BY JARED COBB
He’s an ambidextrous straight shooter with a hit album, Everyday. He’s a humble musical giant with a treasure chest full of tomorrow’s chart toppers. He’s an aspiring pilot who likes to make his own music and eat it, too. He’s an American role model with a finger on the future cats of rock and roll. He’s Carter Beauford of Dave Matthews Band and he’s one hell of a drummer.
After ten years of making music, with over 20 million albums sold, a Grammy Award, and status as the top-grossing live band in America, Dave Matthews Band decided to head back to their hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia to record another hit album under the wing of Steve Lillywhite.
It would’ve been their first studio recording since Before These Crowded Streets, which was released in May of 1998. Things didn’t go as planned and they soon found themselves scrapping the entire session.
A big part of success is knowing when you’ve got it and when you don’t. Beauford explains, “It turned out we weren’t ready musically. It started to sound like something put together, like, ’Oh, another record.’ Creatively it just wasn’t happening at all and we were going absolutely nowhere. There was no enthusiasm and our attitudes were completely off. You know, everything was just going downhill as far as I’m concerned – as far as the theory of music and ear training and all those things I was taught at a younger age. We were just going through the motions with writing tunes and it was a headache in a way. For a while there everything was starting to feel the same, sound the same, become the same, and I was like, ’Somehow I need to get out of this rut.’ We decided to can that whole project and start completely fresh. I’m glad it happened and I’m glad we were able to correct it. Our fans deserve better, you know, and we’re not going to give them crap. At least not what we think is crap [laughs].”
While most of us would lift ourselves out of a rut by attending a clinic, listening to some new music, or perhaps going on a raging tequila binge, Beauford decided to take another route: Recording with John Popper, Victor Wooten, and Carlos Santana. Say it with me: Poor Carter Beauford. “Once I hooked up with John, Victor, and Carlos, they gave me a major refresher course and brought it back to life for me. They are all true musicians who’re at the top of what they do. For me that was kind of intimidating – especially playing with Carlos. This cat is like my idol and to be there working on an album was like, ’Whoa man, this is intense!’ But once we got into it, it was as if we had been playing together for years, like I had known him my whole life. The same goes with Victor and John. That’s where the true mastery of these musicians comes into play. When you can have cats of that level come in and play with a peon like me and make me feel relaxed and chilled out – that takes a lot. No ego thing and none of that. It was about music and about playing music. It takes a hell of a lot to be at the top of your game and not come off with the whole rock star attitude crap. And I think that’s where it’s all at right there.
“I learned so much from playing with those guys. How to play with more control and play in tune and get back in touch with the dynamics of the music. Bringing the music down, getting soft again at certain points. Making it grow. Making it breathe. And it got me back into using more musical terms and talking about notes and staff paper and sheet music and just got me back in touch with all that. That’s reflected on this new record we have out.”
With the heavy touring schedule of Dave Matthews Band, it seems rather brutal to spend the brief downtime in the studio with other artists. “Well yeah, you need to step away, too, because too much of anything is not good,” admits Beauford. “I know it’s all true that practice makes perfect, but you need balance. And without that balance you become stagnant and less creative and you start to burn out. So take some time off, get off the road and concentrate on family and other things you want to do. Like one of my things is flying an airplane and becoming a pilot. Today I had a flying lesson. There’s so much to do with your hands and feet and voice just to get the plane off the ground. It’s a coordination thing and I think of playing while I’m flying. I love it. So yeah, there are tons of other things that we love to do just to break away from the music for a while. Then when you come back you find yourself playing differently and more creatively. So it works.”
It works, indeed. After their cold showers and, in Beauford’s case, inspirational side-work, the band headed to Conway Studio in L.A. to collaborate with legendary producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette, the Corrs) and systematically build what would become Everyday. It took nine days. “One of the things that sold me on working with Glen was the fact that he had worked with Quincy Jones. To me Quincy is the master of all master producers and he and Glen created a lot of hits together. And Glen shows concern for every instrument. We worked on the drums for hours and hours to make sure we got what we wanted. On this record the drums sound completely different than on our previous records. I think they sound way fat and they’re speaking more. You can hear every drum the way they’re supposed to be heard. It’s a great thing and I’m super psyched about it. Glen’s a thorough cat. He’s all the way thorough and this CD reflects that. My thing is this: Most people think of the drums as timekeepers, not me. I think if you’re going to be a musician you should be a musician and you should be able to keep time on your own. Glen supports that and he lets me do my own thing without crowding any space or stepping on any toes.
