Exclusive Q&A with DMB Guitarist
By Scott Collison
Tim Reynolds answers Jerk's questions on writing, inspiration, and going solo
In an office space above the Westcott Theater, Tim Reynolds explained that he can’t sit for fear of falling asleep. He had just woken up from a nap and struggled to stay awake as he sipped furiously on a cup of coffee from Recess Coffeehouse. “I’m a pacer, anyway.”
Although Reynolds earned national popularity from his intricate guitar work as the phantom member of Dave Matthews Band,his new band, the power-trio TR3—with Mick Vaughn on bass guitar and Dan Martier on drums—fits more into the Grateful Dead guitar hero scene than DMB bro rock.
Their set on December 2 at the Westcott started around 10 p.m. and entertained until after midnight. Some drunken out-of-towners cameoed on stage as Elmo, a gas masked Santa, aliens, and other bizarre costumed characters. A mannequin head, Felipo, adorned Martier’s kit and took the brunt of most jokes. A James Brown cover followed a metal thrash as the band donned flashlight-eyed goggles on a blackout stage as Reynolds shredded his 7-string baritone guitar. The music reflected Reynolds’ quirky and dynamic persona — only later reinforced through lively conversation.
I’ve read that TR3 is your favorite project. What sets it apart as special for you?
It’s just been something that I’ve done for a long time, along with my solo acoustic work. Writing music is a very personal thing and doing it with Dan and Mick is really fun. I like being a sideman, but that’s a completely different thing. I’ve been trying to do my own thing since 1984. I don’t even know if it’s better. Only in the last two years have I done a full tour with Dave. Before that it was always piecemeal, like whenever he’d do acoustic shows.
Do you think a lot of people come out to your show expecting a more Dave Matthews kind of sound and don’t get along so well with your more avant-garde style? Oh yeah, that happens all the time, and this is kind of the second round of it. Ten years ago I started doing acoustic solo tours along with a band tour in ‘99. At that point we were kind of weeding out people who didn’t know what they were getting into. After a couple years, people figured it out. Having done the recent tours with DMB, more people are interested, so that’s good.
A lot of your music, at face value, sounds like it could be improvised around a groove-- how much of it is written out before you get up on stage? Most of it’s really pre-set, but there’s always a little room for improv and I can’t really actually play anything exactly the same way. We don’t just jam-- we play tunes. I like to improvise, but it really has to come from a song for me to feel anything about it.
To me jamming’s just more of a personal thing to do in private. That’s all I wanted to do when I was a lot younger, but I got more into relating to songs as I got older. The things that move me are great songs. There’s great improvising too, but I always use that in the context of a great song.
Do you have guitar effects in mind when forming a song, or do they come later? They come later. When I write it’s really basic, almost on the acoustic guitar. The effects, they don’t come in until I actually start doing it, and then I’ll just kind of naturally play with them. Songs are still basic stuff, though. Like a couple chords and some lyrics and a verse and a bridge, and the rest of it’s icing on the cake. If you have a really good song, you can play it on an acoustic guitar and just sing it and it would still be a good thing.
When I was younger and I was really into practicing for technique, I really liked instrumental music. As I get older I want to have a feeling for more of a deep thing, like Peter Gabriel, like “aw fuck.” That to me is very emotional, or Led Zeppelin. Lyrics can really drive a song and give it a theme. Once in a while I’ll start out with lyrics. Sometimes they both come totally together. It’s really different on every song; there’s no method, it’s just inspiration.
Where do you think that inspiration comes from? Nowhere, in a way. It comes from the cosmos to me. It’s almost like how do you define what life is? …it’s impossible, because we’re part of the universe. Just being in the universe and having senses and consciousness and all that interaction-- that’s inspiration. But I also ask, “What’s that? Where’s it come from?” Maybe space, because we’re in space, we’re revolving around the sun, we’re spinning around… so we’re ultimately space; everything is space. The space between the atoms and molecules is as vast as the space between the planets and the sun, so it’s space wherever you go.
TR3 is in a different commercial sphere than DMB. It’s more a grassroots approach. Why do you keep it that way? Once you step into that commercial world, it’s much more of a committee project. You have the record company and all the people that guide you into what you’re doing with the record. As such an independent-minded loner it’s hard for me to jump into that. Part of why I’m not driven in a way to be commercially successful is because there’s a whole different level of involvement with sort of not musical things.
Doing it on your own definitely limits your audience. Does that bother you at all? No, actually I realize now that’s been the joy-- to have a smaller thing, because the bigger it gets it’s harder to find space to be human. You’ve got to be a bigger person. I’ve always been kind of off to myself and quiet. It’s been a long time to figure that out. I grew up fantasizing about doing big rock shows, and I do big rock shows with DMB. But I don’t think I could do that all the time, because once you get into the bigger world it becomes the record company’s thing. That’s good, because a lot of the records I like are obviously in that commercial world, but now it’s a different world than it was when I grew up. In earlier eras of music like in the ‘60s and ‘70s the artist was still kind of king, and now the company is king, or whoever is the go-between.
Images courtesy of greaterbostonphotography.com and pollstar.com