Dave Matthews Talks Bernie Sanders, New Album, His Guitar Hero

Singer-songwriter surveys political scene, dishes on band's future plans at Farm Aid 30

"I feel like there's hope as long as some people are speaking to the real problem in this country," says Dave Matthews. Credit: Chris Tuite

Dave Matthews Band recently wrapped up their 24th consecutive U.S. summer tour, but as Matthews told Rolling Stone backstage at Farm Aid 30 earlier this month — before he performed with longtime friend and collaborator, Tim Reynolds — his mind has often been elsewhere. The singer has been following the Presidential race and also working through new material he's written for his band's next album. In a passionate conversation with Rolling Stone, Matthews explained why Bernie Sanders gives him hope and offered an update on the forthcoming DMB LP.

Aside from your role as a Farm Aid board member, what keeps you coming back and supporting the cause each year?
I think a lot of it nowadays is more because of my kids more than when I first joined. I think about what planet they're going to live on. When Farm Aid started, Willie was standing on the front lines with these farmers who were threatened to extinction. That hasn't stopped the impossibly difficult task of being a small farmer and making a living. It's amazing that they can even do it now. Companies like Tyson or Perdue, they win by manipulation: They come and court the farmers that are desperate, and then they sort of own the farm. And essentially, they turn these honest farmers into part of this machine and steal the soul out of what they're doing. And then of course suicide [among farmers] skyrockets. There's no doubt that companies like Monsanto are absolutely out to control the food of the planet. It's a simple thing: If you control the food of everybody then you control everybody.

Are we as a society not more aware though now about where our food comes from?
There's a growing ignorance and indifference that is being exploited by bad government in this country being in the corner of the corporations because that's where the money is. There's nothing that would make Dow or Monsanto happier than if everybody didn't give a shit. What we're fighting for is not only the health of our food but the health of our planet. There has to be a voice. There has to be as many voices as possible shouting to defend the people that are actually the stewards of the land, the people that care about the land, the people that want to eat the food they make. I don't trust someone who isn't going to eat the food they've invested money in or never seen. I don't want to eat that food and neither do they.

You've long been outspoken politically. After seeing the most recent Republican debate, how do you feel about where our country is headed?
When I listen to the bold-faced, impossible and nonsensical, disconnected claims at the last debate, I'm like, "What the fuck are you all talking about? None of you are remotely connected. None of you have an actual plan!" I can stand up and say, "If I was President, I would make everybody's boobs bigger, and I would make men stronger, and everybody would be happy, and everybody would be fed, and the oceans would be clean, and everyone would have jobs. And that's what I'll do if I'm President."

Wait, do you shit money? What are you fucking talking about? There's no way you can do anything but damage our children's future by claiming you can spend more money to make us stronger, make us better, make us happier, make the whole world a better, more peaceful place, and cut taxes and have less government. 'Cause you're just talking about something that's fucking impossible.

Do you support any particular candidate for President in the 2016 election?
When I hear someone speaking in terms of the workers rising up and the working people feeling like they have a voice, when I hear someone like Bernie Sanders talking, I think there's a hope. And I have no party affiliation [laughs]. I'm not saying with his half-a-million donators and supporters that have committed 30 bucks on average to his campaign, he can win without a Super PAC. But that's a guy who is talking about something real and that isn't insulted by being called a liberal. Someone could call me a liberal, and I'd say, "Thank you." Someone could call me a socialist, and I'd say, "I wish I was a socialist." I should get a shirt that says, "Tax me! Tax the fuck out of me!" At least we're hearing more of a voice from him by having him out there and speaking in complete sentences rather than a bunch of slogans that don't mean anything. So I feel like there's hope as long as some people are speaking to the real problem in this country.

"When I hear someone like Bernie Sanders talking, I think there's a hope."

We shouldn't look down on homeless people in this country or the mentally ill or the people who don't have work or migrant workers who want to come here and work hard for their futures, and they're trying to make something. That in the richest and the most powerful country in the world we can't house our own people and we can't take care of people who have fallen through the cracks and that we don't have a safety net to look after each other is fucking astounding.

On a lighter topic, how is work going on a new Dave Matthews Band album? You told us earlier this summer you guys had been in the studio.
Yeah, we were in the studio, and we were having a good time. I go on a lot of tangents, so I've been doing some writing, and I certainly could fill the space of several albums with music that I've made. But I haven't yet fallen in love with the whole thing. I'm in love with parts of it. We've been playing parts of the recordings that we've made [on the summer tour].

DMB has long taken the approach of seeing how songs feel on the road before including them on a proper album.
Yeah, and then they change. And then maybe we'll go back in and even re-record some of then. I love [the new song] "Virginia in the Rain." And "Black and Bluebird" is a new song too, which I really like 'cause I sort of tied trite love lines together with frustration and things that make my kids go, "Wow, that's awesome!" Not the song itself, but just the statements. There's a song we haven't really worked on a lot called "Death on the High Seas"; that's a little piano tune. There's a lot more. We're going to Europe soon and bringing more of those out.

And when should fans expect a new album?
We're going to have an album at some point. It's not the Eighties or Nineties or Seventies when it mattered. We've always let people record our music, so probably they'll end up getting some of it anyway if they just tape the shows or we put some live releases out. But at some point, we'll have an album that we'll put out for whatever reason people still do that.

You and your Farm Aid co-performer Tim Reynolds have been playing together for years. Now he's a permanent touring member of the band. What works so well when you two get together?
I'm dying to go on the road with Tim just the two of us again. I love playing with the band, but I love playing with Tim because I think he's the greatest guitar player I've ever met. And people could argue that. But what's the definition of that? He is so constantly spontaneous and really is so connected to what he's doing when he plays that it almost makes no difference what I do. If I fuck up, if I go to a wrong change, he will so fluidly go where I'm going and also make everything have more room for the listener and more musical space. You know, we're kind of a busy band, a lot of things going on. But when Tim plays with us, it's like it rises up and opens out. He mushrooms the sound of the band. Him and [DMB drummer] Carter [Beauford] are so alive together. I love playing alone, because it's a lot of fun. But when I play with Tim, it's sort of like I'm being carried. He's a profound musical talent.