Dave Matthews Talks Cat Stevens Covers, Quarantine ‘Shrooms, and Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday Party

Grammy-winning rocker also performs 3 songs live in the Stern Show studio

June 7, 2023

Beloved street busker turned Grammy-winning superstar Dave Matthews returned to the Stern Show on Wednesday morning with a guitar in his hands, songs in his heart, and a head full of fascinating stories. He captivated listeners with a live concert in the Stern Show studios and a conversation that covered everything from his (unconsummated) love for friend and fellow musician Alanis Morissette to which track off the Dave Matthews Band’s new album he wrote while tripping on mushrooms. The 56-year-old troubadour also spoke candidly about his headspace, including how — despite having sold millions of records and concert tickets over the past 30 years — he often feels anxious before taking the stage in front of adoring fans.

“Sometimes it feels effortless, and it almost ends too soon,” he told Howard of his concert performances, widely considered some of the best in the business. “Other times I feel like … I’m caught in some kind of thicket, and I can’t get out.”

In the latter cases, he looks to “the backbone of the band,” drummer Carter Beauford. “We’ve been playing together for like 33 years,” Dave said. “He would tell you that sometimes I spend half the night turning around to him going, ‘I’m losing my mind,’ and he’s like ‘You’re good … everything’s fine.’” “He’s like my therapist mid-show,” he added.

“Usually it’s in my head,” Matthews said of his onstage insecurities. “It’s a weird job, right?”

Weird or not, Dave’s career has afforded him several incredible opportunities — like the chance to cover artists he greatly admires. One such hero was singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, whom he fell in love with after discovering the Jackson 5 and the Beatles. “I was really obsessed with Cat Stevens,” he told Howard before recalling inducting him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. “He was so nice to me … I worked really hard on my introduction, so when he came up, he was like, ‘What am I supposed to say?’”

During the ceremony, Dave covered Stevens’ “Father and Son,” a song that holds special meaning to Matthews. “That was the first song that I ever learned how to play,” he said before recalling the thought that went through this head during the performance: “’Am I going too fast?’”

Another hero he got to meet and cover was Neil Young. “How many times I wore out Neil Young’s albums at home … and then sitting on a bench with him and talking about life — it’s just insane to me,” he said before explaining why he took on his track “The Needle and the Damage Done.” “I just think it’s the most perfect song. People do this thing where we … are so cruel to each other … but that song … it’s just astounding how kind and beautifully he is talking about people that he misses.”

Matthews went on to explain that not only would he want to share a stage with Neil … he’d want him as an ally in a fight. “I’d like to be on Neil’s side because I think he could definitely throw a punch,” he theorized. “He doesn’t take shit from anybody.”

When Dave was asked to cover a Paul Simon song for Paul Simon, he daringly took on “You Can Call Me Al.” “There’s so many words in that song … there’s not enough lung in a human to get all those words in — but I got them in,” he boasted before confessing he refused to make eye contact with the icon. “I looked everywhere but him … if I had looked at him, I’d have shit the bed.”

Snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Dave Matthews Band has the bittersweet distinction of being the only rock act ever to win the online fan vote for the Hall of Fame but fail to get inducted. Many would call that the very definition of a snub, but Dave said he was just excited to have so much fan support. “If there was anything better than getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it would be if the fans overwhelmingly voted for you to get in, and you still weren’t let in,” he laughed.

“It’s like Susan Lucci,” Howard suggested, comparing Dave to the actress who won her first Emmy on her 19th nomination.

“I’m essentially parallel if not almost identical to Susan Lucci,” Matthews laughed. “’Have you ever seen [us] in the same room together?’ is often what I hear.”

While Dave Matthews and his band are still awaiting a proper invitation from the Rock Hall, Dave did get the opportunity in 2004 to induct the progressive, psychedelic, and jazz rock act Traffic. He was honored to induct them — not just because they’re one of the most under-appreciated bands around but also because their song “Dear Mr. Fantasy” had once helped him survive a terrible night of inebriation.

“That’s like one of the greatest songs. That song saved my life once when I had too much to drink and when I was too high,” he said.

Writing on ‘Shrooms

While Dave’s hard partying and heavy drug using days are largely behind him, the “Tripping Billies” singer confessed he had dabbled a bit with psychedelics during the height of the pandemic.

“They’re good for me,” Matthews told Howard of magic mushrooms. “I’m also at a good point in my life where I think I can take a few mushrooms and not be worried about anything.”

It was while tripping on ‘shrooms that Dave conceived of “Walk Around the Moon,” the dream-like title track for his band’s new album. He told Howard the psychedelics helped get his creative juices flowing, but more than that they also gave him something to do during a long and boring quarantine. “It was a good time to take a walk in the woods,” he said, adding, “There were some mushrooms and there was a pandemic, and it was like, ‘If not now, when?’”

In the Court of the Crimson King of All Media

Another rock act that inspired Dave was King Crimson. “Oh, my good god, that band — they just go out of their minds,” he told Howard.

Howard, a King Crimson fan himself, treated his guest to an a cappella rendition of the progressive rockers’ breakthrough hit “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Dave was pleasantly shocked by Howard’s performance. “It’s perfect. The best part is your expression,” he said with a laugh.

When it came to playing the guitar, Dave owed plenty to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, whose “weird” tuning and “formal” approach to the fretboard inspired the guitar part on the Dave Matthews Band hit “Satellite.”

“[Fripp] would probably look at my guitar playing and say, ‘You’re a moron,’” Dave laughed before fingerpicking “Satellite.” “There’s probably an easier way to play it, but it’s sort of satisfying … and anyway, I was just trying to imitate him.”

The First Song He Ever Wrote

At 19 or 20, Dave finished writing his very first song, “I’ll Back You Up,” a heart-wrenching ballad about a relationship gone sideways. “It was I think still one of the best songs I ever wrote in my life … Let me see if I can remember how it goes,” he said as he picked up his guitar to play it for Howard.

Sure enough, Dave remembered it well. He also recalled presenting the completed song to the girl who’d recently broken his heart in the hopes of winning her back. “I’m glad it didn’t work out,” Dave said, explaining that he’s happily married to someone else now but that his wife and the ex-girlfriend in question were on good terms.

‘Madman’s Eyes’

Matthews followed up the first song he ever wrote with a performance of one of his newest tunes, “Madman’s Eyes,” the lead single off his new album “Walk Around the Moon.” He told Howard the song was about the epidemic of gun violence in America.

“The fear of losing people to gun violence is always there and there’s no safe place from it,” Dave said, explaining he came up with the track’s main lick before writing the lyrics or even coming up with the theme. Take a listen (above).

‘Funny How Time Slips Away’

Dave finished his set with Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” telling Howard the song reminded him of something that’s been on his mind. “I was thinking about how time wins … we live these lives where we think, ‘If I just get a little bit more, or if I just manage to collect a little more … then I’ll have enough,’” he noted. “I’m the same way … at some point, I gotta stop and just sit down and say that’s enough, but I don’t.”

The artist recently played the song for Willie at his 90th birthday celebration at the famed Hollywood Bowl. “Snoop Dogg was there, that’s how you know it’s a good party,” Dave said before explaining what happened when he smoked some weed before jumping onstage for the sing-along at the end of the evening. “I was so stoned … the whole audience is smiling and looking, which made me think they were laughing at me, and they could tell I was really stoned.”

Dave Matthews Band’s “Walk Around the Moon” is available now.

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