t mean they worked harder than anyone else, because you can’t work a million times harder than someone else.
You can’t work 40-million hours a week!
If someone digs ditches for 40 hours a week and then works at a restaurant for 20 hours a week so they can get food on the table, there’s no way that a guy who works 60 hours a week and makes billions of dollars has worked that much harder. They say, ‘I worked hard for my money.’ Yeah, but you didn’t work that hard. So hand over the money. And these days a lot of money goes to the military. And if we’re stuck with this Nation-State concept, then we don’t want to deplete our military so Canada and Mexico can take over. But if we’re stuck with this, I think we have a greater responsibility. And if you have a lot, give some back somehow – it doesn’t have to be through taxes, because maybe that system doesn’t work too well. But I do think we should have a compulsion to want to help. I always thought it was interesting in South Africa when I was growing up, if you sat 100 paces away – I saw it over and over again – people that were begging, it was inevitably the person who looked like they didn’t have much at all that who would be giving the beggar money.
Right because they know want more keenly.
But then the person with the fur coat and fancy bag would give the person a wide birth like they’re going to catch poverty from them, or something. Nobody wants to be poor and nobody deserves to be poor. There’s not so many poor people that they’re going to bankrupt the rich. There’s no chance of that. If every rich person just said, ‘Let’s house the poor,’ they probably wouldn’t notice that their money was missing.
Are you on your computer or watching TV, following all the Trump headlines?
I think it’s great when people get together and take to the streets. Any time. I think it’s great. And there’s merit in a lot of different responses. I think the dust is going to settle to a degree. I’m an immigrant so I have very strong opinions that favor immigration only because I believe that any healthy democracy – whenever you have immigrants, whether they wanted to come or not, because the slaves are a great example, or the Irish potato famine – they grow the economy. Because suddenly you have a population of people, willing or unwilling, like the Chinese building the railroads. And then there’s going to be people who take advantage of that by getting rich by exploiting people and there’s going to be people who stay comfortable but not doing anything because somebody else is doing it. And there’s always going to be people that do that. But if you took that labor force of new people in all levels – I’m not just saying farm hands or just busboys – but all levels, doctors and technicians. If you take that away, it’s not like the people here that don’t have work are going to fill those holes. You have to be more proactive if you want to employ the people that are unemployed here. Like if you employ coal miners in West Virginia and not have them be coal miners because coal is a dying industry, no matter what anybody says, then you need to go in and build windmills and solar in West Virginia. And so those people can say, ‘Oh I got a job!’ and it’s not a dying job, it’s a growing industry. Renewable energy is growing and it employs more people than fossil fuels already in America. And yet, government, because there’s money that’s left over.
Fossil fuels still have so many chips in the game.
All the money in renewable energy is in investment, in the future. But the fossil fuel industry has the gold now, so they can line the pockets of whomever. Here’s what I think I can do. I mean, I’d love to run around the streets and wear a pink pussy hat on my head.
You don’t feel comfortable doing that?
No, I’m happy to do that. But what I think I can do is try and get people to move solar industries and wind industries into West Virginia to manufacture those giant things. Get it to those places. Go to the closed down air-conditioning factory and build solar panels in the same building and hire people to do it. That’s a very simple way to look at it, but that’s a New-New Deal. As opposed to, ‘We’ll bring back the air conditioner!’ No, you’re not going to bring back the air conditioner plant. So I think there’s lots of opportunities. What is a crucial fight for me would also be immigration. I think [the recent political move banning immigration] is a foul, foul mistake. That’s one to fight. I’m not as obsessed with – although I understand it – ‘Respect me, respect who I am!’ I mean, I understand that. But I feel like there’s distraction, a slight of hand going on. It’s like, ‘Look over here!’ while we do something else. In a weird way, I think some of the immigration stuff, the shock of it distracts us from what’s happening on Wall Street. Although it is illegal. If you think about international agreements and how we should treat refugees, to say we won’t take them in, breaks a lot of treaties. And it’s just against what we stand for. But I’m not sure that [Trump has] succeeded in doing that yet. The wall I find offensive. The concept has got to be illegal. It’s just so obscene. But maybe they can build a wall. It’s such a waste of money.
Yeah you see these Facebook memes, ’$20 billion for the wall and $20 billion would cure homelessness.’
And a wall, you just climb a wall!
And there’s a wall there already, fences.
And rivers. It’s not easy. If you ask anybody who got here illegally, it’s not easy to sneak in here. Less people are coming now than were coming before. Obama was, what did they call him, the ‘Deporter and Chief.’ He was rough on immigrants. Ramping it up a bit more is just dangerous and I think it could be more damaging. But I think the hoopla about everything [Trump’s] doing makes us miss the Wall Street stuff. We had a big problem and now they’re saying the whole housing thing had nothing to do with the lack of regulations, but he’s talked about how he’s helping the American worker, or that’s his goal. But he’s hiring all the people that stole people’s houses. He’s hiring that one guy from Goldman Sachs who’s going to get confirmed, the Treasury Secretary, I think 30,000 people lost their homes on his watch at Goldman Sachs. There’s not a lot of people screaming, ‘What are you doing on Wall Street?’ They’re saying, ‘Respect me as a woman, or respect the rights of lesbians, gays, transgenders,’ which I think is valid and there’s a real, genuine fear. And we’ve come a long way in those areas, especially here on the coasts. The verbal assault has happened and so it’s fine to have a verbal assault back, but while we’re having a fight over that, there’s real stuff happening on Wall Street. And to assume that something more sinister is happening quietly is a good idea. Anyway, I don’t find him and everyone he’s surrounded himself with – I find him impossibly unsatisfying. And I think he has very little imagination and I don’t think he cares in the slightest about what people think of him.