“The only change in my setup for this record is we experimented with a few different snare drums. Some of the sounds are so fat and have that Bonham sound going so nicely. Oh man, I found myself screaming a few times because it was so intense. John [Bonham] is one of those cats that I dig in a major way and being that I have John Bonham’s drum tech, Jeff Ocheltree, who makes my snare drums, it was kind of a Bonham recording session so to speak. On the track ’When The World Ends,’ there’s a groove in there that reminds me of both Bonham and Jeff Porcaro. Glen had laid out the foundation for me, but I played around with it and kind of gave it my signature. Yeah, Jeff Porcaro, John Bonham … and Carter Beauford [laughs]! We’re all over that tune and it’s one of my favorites on the album.”
The Bonhamesque style is a somewhat drastic change from the lick and roll Beauford we all know and love. It may take some patience and appreciation before certain listeners grow to like the new material, but Beauford’s not worried about his fans’ reactions. “I’ve wanted to kind of chill out and lay back and not be as busy on the kit,” he confesses. “I wanted to see what the music was going to sound like, how it was going to breathe, how it was going to speak, and how it was going to grow. I think it’s well on its way. It’s not completely out of my style, but there’s a noticeable difference between this record and what we’ve done in the past. If the cats out there that dig my style are open, then they’re going to like it. And I think that’s the way you need to be. Besides, that doesn’t mean this is how I’m going to play forever. We’re just experimenting right now and it’s just another side of my style that I wanted to introduce people to. You’ve got to experiment. You can’t remain the same or you’ll get bored with yourself. Try different things and experiment and see where those experiments take you. Because you never know until you try.”
Possibly one of the more exciting aspects of this year’s tour will be watching these new drum parts evolve through live performance. I’m willing to bet the good folks in Charlottesville experienced a much different show at the start of the tour than the Dubya-ites in Dallas will get at the closer. “I know these songs are going to take off and do some crazy stuff,” Beauford promises.
And the rock and roll of Everyday isn’t without a whip of funk and some intoxicated time signatures. Beauford has no problem revealing his recipe for managing sudden and extreme changes in time. “If a tune is in 6/8, I’ll break it down into a 4/4 thing where it becomes more simple for me to understand. I try to sneak some 4/4 rhythms into all time signatures. It seems more complicated than what it really is, trust me. And it can sound tremendously cool.
“There was one tune [“Fool to Think”] that was in 9/8 or some weird time signature. It gave me a little trouble in the beginning, but I snagged it in the ass and took it home [laughs].” It gave us a little trouble too, so we endured the painstaking process of transcribing the groove. One could say that we too “snagged it in the ass.” Beauford continues, “I’m into the weird time signature thing, and I think Dave [Matthews] knows that. [laughs] I think that was one of those tunes that was written for me by Dave.”
While their previous albums were recorded in more of a live studio atmosphere with each artist sculpting his part and contributing to the creative process, Everyday was done much more deliberately. “On previous albums, Dave would come up with a guitar riff and we would all fall in to create a song. With this record Dave and Glen wrote charts for each song and we went in person by person to record our parts. It was really cool because if you made a mistake you just went back and did it again, but it’s also a bad thing because the music doesn’t really breathe the way you want it to. It’s more of a spoon fed thing: ’Okay shove that in your mouth and digest it. I don’t care what you think about it, just eat it.’ But I want to make my own dinner. I want to put the spices in it. I want to do all that and then eat it and enjoy it. And then I can kick back and burp and taste it all over again if I want to ’em [laughs]! I know that’s a terrible analogy, but that’s how I feel on that.”
Despite the unappetizing recording procedure, Beauford knows to trust greatness. “When Dave and Glen wrote these [charts] they put a lot of time into it, so I figure if they took the time I may as well honor it by sticking to the roadmap. And I did. There were moments in there where the old Carter Beauford thing came out: the rolls, the hi-hat work and what have you. But for the most part it’s Dave and Glen,” he admits. “And we’re cool with it. The next one’s going to be different though, I’m sure [laughs]. Oh yeah [big laughs]! The sound check material is going to be the next big thing that we put out – so be ready!
“We have so many tunes that are in the vault right now – we can’t even count them all – that are going to become full tunes in about another year or so. All we have to do is go to the vault, pick them out and start working on them. But there’s some very, very, very cool songs in there right now just from sound checks. Uh huh [laughs]! Yeah, I’m more psyched about those tunes because they’re straight from the gut. There’s no gimmick, nothing that’s geared towards hit material or having a hook and all that other stuff. It’s straight gut material. You know, it’s music. And it’s stuff that comes straight from the heart. Not to say that what we have out now isn’t like that, but when we do that stuff on stage it’s from a direct feeling that we’re getting. And if the feeling changes so does the music. When we play it back and listen to it again, you can feel that whole thing all over. With a lot of the tunes that are written by writers, you can’t feel anything because you didn’t really have much to do with it.” Damn those writers.
