Carter Beauford Interview
CARTER BEAUFORD: Passion And Enthusiasm
Originally appeared on October 2009 issue of Batteria & Percussioni magazine
Interview by Roberto BOB Baruffaldi
Lucca, July 5, 2009.
After a long chase, we finally got to have a meeting with the most uncatchable drummer around. We’re talking about Carter Beauford, the engine marvellously driving one of the most inventive and genuine bands in the music scene: The Dave Matthews Band.
The occasion comes with the highly awaited gig in Lucca, which brought the band back to Italy after about 11 years, with a tour promoting their amazing latest release Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King.
The meeting is set for 5 p.m. on the side of the stage. I am taken into an ancient building’s astonishing room where, besides the unbearable heat, we have the chance to meet the band leader Dave Matthews, who’s politely answering a few journalists (who actually hardly manage to boost the conversation).
Just while I’m enjoying this strange show, a member of DMB staff calls me aside and leads me straight into the dressing room: air conditioning, middle-eastern-style, a delightful silence and an unbelievable peacefulness. We move the last curtain away and, in a soft light, I can finally see Carter who already knows about the interview. He’s busy typing a text message on his mobile, and he’s never seen me before, but still he hails me with an incredibly infectious smile. We joke about his text message and we start chatting. Apart from his kindness, what really impresses me is his incredible enthusiasm, just like an excited beginner. He’s a true fan of drumming, drummers and music, as well as of his own band! We’ve got 20 minutes, which easily become 45 as we find ourselves in a continuous exchange of views. It felt like talking to a friend, so excited about his stories on music and drumming. He’s like that, he doesn’t spare himself even when it’s about spelling out his own views and opinions, but always politely and showing great respect for the person he’s speaking to. Carter is definitely the most lovely and sympathetic person I’ve ever met; rather than an interview, this is a very intense conversation in which we delve into things and we could have gone on and on, had we not been interrupted.
As I step out of the dressing room Carter keeps talking and making eye contact, with that incredible smile we all know. A wonderful memory that I’ll always keep, of course…until we meet again.
Carter, why did it take you so long before coming back to Italy?
(laughing) It’s something we had been looking forward to for a long time. Let me think…we were here in…
That’s right! A long time ago, too long! (we stop for a minute, so that he can send his text message)
I must confess I’m quite excited about your gig tonight, especially after listening to your latest album, which I believe is one of the best ever.
So do I.
In this new record the sound of your drums, and your drumming, are really in the foreground, more so than in previous records. I know Bob Cavallo is deeply in love with the way you play.
You know, we always tried to focus on drums in our music. When I listen to what Dave, Stefan and Boyd are doing, and LeRoi when he was there – and believe me, I always listen to them – I copy what they’re doing. We usually cut the noisiest and most spontaneous bits away in the final recordings for production reasons and I find this quite disturbing because people won’t get to listen to those moments which are pure musical interaction. This time it was quite different because we tried to focus on every instrument, especially on drums, and every instrument of the drum set. That’s why in this record you can listen to all those moments I was talking about earlier. I’m so happy about this new album, because everyone was so concentrated and could make their own contribution in terms of creativity. We were all on the same wavelength, heading in the same direction, and everything worked out perfectly.
Getting more into detail, I must say that the way you play hi-hat in this record is absolutely terrific. Kind of going in and out of the groove, but actually being always there. It’s a strange feeling, it’s hard to explain.
I know what you mean. It’s something I’ve heard from many other drummers, and I literally fell in love with that style. I believe that syncopation and that kind of “broken” playing can really shake the rhythm. You know, a 4/4 groove does fit some songs. But others need that hi-hat playing to establish that musical conversation with the band but also with the crowd when I’m on stage. That’s the important thing for me. That’s how you can make it more appealing. If you’re having a conversation, always using the same words, then you’ll always be saying the same things again and again, and it gets boring. That’s why you need creativity to make it more interesting. People are more willing to pay attention if your conversation is interesting. That’s why I like that way of playing. Steve Gadd has always been one of my favourites together with Dennis Chambers and many other drummers who played that way. I took after them, giving my own interpretation, using my own musical language. That’s why I play that way a lot.
It’s something unpredictable
I must confess I find this quite exciting. Just to reassure you… I’m a drummer not a journalist, so we speak the same language. (Carter bursts into laughter and gives me a fist bump as a sign of approval)
Let’s keep talking about your style. It seems like it’s evolving hand in hand with your sound. It just comes naturally…
Yes it does! It comes from experience. I used to try to emulate my heroes; people like Buddy Rich, Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, and Lenny White. That was the sound I wanted to get but I just couldn’t. You know, trying to sound like someone else is the most difficult thing ever, because that’s their sound and it comes from their personality, and I was not perfectly aware of this at the beginning. Over the years I realized that I was slowly developing my own musical identity and my own style, by getting through their style. It just happened and that’s what I am now. It’s a wonderful thing, but I always try to go ahead and make my next move, trying to evolve and find my own new direction. I always try to be aware of what’s happening around me and I don’t want my drumming to sound flat. I want it to be my signature sound, but at the same time I need to move ahead. Obviously, I like to keep some things unchanged, so that they can be part of a unique and personal voice.
