Dave Matthews performsat 2009 London concert. | Fergus McDonald~Getty Images
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
♦ 7 p.m. Wednesday
♦ United Center, 1901 W Madison
♦ Tickets, $39.50, $75, $85 (plus tax and fees)
Updated: January 6, 2013 9:45AM
LOS ANGELES — Dave Matthews needed a break. His famously hardworking band took last year off, except for a few events including Matthews’ local Caravan fest.
Still, he didn’t want to give himself too much free time.
The band reunited early this year with “Crash” and “Before These Crowded Streets” producer Steve Lillywhite, and originally planning to record studio versions of older tunes from live performances. Matthews decided instead to pen and record all new songs, with lyrics about love, lust, aging and activism laid over his three bandmates’ recognizably comfortable-yet-funky musical bed.
The result, “Away From the World,” followed the critical and commercial success of 2009’s “Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King”: 1.2 million copies sold and an album of the year Grammy nomination.
The latest album “has a smaller poignance for me,” the South African-born musician said in an interview. “It’s not a wave the way the other one was, but it has a more personal quality to it for me.”
Clearly proud of his latest attempt to shake DMB from the casual listener’s “great jam band, but ...” label, the 45-year-old singer-songwriter spoke about his children, growing old and God.
Associated Press: How was your break from touring last year? Did it accomplish what you’d hoped?
Matthews: It was good. It forced me to realign things. There was a momentum that had built up over the years that I sort of didn’t feel I had any say. ... I wanted to stop. So we did. ... It wasn’t like I went to Outer Mongolia and stared at the stars, which I sort of fantasized about doing. But I think it was good for very personal reasons.
AP: Who did you spend time with?
Matthews: I spent most of my time with my family. We traveled a bit. ... I think I will (take a break) every year because it made a big difference to have time with my kids. ... I like working. But it seems like there’s a shift and I had to make that shift apparent to myself and everyone around me with my kids. ... I feel really important around them. Because I like to feel important. I feel like I make a difference, for better or for worse, when I’m around them.
AP: Are they into music?
Matthews: Yeah. In all different ways. My girls are 11 so they’re fans of music. At the moment I think they like my music. They’ve got their own things they’re into as well (Beyonce, Taylor Swift). I don’t care what they listen to. My son, he’s pretty heartfelt. He’s 5 now. He’s sort of more of a thrasher. He likes Iron Maiden and he likes Black Sabbath. Mainly I think because of ‘Iron Man.’ ... This year was the first year I took my girls on the road with me with no one else, which was nice. I just hang out with them all the time. Then I also end up seeing the cities I’m in in a much more thorough way. ... It’s good fun to host a party with my daughters.
AP: You recorded this album much quicker than the last album — a few weeks in the studio versus many months. How were you thinking about following up “Big Whiskey”?
Matthews: There was so much that happened in the last record. Roi (Moore) died in the middle of it so it had a different focus. ... The last album incorporated a lot of mourning with the death of our bandmate. I can’t compare the two: apples and oranges. But this album, it was a very refreshing process. And it was interesting to go back with Steve Lillywhite and be old men together.
AP: Were you flashing back to cutting those first records with him?
Matthews: Yeah, there were some similar methods. Also the relationship is very different. It was nice to see an old friend who we had lost touch with. I wasn’t in a great place when we left each other. I can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t think being around me was the best part of their lives. But I think I always have a joyful face on. But I was troubled. But then this time I feel pretty good about where I am, I think, when we went into making the record. A little less, fewer layers to get to the chewy center nowadays. It’s not as tasty as it was maybe 10 years ago but can’t do anything about that.
AP: It sounds from the album like you’re thinking quite a bit about growing old.
Matthews: I’m partly obsessed by aging gracefully. Not that I believe in God. ... I use God in my songs a lot but I don’t have a relationship. I don’t know what that means. ... But my sister said, ‘You age gracefully so you find out what God wanted you to look like when you’re old.’ I kind of like that idea. ... But I like the wrinkles. I woke up three days ago and I thought, ‘In 15 years I’m going to be 60.’ ... Wow, that’s pretty soon.