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Some people just fly under the radar during collaboration. Jordan had Pippen, Simon had Garfunkel, and Dave Matthews has Tim Reynolds. Although he grabbed attention with Dave Matthews Band acoustic concert releases Live at Luther College and Live at Radio City Music Hall, Reynolds has been leaving audiences spellbound as a solo acoustic artist and melting faces with his electric trio, TR3, when he's not with Dave Matthews Band. We caught up with him in between a spring of touring with TR3 and a summer of hitting the road with DMB.
What led you to pick up guitar in the first place?
Probably my sister playing Beatles records in the sixties. And even before that, Elvis records, and everything after that just blew me away, up to James Brown... y'know, the whole late sixties to early seventies was basically when guitar rock came into its own and so I was just completely all into that. And it's still a fascination, I'm still checking out guitar players whose names I can't pronounce... it's an ongoing thing.
I'm into other instruments as well, because they can inform different ways of playing... dervish flute, oud, sitar. I'm really a fan of the sitar, I played that for a while, and it still moves me... I guess Indian music in general has so many cool inflections and ornamentations, the way a vocalist does. The mojo of that, the way it communicates such feeling, it can be dark or light, or into the microtonal stuff.
Then there's the way you play jazz guitar, where you don't bend any strings at all, but it's just like the way a piano is; what note comes after what, and the effect of that. It's just an endless search for new ways to approach the instrument. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. You feel like you need many more lifetimes to study this or that. It can be anything that has soul or communicates feeling. Vocalists, the way they sing. Sometimes I'll just put on a record and play along with the singers, try to emulate that, because it's a more interesting thing than just going crazy... but I also like to put on stuff and just jam and go apeshit. It's also just the technical things that I hear people do, that I kinda just go "Fuck, man," there's so many people at the cutting edge of technique on the guitar.
Who do you see on the cutting edge, and how do they influence your playing?
There's this guy, Yamandu Costa, and he plays an 8-string classical guitar—all this amazing uptempo stuff—and his technique is like a combination of extreme classical meets flamenco, but it doesn't sound like either because he's playing samba. It's just all these amazing syncopated rhythms.
And then there's Allan Holdsworth, who's been around forever, but he just keeps getting better and better. He's like John Coltrane on the guitar. That's one way of looking at guitar, and then there's the other extreme, like I was saying, with vocalists. I kind of draw from those things a little bit more now, but I go back and forth. I'm not going to sit around and just practice playing faster and faster, because I can do that a little bit naturally. I'm really kind of looking for the soul of stuff. Because I tend to go apeshit, I like to look at the slower, vocal things that have more ornamentation, because that's what I need to concentrate on more.
Your career is so varied—alternating between touring with Dave, solo acoustic, the trio—how do you prepare for each of those?
For me, whenever it gets to a week or two out, depending on how much time I have before each of those gigs, I just kinda shed on the tunes. The hardest for me is the acoustic solo tunes. It's a whole different repertoire and it takes a lot of focus, so I spend a lot of time doing that. I had two different gigs doing that, and I forgot how much fun they are. It's this whole different set of songs that i like to play, so I hope to do that more this year or next year.
So let's talk about Radiance a little bit... You started touring with TR3 again in 2007?
Yup! We started right about the end of the year, played a lot of local gigs to get to know each other.
And then what led to the new album?
It just kind of came about organically... I'd been working a lot of solo gigs and using drum machines. Then I just started playing with Dan [Martier, drums] and Mick [Vaughn, bass]. They came over to my house and we had a verbal rehearsal for our first gig, and then we played out and had a lot of jamming, and I realized "Let's all practice and get it really tight!" We learned songs I already had, older TR3 songs from the '80s, and in the process of doing that came up with some new songs. A lot of times, recording in New Mexico, I'd kind of pretend that I was a band, jam with myself—I'd play a drum track, improvise some bass, and try to think of it as a song. There'd be a moment during a three- or four-minute jam where I'd lock into something. I had a lot of recordings like that, so we started looking at some of those things and making songs out of those. That's about half the material from Radiance, and the other half is older TR3 material. Also, when we were in the studio I'd just learned this Chris Whitley song, "Wild Country." I didn't know that we'd record it, but we learned it and spent a day recording it, and I was really psyched because I love that song. It reminds me of coming from New Mexico.
The gear I was using at the time was just my little Marshall, and I had a little Fender amp I used on a couple tunes for cleaner sounds. And it turns out we had another amp just like mine there, so we kinda double-amped it—one in the closet, one in another room. I didn't really have to double any parts because we already had them doubled. I wanted to keep that to a minimum because on the album I did before that, Parallel Universe, I kind of went apeshit with overdubbing and production. But when we did Radiance, it was more like "Let's get the live sound of this band." Also, Dan and Mick are great singers, so we had these cool vocals which we didn't have in previous incarnations of TR3. We spent a week at Haunted Hollow in Charlottesville, and that was like being in heaven because we just worked on this music in this simplified studio. Rob Evans, the engineer, also helped us produce it, and he just has such a great ear. It was just an easy-going great experience.
Back to the gear—I noticed that you were using a Mesa/Boogie [Dual Rectifier] most of the time on this tour, right?
Yeah, that was my first big amp. I got it back in '98 when I lived in Santa Fe, and it sounds really great. Then I just got this big Marshall amp [JCM2000], and I was really stoked about that too. I mean, the Marshall sounds great, they're both the best at what they do, so you can't really say one is better than the other. I mean, it's like comparing a Martin and Gibson acoustic, they're both just great! It's a matter of maybe one fits a song better than the other. So I started using it on this last tour. I felt bad that it just sat in my house, so I decided just to take it out on tour. When I first worked with the Mesa, it took a little while to get used to it, because my Marshall has three channels, but then I realized it makes you work a little harder, which is good, so on the songs I need more distortion I just turn around and crank up. The great thing about the Mesa is that it sounds great at any volume, whereas the Marshalls, you have to turn them up to get that optimum volume.