This is an interesting point. I realize every record has a new sound, nevertheless your main peculiarities just remain the same, you remain the same, you keep on the right track, evolving step by step.
That’s right, I agree!
I think this is a great gift
You know, I find this very exciting. Over the years I’ve listened to many great musicians, each one with his own voice. Consider Pat Metheny or Miles Davis. You can identify them at once, even when they’re not playing their own instrument. A classic example is Michael Brecker; he could suddenly put down his tenor saxophone and play the EWI, which is a totally different electronic instrument, but you can tell for sure that’s Michael Brecker, beyond any doubt. You may as well hear it coming out of a computer, you’ll always be sure that’s him. I’ve always said to myself: “I can’t wait to reach that goal with my style and my sound”, so that people will say “Hey, that’s Carter!”, even if I try and play in a slightly different style. I always practise on this, trying to reach that level.
It’s like when you listen to some demos and you are able to identify which producer or artist has programmed those drum tracks…
Being the DMB fan that I am, I’d like to talk about that special connection between you and Dave, I mean, all those nods of approval during live performances
I’ve already asked Dave about this, but I want to hear your personal opinion (Carter laughs out loud). Is it about combining two different styles? What do you reckon?
Yes, you’re right. You know, when we started as a band, twenty years go, Dave and I used to live together, he was my roommate and we had a lot of things in common. It was incredible! When I met him I thought it was so weird that we were so similar. We were like brothers, very close to each other and it’s always been the same on stage. I’ve always listened to his playing and singing, which I’ve always found incredibly unique. I said to myself “Wow, this is perfect for me!” . ‘Cause I’ve always been into that syncopated style, shifting the beat, taking one to get out then put it back in place after a while´.
We always try to do this, we take something and we mess with it to make our music more interesting, and when we get there we make eye contact and fist bump. It’s difficult to explain. But I must confess it’s the same with all the guys in the band; it just happens more frequently with Dave because we’ve spent a lot of time together, both in personal and musical terms, we know each other so well, both on and off the stage.
We like and dislike the same things, we’re just like twins and this is almost weird, it’s almost scary (laughs). That’s how I see it, and it’s rather funny, especially when we have to face a musical problem on stage. It’s always interesting to see how each one of us deals with it and whether we manage to make something good out of it. Lately we’re concentrating hard on this. Occasionally some new songs even come out of this kind of situation. It wasn’t that easy at first, because we were still trying to get to know each other musically, but after playing together for 20 years, it’s much easier and it gets more interesting and funny. So when we fist bump it’s just because something wonderful has happened between us; we look at each other and think “I’ve heard what you did, that was cool!”. Sometimes we even do this while we’re still playing, just because we want to express our mutual approval. Fist bumping at the end of a song just means “Let’s do it again!”. It’s really funny and I love every single moment in these situations. We started doing this twenty years ago and it’s been like watching a baby grow up; we sowed the seed, we saw it sprout and now we’re watching it grow and I think it’s not ripe yet. We’re not even close, we still have lots of things to do and this will take us a long time… what a wonderful feeling. I feel it’s a long way to go, so many things are yet to come as far as music is concerned, and I think I can speak for all the other guys. We just want to take our time and wait until time is ripe for this greatness to explode.
Lots of good things are going to happen, we’re just scratching the surface.
I’m glad to hear that…But let’s change the subject: you are very popular in the US, and undoubtedly a big part of this success is due to your many live performances over there, while you are less known in Europe where your gigs are less frequent; so will we see you more often here?
Of course. The last two tours hit just some European cities because we wanted to try and see how it was, and the feedback from the crowd was great. We believe this was our best tour so far, because it was also the biggest one: we decided to add more gigs in Europe; the response was unbelievable and it came completely unexpected. We thought “Hey, something’s happening here” and insisted on it as much as possible. I think it’s going to be the same as in the States someday. I have good reasons to believe it will happen, we must concentrate on Europe, give it the attention it deserves, just like we did in the States years ago. It’s gonna be hard, but that’s how it goes when you’re looking for something good. We’re ready for this challenge, we met a lot of people here who are real fans.
I’m sure you’ll win this challenge…
So am I! We had a great response and the number of fans is increasing day by day, due to an incredible word-of-mouth phenomenon. Many people who attended our shows are telling their friends, so there are lots of people working for us, our fans! You’ll see, it’s going to be great!
