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Dave Matthews tells EW.com about the ''unreleased'' album

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Dave Matthews
Dave Matthews: Lester Cohen/wireimage.com

Not since the New York Times published the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971 — or at least since that sound clip of Britney Spears cussing in Rio became the top email forward of 2000 — has a leak captured the popular imagination quite the way the Dave Matthews Band’s ”Lillywhite Sessions” have.

If you’re not a fan, that title probably means nothing to you. If you are (and, judging from the group’s status as the highest grossing touring act in America, a significant portion of the country IS made up of Daveheads), chances are good you’ve already downloaded this bootleg album from Napster or some other website. At the very least, serious DMB devotees know that ”The Lillywhite Sessions” is the name given by fans to the disc that the group had nearly finished recording last year with longtime producer Steve Lillywhite before they decided to put the whole project on the shelf. There being no secrets in the information age, this gnostic album got leaked to the public in March and now resides on hundreds of thousands of hard discs.

Go to one of the heavily trafficked DMB message boards like the Dave Matthews Band Mailing List or Nancies.org, and you’ll find no shortage of posts claiming that this album is superior to ”Everyday,” this year’s multiplatinum, authorized DMB release. The subject matter of ”Lillywhite” is admittedly darker — many of the songs have to do with death, depression, and the absence of God — but fans think it adheres more closely to the band’s trademark sound.

To find out more about the project — how finished was it, anyway? why’d the band can it, and how’d it get leaked? — EW.com recently interviewed individual DMB members, who turned out to be anything but of one mind in their reactions.

On why they gave up on the album

Matthews: There was a lot of disappointment coming from the record company and management. And the feeling I was getting in the band was just kind of, ”Boy, this is all pretty dark.” There was a vibe coming from everybody involved in it that ”it’s good, but…” And I was already feeling — obviously, from the content — dark, and got the feeling that if it’s not what everybody wants…. Still, I think it’s some of the best songs I’ve written.

Drummer Carter Beauford: First of all, I didn’t really see his lyrics as being dark, simply because I wasn’t really paying much attention! [Laughs] Because we were concentrating so much on the music. Musically speaking, it wasn’t jelling or flowing the way the Dave Matthews Band normally flows. The first three months, we only had one or two songs. Things that normally come so natural to us had become the biggest chore on earth. We hated going to the studio. The only time everybody got excited was when it was time to eat. Molly, our cook, is awesome, and was the glue that held the whole thing together. If she wasn’t there, nobody would have showed up! [Laughs] We were desperate and needed to find a way out of that musical rut. And it had nothing to do with Steve [Lillywhite]. It was sad, and scary. Finally I told our A&R guy, Look, this is not happening. Now when we listen to it, everything sounds great, and the ideas were there, but it was the wrong time for it.

On how the album got leaked

Beauford: I have no idea. Well, I do have an idea but I can’t say. [Laughs] Yeah, I’ve heard the Steve Lillywhite theory. [Lillywhite recently issued a statement saying he didn’t approve of the leak but was tremendously proud of the material.] I can’t say, because if I said anything, people would say, ”Well, Carter said it might be…”

Matthews: I was surprised, because I didn’t know how [the tapes got out], and still don’t know how, and don’t want to venture a guess. I don’t want to dwell on it and spend time coming up with an opinion that I can staple to myself.

On their reactions to the leak

Violinist Boyd Tinsley: I wish the songs could have been completed before they were in public hands; that’s a sore spot. Eventually we probably would have gone back and finished recording this material. We still may. From what I hear, people who’ve heard it seem to dig it, so that’s cool, but it probably would have been a lot better if it was finished!

Bassist Stefan Lessard: It would have been nice to keep some of them a little more secret, but what can you do? I don’t mind too much, because we didn’t really do anything with it after the fact. It wasn’t anywhere in our outline to release that, so we wouldn’t have made any money off it anyway.

Beauford: When those tapes were released, I was so pissed off. That was a piece of us that was not ready to be heard. We were creating something, we weren’t finished, and this is what we do for a living, and someone just came in and took it. It makes it harder on the true fans, because it makes us want to clam up a bit and not give as much, because of some knucklehead who wants to be the hero because he or she has put some stuff on the Internet and wants that 15 minutes of fame. It sucks. If we do ever put these recordings out, the whole element of surprise is gone.

Matthews: It was a little bit frustrating. But what’s done is done. The stuff was on its way to being finished. A lot of the songs were done. The picture was painted, so my part in it was done, essentially. If they were paintings and every gallery that I took them to was like, ”No, we can’t use that,” the paintings would still be paintings, and the satisfaction of having painted them would also have been completed. And then, sure, I’ll go back and do two pictures of happy children with clowns.

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