I think he likes to be liked. But I think he convinced himself that anyone who says they don’t like him is either lying or is wrong. And once he can do that, it doesn’t really matter if people like you.
Right, he’s not really populist in a way for the country he’s serving. But I think he’s a narcissist and he wants to be at the center.
And that he deserves to be. To be a narcissist I don’t think you have to want to be liked. But you certainly want to think you have the right to be. Even though it seems to a degree, I hope, that Congress will maybe step up a bit more and not just have it be Lindsey Graham and [John] McCain on the Republican side saying, “Hey, wait – don’t do that.” Even though, they’re not doing enough. People need to certainly stand up. But there’s a lot of things in place that hopefully – there’s no question that Trump, if he could, would be a Fascist. I don’t think anyone, even that voted for him, would question that. They’d be like, ‘Yeah, of course!’
It’s funny how Socialism has such a terrible connotation but Fascism, half the country is like, ‘Cool!’
Yeah, he ‘shoots from the hip. Mussolini was awesome!’ Yeah, there’s some bad taste – maybe it started in the 80’s, but I don’t know. I think even under Clinton I think Socialism, for whatever reason, the idea of it – I mean, it’s such a nice word! It’s not a bad thing.
What’s your relationship with your cell phone?
Well, I think I’m on it too much. For sure.
Do you have a Facebook feed that you go through, something like that?
No. I do have Instagram because my kids got me on it. But I have a very small following. I don’t have an Instagram that’s public. I might, but it’s not really mine. I think it’s the band’s. I think the band has a Facebook. But I’ve never seen it. I’ve never been on Facebook.
Really, you’ve never been on Facebook?
It’s not a position. It’s just – unless I went on as someone and just for the sake of connecting. It just seems like a lot to manage. I get to the point when somebody sends me a video that’s linked to Facebook, but I just try to find another way to see it. It’s kind of nice not to be part of something.
I talked with Sir Mix A Lot recently and he said his #1 piece of for young musicians is that they’re walking, talking brands as soon as they release their first album.
But I don’t care. Only because of the way that the people around me have run the business around me. I’m not opposed to that, I think I have a real presence, a relative presence, a digital presence. But I haven’t spent a lot of time branding, but I guess somebody has.
Certainly – I think of that drawing, the Dancing Nancy.
Yeah, that thing’s all over. And I drew it a long time ago. It was our first t-shirt. And now I see it around like, ‘Oh, look!’ And I kinda like it. It’s not offensive, it’s not cute. It’s just kinda graceful. A little graceful image. It’s got a little vibe to it. I kinda like it.
Do you find yourself pining any way for pre-internet days?
I think it’s amazing. I do think it’s more difficult to – and I definitely talk to people in elevators, which somebody really like and other people really don’t like at all. Quite often people don’t like to be talked to in elevators – sometimes more than others, sometimes I don’t want to talk. But I like doing it. ‘Hello!’ Making small talk.
You must learn something from people at least sometimes in those occasions.
Yeah, if you just talk to people and ask them, ‘What’s doin?’ I have a friend, he’s on Facebook and Instagram. He’s running and walking across the U.S. He’s not far from done. He went from Virginia and now I think he’s in New Mexico. Twenty miles a day. He’s got a tent and a little buggy. And he knocks on doors, ‘Can I pitch my tent in your yard?’ He tells people what he’s doing. He talks to people as he goes, makes conversation with anybody. Finds out all sorts of things. But the whole way he’s meeting people and that’s the whole point of what he’s doing. He’s hairy but he wasn’t before. He was a well-kept kid. Now he’s pretty bushy.
Tell me about the tour you’re about to do with Tim Reynolds.
I’m not really a proud person. Well, sometimes when my kids are concerned. But I think I still feel proud about the unusualness of my band and I love the people that I work with. Although, now we’ve been around long enough and things that are around long enough don’t seem that unusual unless they’re awesome like smaller flowers. And I love the band I play with but I just felt as though I was starting to – I had to do something else.
Is that how you felt when you did your solo record ‘Some Devil,’ too?
Yeah. Just because I feel like I need to avoid the analogy of the dragon eating its own tail. When you do something the first time, whether you succeed because of your own good work or good luck or because of someone else helping you, when you do a thing a first time, there’s a sort of blindness and courage. But when you do it a second time and when you keep doing it then at some point, for me, it starts to feel like, ‘What am I doing?’ At one point it went from I don’t want it to become a thing that I’m doing because I’ve become an imitation of myself. I don’t want it to become because I have to do it because I did it. Because I’m lucky enough that it happened well so I have to do it again. Not that that’s what it is necessarily. And there’s also – relationships change, you know. We’ve been together for 25 years. And I love everyone that I work with but I just felt like this year I wanted to do something different. So, initially, I wasn’t going to do anything but I love playing with Tim and I don’t get to do it very often because I’m out with the band.
It must spawn something different, creatively.
Tim was the first musician in Virginia that I played with when I moved there. He was the first musician I went to see. And then I met him and I watched his band and then we started to talk and he let me sit in with his band. We’d hang out a bit and play music and make weird, fun recordings. I was never really that eloquent but he certainly inspired me. So I have a really great connection to him. We did some crazy out music early on. But that was before the band. And I just love playing with him. So we’re going to do a couple shows for a couple weeks down in Mexico. Then we’ll do a tour in Europe, which I’m excited about, going back there. He and I did something there probably ten years go, maybe more. And we had a blast. So I’m really excited to go back with him again. And we’re going to do a little tour in the States. We’re playing some big venues and some different venues. So it’s going to be interesting. But we have done some pretty big places together, but the crowd just has to expect something a little different. But they do. I think they really enjoy it. People enjoy relaxing.