And I also think that the fact that you are famous in the US because of your constant live presence is a very positive thing, especially in this period, when people become famous without the necessary foundation to last over the years… You should be an example for others.
Right! I agree with you. This is the key to everything, and this is why we want to come here and play more than we’ve ever done. There are a lot of bands that appear on the scene like a flash of lightning in the night and than last very little, and I think it is because they didn’t work right, they didn’t plant the seeds. You have to play and do your best, you have to plant the seeds and make sacrifices, then all this work can pay off and bear fruits. Fans will feel your motivation, will make you feel better and they will become devout fans.
Carter, let’s go back to the new album; I know you recorded it mainly in two stages, last year and at the beginning of this year. How did it go exactly? Were they two different sessions under many aspects?
Actually, there have been three recording sessions. The first time, I met Dave: he showed me some of his ideas and I immediately fell in love with them. This happened in our studio, in Charlottesville, Virginia, where we played our first jam sessions and we got in touch with his ideas, to see what could come out. There was Leroy, too, and, together, we began to play a little and to examine all the ideas we had. Then, we went to Seattle and we started putting together some stuff, and it was there that it all really began to take off. We realized we had a lot of good stuff to work on. We allowed a lot of room for creativity, writing and jam sessions, developing the songs until they were ready to be recorded. We really were on the same wavelength; then we moved to New Orleans, we played the songs together in their entirety and at last we recorded them. At that point Rob Cavallo was with us, who put magic on our tunes, and, suddenly, we were holding the record in our hands. There have been great people working for us and all going in the same direction; everybody, even the cooks in the kitchen, helped us build this wall and have been witnesses of the development of our work in the months we were there. Everybody witnessed the creation and the development of this songs, that in the end formed a single great record that we handed to the whole world. It was something incredible, everyone put a lot into this album, and you can hear this when listen to the CD. Fans will never be fooled by our music, we gave everything we had to make this record. Here we talk about us, our heart, and what we’ve been through in the last twenty years. You can hear all of this in our music: you can hear Charlottesville, Seattle and certainly New Orleans. You can hear our friend Leroy, recently passed over, he is part of this music, too. You can hear the ups and downs and everything we’ve been through together, you can find all this. Another things that impressed me is the effort that Dave put in the album cover. It’s simply incredible. When I saw it for the first time I was speechless, because I imagined the time and the effort it must have taken to draw those fantastic pictures. I believe it took days, weeks, maybe even more to make what appears like a real story. If you look at it carefully while you’re listening to the record, it can really take you far away; it’s a great aspect of this album. But I want to insist on this point: this is not it… there’s more waiting to happen. You’ll see.
As I was telling you before, we are just scratching the surface, many things will still happen. Unfortunately, we had to pass through the bitterness of the loss of our friend Leroy, but sometimes it’s like this. Sometimes you wake up and see the light. When this things happen, you pass through many incredible moments that allow you to learn a lot; but you really have to pass through this to learn, and I think that, at last, we have understood some things. You’ll see, there still a lot to tell.
It’s really interesting, from my point of view, to see you play with our left hand on the hi-hat and the ride on a right handed set, maybe because I play in the same way…
Ah, this is really interesting…
Sometimes, I see you doing something even more interesting, you cross your arms.
Exactly! Yes, I do that sometimes…
As, for instance, in Crush; the point is that everything remains always very interesting, the phrasing in particular …
Yes, I really care about the phrasing, it may be the most important thing. Sometimes, when I cross my arms, I see and hear widely different things far from the open handed style. Depending on what I want to say in that particular moment, I decide to play open handed or with my arms crossed. I’ve got a basic structure and, depending on the song, I use one of the styles. Beside Crush, I cross my arms also in Pig…
… and also in Stay…
True! You can really hear on which song I cross my arms. It happens sometimes, when I want to do something really different. It depends on how I feel and what I want to express. When you cross your arms there’s a whole different feeling. I could even do it on every song, but I prefer playing with my style.
Can it also be that some things comes to you naturally when you play with your arms crossed, instead of open handed?
Yes, sure. But, again, it’s all based on the feeling. Sometimes it’s also because some things are easier in that way. If we take Pig, for example, I’ve got to tell you that the syncopations of that groove are much more natural if I cross my arms, even though I can also play it open-hand. Maybe it happens because I am very lazy (big laughs)! It’s very funny to mess up a little with this stuff, it’s the magic aspect of being a musician. Looking for the biggest challenge there is, being able to be creative, this is the most important thing. To try to understand how creative you can be and be interesting for the listener, and especially for yourself, so that you don’t get bored. I get crazy when I’m bored; but I’ve got to say that in this band I don’t have the time to get bored, because, talking about music, so many wonderful things happen that you don’t have the time to get distracted. As long as I’m with my brothers from the band, then I’m fine.
