Tim Reynolds takes a break from making Dave Matthews sound good to focus on his own project
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As much as Tim Reynolds loves playing guitar for his old friend Dave Matthews, the latter’s decision to take a year off was welcome news.
Not because Reynolds is sick of playing with the Dave Matthews Band. It’s just that he’s been performing as a musician for so long — having played at the bar where Matthews used to work as a bartender — that his own project holds a special place in his heart.
So when Matthews announced that the DMB would take a break during 2011, Reynolds called up his old friends and got the TR3 — the Tim Reynolds Trio — back together.
“The Dave Matthews Band traditionally starts in the early spring, and I imagine that’ll be the case next year,” Reynolds told The Daily Times this week. “Last year, we went for an early European tour, and it was pretty awesome to go there in the winter. It’s just great to be in Germany when there’s snow on the ground, but I just enjoy the hell out of international travel anywhere.
“But when the Dave Matthews Band isn’t on tour, it’s easier in a sense that I’m not trying to juggle so much. I just do the TR3 gigs and focus on new music. It’s great to have a year where I can write new music, rehearse new music with the band and allow this band to evolve to the next level.”
Given Reynolds’ prodigious skills, where that next level might be is, in a lot of ways, unfathomable. After all, this is a guy who’s been nominated for a Grammy for his playing (in 2010, for Best Rock Instrumental Performance) and was described two years ago by writer MacKenzie Wilson as “an underrated master.” Those who doubt such proclamations need only listen to the double-live album “From Space and Beyond,” recorded in 2009 and released earlier this year.
It was a meticulous process, Reynolds said, sifting through the different version of the songs and picking out the ones that worked.
“We took three gigs and listened to different performances and picked out certain ones,” he said. “We just had an idea in 2009 to record some gigs so we would have enough material to choose from. And we had a lot of fun, playing it and doing that. Hearing it over and over, there’s a vibe of that on there, for sure.
“It reminds me of classic live albums from any era. We wanted to go back and make it sound really good – not like a bootleg. We wanted to make it sound like a recording you want to hear over and over.”
Attention to detail has gotten Reynolds to where he is today. A military brat, Reynolds was raised on Christian music, convincing his parents to allow him to learn guitar so he could play in the worship services at the family’s church. On the sly, he experimented with rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, and after leaving home, he eventually landed in Charlottesville, Va. Falling in with like-minded music junkies, he voraciously devoured all of the genres that had been withheld from him over the years; that broad spectrum of influences in those early days contributed greatly to his ability to move fluidly between styles.
In 1989, a friend encouraged Reynolds to take his music to a local Charlottesville bar called Miller’s. There, he met a young bartender who had been in town for two years and was struggling to make it as a songwriter on his own. Dave Matthews and Reynolds would become lifelong friends, and while many reports credit Reynolds with encouraging Matthews to start his own band, Reynolds declines to take any credit for his pal’s success.
“I really have to give credit to his managers for that,” Reynolds said. “We hung out and had fun making recordings in his basement, and I knew he was very musical. But the credit for his success has to go to his managers. At that time, I had the TR3 — the 1980s version — and we were playing a lot of local gigs. I was raising a family, so I wasn’t trying to get out that much at that point in my life. I had a happy local gig scene. I was fulfilled.”
In 1991, the Dave Matthews Band fired up, with Matthews drawing on a number of mutual friends in the Charlottesville scene to round out the lineup. They hit the road and haven’t stopped, becoming some of the undisputed kings of the summer festival circuit and a favorite of both college kids and the jam band crowd.
The two stayed in touch, however, and in 1993 began playing a series of duo sets. The stripped-down affairs offered Matthews a respite from the extensive production of the road, and Reynolds was always glad to catch up and play with his old friend.
In 1996, they mounted their first duo tour; in 1999, the album “Live at Luther College” was released. From that point on, Reynolds became an integral part of the Matthews machine – he played on and toured to support Matthews’ solo album, “Some Devil” (often opening the full-band with Matthews as the aforementioned duo), and in 2008, he joined the band permanently as its guitarist.
Throughout the years, he’s continued to tour and record with TR3, a project that thrives on experimental jams and improvisational changes of direction that Reynolds finds both challenging and exciting. It takes time to lock into a groove with two other guys capable of pulling that off, he added, but he feels the current TR3 lineup, which includes Mick Vaughn on bass and Dan Martier on drums, is as solid as any he’s had.
“In the earlier versions of TR3, when we were based in Charlottesville, it was a pool of musicians,” he said. “If somebody couldn’t make it, somebody else would sub. And it branched out as different people moved on and we started playing different gigs. This version has been the most consistent over a longer period of time than in the past.
“It’s hard to say what makes a band click. People can get together and play their asses off and have a good time, but it’s harder to get together and lock on in that mojo that becomes something beyond just the people. I think we’ve got a strong mold together. The way we hang out on the road is a pretty groovy scene, and I think that comes into the music. The way everybody gets along makes for a really cohesive band sound.”
These days, Reynolds calls the Outer Banks of North Carolina home. He’s looking forward to getting into the studio with the TR3 – later this year or early next year, he said — and as always, there’s the behemoth known as the Dave Matthews Band on the horizon.
As long as he’s able to keep a good balance, he added, life is good. Better than good, he amended — it’s unrivalled in terms of satisfying his explorer’s urge to break new ground and move in new musical directions.
“It’s funny because I’ve spent a lot of time practicing for the next gig — with the TR3, with the acoustic shows with Dave, and I even did a solo acoustic tour earlier this year,” he said. “And when I play that much music, sometimes the brain goes blank. So even if it’s a crazy time of night to have to work on Dave Matthews Band material, the band has a huge number of songs to learn. I just go into it hoping I remember what they’re going to do this time.
“But I don’t worry about it as much as I used to. I’ll find one I haven’t played before, and I’ll go back and learn it; I’ll have some time off to play a TR3 gig, and I’ll go back and practice that. It’s how I stay focused. I have to be up on my game as far as different repertoires go. But all that together just makes for a really rich musical experience. And I guess at my age, to be this busy is a blessing for sure.”