By GENE STOUT
Are Dave Matthews and his family comfortably settled into life in Seattle for the foreseeable future?
I asked Matthews that question in a recent phone interview in advance of shows No. 40, 41 and 42 by the Dave Matthews Band Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the Gorge. Matthews was at his home in Charlottesville, Va., where he has spent the summer with his family — wife Ashley, twin daughters Stella and Grace and son August.
“We’re thinking about middle schools, so I guess that ‘yes’ is the answer,” he said.
“We haven’t had a conversation about relocating school systems, which is really the big (question). It hasn’t come to the dining room table. So at the moment, the only middle schools we’re looking at are in the Seattle area. That’s the only way I can answer that question.
“We love being in Virginia, but we’re here in the summer, which is the worst time. There’s an irony in the fact that if you have time to spend in the Northwest and time to spend in Virginia, we’ve ended up doing the exact opposite of what would be desirable.
“We really do love Seattle, and we’ve got a great community up there. It’s a great city . . . For the most part, I feel comfortably middle class in Seattle.”
Over the phone, Matthews was in a friendly, upbeat mood. The family was preparing for a celebration of the twins’ 11th birthday that day, but the laid-back rock star was apologetic about running late for the interview, his second on a busy morning.
“I talk to much, that’s my problem,” he said with a chuckle.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview that didn’t appear in the Times story because of space constraints.
The Dave Matthews Band’s new album, “Away From the World” (due Sept. 11), includes the powerful song “Mercy,” featuring the lyric, “Don’t give up/ I know you can see/ All the world and the mess that we’re making.” It was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who produced the group’s first three albums.
The band’s longtime relationship with Lillywhite had come to an end in 2000 when the dark, brooding songs from the band’s studio sessions were scrapped and Matthews began writing with Glen Ballard, known for his work with Alanis Morissette. The result was “Everyday,” a much slicker, more pop-oriented album.
The scrapped sessions were later leaked over the Internet and then released as “The Lillywhite Sessions.” Songs from the sessions evolved further with the recording of “Busted Stuff.”
Matthews, whose band has sold 30 to 40 million albums worldwide, finally made peace with Lillywhite when the two talked over dinner during the recording of “Away From the World.”
“He and I went out for a dinner and just sort of had a blood-letting,” Matthews said.
“But it was really beautiful, and it really opened me up to a lot of things in regard to how he saw the separation and how it went down. He’s such a super-nice man. He doesn’t necessarily see everything that’s happening with the greatest clarity, but neither does any of us.
“He enlightened me about my sort of cowardice and selfishness and how we went our separate ways. But other than that, it really was like old brothers and a great love affair. Because there weren’t any bad words. It doesn’t matter what was said in public back then. I don’t think I ever said anything bad about him, and I don’t pay enough attention to find out if he ever did about me, but he certainly had a right to.”
Working with Lillywhite has been thrilling and productive, Matthews said.
“There’s an element to how he works with this band. I don’t think he works this way with other bands. And I know we don’t work this way with anybody else.”
The interview touched on a variety of subjects, including President Obama (whom he supported in 2008 and now again in 2012), Republican nominee Mitt Romney and the anti-gay marriage referendum in Washington State.
In May, Matthews performed at a campaign fundraiser for Obama at the Paramount Theatre.
“As far as where social responsibility toward the American people lies, it’s impossible for me not to side with Obama,” he said, adding that he is not necessarily in agreement with the President in regard to the use of force around the world (“I am a pacifist, and maybe that’s to a fault,” he said), healthcare (“I wish he’d been more aggressive with healthcare”) and the “no-strings-attached bailouts of the banks and the banking system.”
Matthews had harsher words for the Republicans and what he called their “empty promises.”
“I just don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. I cannot figure it out. It’s all about throwing barbs,” he said.
Though he hasn’t taken an official position on Referendum 74, the same-sex-marriage measure that will go before Washington State voters in November, Matthews has been a strong supporter of gay rights and became involved in “Love Unites Shepard Fairey Equality Project,” which advocated for gay marriage.
“I have no understand of why we feel the need to allow some people the right to do things and deny other people those rights,” he said. “There’s no way that I can figure out that somehow my morality trumps someone else’s morality.
“If I think that the only way that people should be together is as a man and a woman, then that’s what I should believe. And that’s fine because that’s my thing. So I’ve married a woman and that’s what I want for me. But that gives me no lawful right to say to my neighbor, ‘Wait, wait, no. You cannot. You two men can’t marry, or you two women can’t marry. Because that doesn’t fit into MY beliefs.’ I just find it so astounding. ”
Will he take a official position on the issue?
“I don’t even know why I’m answering a question about whether I’m going to take a position. But if I need to, then I guess I’ll be more public about it. I just don’t understand the reasoning. It baffles me.”
A voter registration drive will take place at all three shows, staged by local volunteers and as well as those on “The Great American Road Trip” who are driving around the country to register voters on every stop of the tour.
The band’s new album arrives Sept. 11, with an official release concert Sept. 12 at the Hollywood Bowl.
At the Gorge, the Dave Matthews Band — featuring Matthews, Boyd Tinsley, Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard — has performed to more than 800,000 since 1997. This weekend’s shows will include sets by the Avett Brothers and Allen Stone, as well as two additional acts (to be announced) that will play in the meadow as concertgoers arrive. Fans can expect a vibrant, jam-oriented blend of rock, funk-rock, bluegrass and world music — and songs infused with social and political consciousness.
“My only hope is that I’m going to be able to open up these people’s hearts and blow their minds away,” Matthews said of shows 40-42.
“I want them to leave the place feeling like they’ve just found an answer – not wake up in the morning and say, ‘My head still hurts and I need a drink.’ I want them to feel like we left no stone unturned in our attempts to change the way they feel.
“I think it’s about honesty. If I’m going to be a fool, I’m going to be a fool in front of you and I’m not going to make it look as though I’m attempting not to be a fool. I AM A FOOL. It’s honest. It’s not, ‘I’m a tough guy. I’m a cool guy.’ It’s more like, ‘I’m yours.’
“That’s what I want from every musician in the band. I don’t care what they play. I might look at them like a surprised schoolmaster if they go completely out to lunch. But that’s all I’ll do. I’m not going to say after the show, ‘Don’t do that again.’ Because I want everybody to feel that the only thing that’s stopping them is themselves.”