Does it happen that you see a drummer playing in a more traditional way, crossing his arms, and you are fascinated by those ideas and style and you try to take them into the open handed style, so to create something new? It happens a lot to me…
Yes, always. It’s an important part of what we do, because you listen and play in a completely different way. When I play open handed, my right hand plays the role of the soloist, because I can reach any tom or cymbal, and I can play what I want, while my left hand can keep playing the hi-hat or the ride, and the snare drum at the same time. I use my right hand also for the accents on the splash, for example, or on other components of the set, perhaps not playing anything incredible, but just to underline certain parts. This is the reason why, years ago, I changed my style and I started playing open handed, because it felt well, and it allowed me to do much more. I can still play with my arms crossed, it requires more effort but surely it creates new possibilities as regards creativity, because it allows for a different feeling, and all seems different. Sometimes, when I play with my hands crossed, it seems like I’m not playing, it’s like it’s another drummer playing!
It’s like an extracorporeal experience…
Yes, it’s true, it’s just what I was thinking of! It’s exactly how you feel. It makes you feel alive and honest with yourself, avoiding a precise path. Because this is the risk you run, that you might always end up playing the same stuff, with the same style in every song. Then suddenly you cross your arms and say: ´ah, ok!´. And you can really feel it, you can feel the difference.
Carter, I really hope that you can publish a DVD of this tour: I am really curious of seeing you play live, because the new album is one of my favorites, together with Before These Crowded Streets…
I’m sure we’ll make something out of this European tour, because we’ve never done it before and because now the band is playing like never before; it all works perfectly well. We’ve played some good concerts in England and France and in Montreux, the other night. Yes, you’ll see that something will come out.
And, please, don’t make us wait so much for a new album…
(laughing) As I was saying, the other night we played at the Montreux Jazz Festival and it has been a great concert: I know it has been recorded in HD, video and audio; I’ve seen a little piece of the recording and—I assure you—it was absolutely incredible, and the sound was clear, perfect.
We want to see it!
Everyone wants it to be published! I’ve talked with the guys: we own the rights for the video and the audio, and this is good, because we can publish that stuff when and how we want. I’m sure that that concert is going to be published.
The story of Carter Beauford started one evening when his father, unable to find a babysitter, decided to take him to a Buddy Rich concert. Carter recalls that that’s when he decided playing drums was all he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Carter’s father was a trumpet player, and he has inspired his son greatly in choosing a career as a musician.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, Beauford played professionally for the first time at the age of nine, in a fusion band led by Big Nick Nicholas.
His involvement in a fusion band called Secrets (in the same period he was also the drummer in a show by pianist Ramsey Lewis, for the TV network Bet on Jazz) was very important, because one of the most regular viewers of their concerts was Dave Matthews, who a little later would involve both Beauford and LeRoi Moore (saxophonist of the band) in developing a bit of material he had written. Carter recalls having found Matthew’s music very interesting and being fascinated by the way he wrote.
Before he knew it he was already in the studio (along with a very young Stefan Lessard) recording some songs they wanted to show their friends, just to see the reactions and opinions of the people involved. It was an immediate success, and from then on history tells of the journey and the exploits of one of the most popular and original bands on the planet: the Dave Matthews Band. When the live gigs of the DMB intensified, Beauford stopped being a drummer for Bet on Jazz. In subsequent years, Carter Beauford has participated in several albums with artists such as Santana, John Popper, Victor Wooten and Robin Andre.
DAVE MATTHEWS TALKS ABOUT CARTER BEAUFORD
During the press conference with Dave Matthews, I had the chance to ask him about the incredible understanding that exists between him and Carter Beauford. Dave’s eyes suddenly lit up and he told me …
“I must say that for this new album, but also for other things we have written before, some songs were created thinking about how Carter would play them, and came out of improvisations we did together on other occasions. When I write my songs I’m always very excited just thinking about Carter’s way of interpreting the song. A great example of what I’m talking about is one of the new songs in this album, which is called ´Seven´. It’s a very complicated song, because of the changes in tempo, but he made everything so fluid, made the music so simple and easy that it makes you want to dance, instead of complicating it further. He’s a very intelligent musician and a craftsman of his instrument. There are many musicians who are able to show everything they can do, but there are not very many who can make you understand what they are doing”.
Interview concept by Roberto BOB Baruffaldi
Thanks a lot to Corsina Andriano & all the people at CON-FUSION, www.davematthewsband.it the Italian Dave Matthews Band fans community.
Translated by Benedetta Copeta, Carla Melis, Riccardo Ranzato