As an established veteran of this precarious business, 43-year-old Beauford offers his advice: “To the younger cats out there itching to get that record deal, take it slow. Don’t jump on the first thing you see and don’t do anything without the support of someone you trust who can walk the walk and talk the talk. There are a lot of incredible musicians out there who could turn things around for a lot of people – including the music industry itself – who will never be part of the business. By the time they’re done with lawyer this and lawyer that, it’s all over and they’re like, ’The last thing I want to see is a guitar. I’d rather go work at McDonalds than be in the music industry.’ So yeah, it’s definitely a dog eat dog.”
With all the young musicians dedicating so much of their lives to such a potentially lethal trade, it’s essential to have strong-minded role models for them to emulate. Ask any public figure if they consider themselves a role model and you’ll probably never get a defined “yes.” But a select few have the maturity to realize their position and the courage to embrace it. “There is a certain responsibility that I have,” Beauford says. “They’re kids, and for me to be a role model I want to be sure that the kids get the best. I do try to show the kids the right way to go about things and I do my best to steer them in the right direction. When I was a kid I looked at some happening cats as if they were Superman, in a way. They eventually got caught up in some crazy stuff and I was really let down. I tell you, Billy Cobham sure impressed me because when I met him he was everything I thought he’d be. And to this day I have nothing but total respect for Billy because he’s impressive in every way. So if there’s anything I can do to keep kids on the straight and narrow I’m going to do just that.”
So we’ve learned a lot today, kids. Mr. Beauford has taught us that even the great bands have bad days. And when you’re stuck in that rut, put down the tequila and get gigging. Flying an airplane is good drummer therapy. Glen Ballard + nine days = hit album. You never know until you try. Subdivide, subdivide, subdivide. Music, like dinner, tastes better when you make it yourself. Get ready for the sound check material. Rock star attitude will get you nowhere but away from your music. It’s a dog eat dog eat cat business. And genuine role models are hard to find. So what else? What about Carter Beauford say, ten years from now?
“There are some musicians that I’ve been keeping my eyes on. Some drummers – very young cats. They’re not in bands or anything. They’re just in their basements right now practicing and doing the things that I did when I was their age. And instead of being outside capping people with guns and all this other crazy stuff, they’re in there focusing on their craft. And I have my eyes on them right now and I’ve talked to a couple of them and tried to give them some inspirational words and I think they’re going to do all right. Hopefully in ten years these cats that I have my finger on will be the next Dave Matthews Band, and better. Hopefully, much better. I think that’s going to happen. So that’s where I want to be. Not so much a scout, but producing and getting these younger cats who don’t know anybody, who don’t have the funds to get into the scene. There are so many young gifted kids out there and they can’t be seen because they don’t know how to go about becoming an artist who’s out here in the circle. Once this Dave Matthews Band is over, that’s what I want to do.”
Sounds like a plan.
1. 22″ x 18″ Yamaha Recording Custom Bass Drum
2. 13″ x 5.5″ Paiste Spirit of 2002 Bronze Snare by Jeff Ocheltree
3. 14″ Paiste Signature Bronze Timbale Traditional by Jeff Ocheltree
4. 8″ Yamaha Recording Custom Tom
5. 10″ Yamaha Recording Custom Tom
6. 12″ Yamaha Recording Custom Tom
7. 14″ Yamaha Recording Custom Tom
8. 13″ Paiste Signature Bronze Timbale Traditional by Jeff Ocheltree
9. 18″ Yamaha Recording Custom Floor Tom
A. 14″ K. Crash
B. 17” Z. Oriental Crash
C. 20″ Flat Ride
D. 20″ Projection Ride
E. 13″ Z Dyno Beat Hi-Hat (top) K. Top Hi-Hat (bottom)
F. 6″ Zil Bel
G. Chinese Wedding Bell
H. 18” K. Medium Thin Crash
I. 10″ A. Custom Splash
J. 17″ K. Medium Crash
K. 9″ Oriental Splash
L. 8″ A. Splash (top) 10” A Splash (bottom)
M. 13″ Z Projection Hi-Hats
N. 20″ China (top) 22” China (bottom)
O. 20″ Crash of Doom
P. 30″ Gong
Carter Beauford also uses Yamaha hardware, Pro-Mark sticks, Evans heads, PureSound snare wires, LP percussion, Clark Synthesis drum throne shakers and DW pedals.
This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Drum! Check more Carter Beauford articles from our archive here.