The Salvation of Dave Matthews

Page 4 of 5

So when he flew out to Los Angeles alone to meet with Ballard, he was not feeling particularly optimistic. That he happened to despise Los Angeles also did not augur well for the partnership. "But from the moment I walked into Glen's life," Matthews says, "I was in heaven." Away from what he calls the "stifling" atmosphere of home, Matthews experienced a renaissance that sprang, he says, from his chemistry with Ballard: "I needed to have someone who could walk up to me and say, 'Sing. Just play. Don't dig a ditch, don't wade through this.'"

By the end of their first day together, the duo had written and recorded an entire song, the inspirational, gospel-inflected track "Everyday," which emerged from a simple groove and drone Ballard played on his keyboard, blended with the guitar figure from an old Matthews song called "36." After more than six months of creative drought – "of trying to shit a watermelon," as Matthews puts it – he had dashed off one of his finest songs in a few hours. "I felt as though my self-imposed weight of the world, my burden, had been taken off. I started feeling powerful again, feeling the power that we all have. The nearly squashed flame was eagerly burning again."

Indeed it was. Over the next ten days, Matthews and Ballard would write a staggering eleven more songs – twelve in all, an entire album's worth of material: a brace of punchy, sexy, rocking, supremely confident outpourings that could not differ more from the tentative, downbeat numbers Matthews had labored over at home. Ballard imposed no limits. Unaware, or unconcerned, that Matthews had always been an acoustic player, Ballard did not hesitate to put an electric in his hands. "He walked in my studio," Ballard recalls, "and the first thing I handed him was a baritone guitar, which is tuned lower than a six-string electric and higher than a bass. It was love at first touch. You could see that he was having a visceral experience with this guitar. I could barely wrench it out of his hands."

Many of the album's songs grew directly out of his rifling on the electric – including the first single, "I Did It," with its dirty opening figure, which happened to emerge one morning in the studio. "Boy, I loved playing that," Matthews says. "I was like, 'Goddamn it, I did it. That's nasty.' It was almost a joke when I first did it. It's so ugly and so beautiful at the same time. It's so middle-finger-lifted 'Fuck you.'"

Not only were riffs and melodies pouring out of Matthews at an unprecedented rate, so were words. "We would get a track cut from the demo in the day, then he would go down on the mike and he would sort of phonetically sing a lot of the lyrics," says Ballard. "He would be coming up with huge bits and pieces of the song that were just flowing through him. Then we would sit there and decipher it, and a lot of it would be intact – it was remarkable that he was able to just channel. Then I would help him connect the dots from there and, occasionally, came up with a line or two. But it was appearing to him on some other level. The only other time I've seen that happen is with Alanis."

The songs and sentiments were pure Matthews – passion springing from the ashes, the need to seize life's joys before they fade – but now recast in songs of unbridled confidence and motion. It was immediately decided to shelve the songs recorded with Lillywhite and to release the twelve new songs as the band's fourth album.

Meanwhile, back home in Charlottesville, the rest of the group was receiving regular reports of an orgy of songwriting taking place 3,000 miles away. But nothing could have prepared the band members for the actual experience of hearing the tracks when they flew out to L.A. to record them. "There were some tears," says Tinsley. Beauford remembers marveling at the sound of the electric guitar parts. "I thought it was Carlos Santana," Beauford recalls. "I said, 'Dave, who the hell is this playing guitar? Is this Carlos?' And he looked at me and shook his head with this smirk on his face. I had to hug him."

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