NEW YORK - The morning after a blistering three-hour concert to celebrate the release of their new album, members of the Dave Matthews Band were still jazzed - about the songs no one heard.
Long before fans streamed into the Roseland Ballroom or cameras began taping, Matthews and the band were just noodling around during sound check when they improvised what he called "two smoking tunes."
"They just came out of the blue," Matthews says. "The room was empty. First came the bass or the drums, and then everyone came in. It just happened. There was nothing and then there was something."
"It was too much fun," says bassist Stefan Lessard, smiling at the memory.
"But we've never gone into the studio and done that. Ever," Matthews says. "We do that at sound check and all of a sudden you see the guys setting the chairs up in the auditorium and they're grooving."
To capture that special, fleeting sound, the Dave Matthews Band has reunited, hired a new producer and emerged with the summertime CD "Stand Up," their first studio album since 2002's "Busted Stuff."
"This was like a new day dawning in a way," Matthews says before he and Lessard start a day doing radio spots to promote the CD. Matthews still smells vaguely of post-concert Jagermeister as he chugs coffee fortified with four espresso shots.
The band - which also includes drummer Carter Beauford, violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxophonist LeRoi Moore - is basking in the CD's favorable reviews, and it sold 465,000 copies in its first week to debut at No. 1 on the album charts.
Some fans had worried the band might be losing its way after selling more than 25 million albums since 1991. Purists were unhappy with 2001's "Everyday" and two members - Matthews and Tinsley - did solo albums.
Regrouping again last year, the band originally planned to work with multiple producers until they sat down in Los Angeles with Mark Batson, whose hip-hop heavy resume includes collaborations with Eminem and 50 Cent, plus artists like Seal and India.Arie.
"It wasn't as much that we felt we needed a change. It was more just sort of challenge to see, at the time, what it would be like to work with different producers," Lessard says.
"Then we met Mark, and everything that we'd been thinking before just went out the window. He just hit all of us in such a way that almost reminded ourselves of ourselves."
Retreating to the band's Virginia recording studio - a converted home in the woods outside Charlottesville - Batson did something that seemed to enchant band members: He took each aside and let them jam. Just like sound check.
"They came to me and said, 'We want to thump, we want to bang. We want to make a record that represents where we are right now,'" Batson says in a telephone interview. "I didn't want to get away from what it is that the band sounds like, but I did want to get into each individual and what they have to offer back to the band."
That translated into some unusual moments as the quintet got used to Batson's laid-back style, which often consisted of patiently teasing out killer riffs from each member.
"At one point, he just hit 'record' and said, 'OK, play.' I had no clue what chords to use or even what to play," says Lessard. "But, at the same time, what you catch is so awesome. It's really like the essence of the song."
Matthews had a similar experience - one you can hear on the CD's first song.
"The second day I was driving home and we had the foundation for 'Dream Girl.' I had about an hour's drive and thought of the lyrics. And the next day I came in and said, 'I think I've got some idea for lyrics.' And he said, 'Well, go sing.'"
Unsure of what exactly to sing or what melody to use, Matthews simply improvised. His initial vocal on the completed track is sort of a lost moan, raw with emotion and energy. In other words, exactly what Batson wanted.
"A lot of it has this sort of instant quality to it. He didn't impose himself or what he thought of us on the process," says Matthews. "Coming to the table every day intentionally empty-handed was really amazing. It was like going to school with nothing!"
During the three-month recording process, Batson carefully saved all the great licks into a digital library. That's how "American Baby" started - with Tinsley's simple violin plucking becoming the skeleton of a song.
"That's what I wanted to do: To get back to when the band first started. The moment of creation," Batson says. "I wanted to give them the space where they were kind of improvising but still in a structured environment."
The result is an eclectic mix of tunes: the Cajun-ish "Louisiana Bayou," the soulful "Smooth Rider," the grunge-inspired "Hunger For the Great Light," the funky "Stand Up (For It)." Each band members' individual musical interests seem to emerge more starkly here than in other albums.
"With this record, because a lot of it was just shooting from the hip, you can't hide it. It's like, boom! - that's what we sound like when we just sit down together and play with no obligation," Matthews says.
Even the way he went about writing lyrics was different. Rather than wait until the songs were completed, Matthews scribbled away as they were being built - something the rest of the band appreciated.
"So right away, you got a sense of the song and it was easy to see where they were going," Lessard says. "With every song, you got put somewhere before you actually started playing it."
As for the lyrics themselves, Matthews offers his usual brew of thinly disguised left-leaning political pronouncements - "To change the world, start with one step" he sings in "You Might Die Trying" - and bittersweet love songs.
"In a way, it's the same things that I'm always drawn to singing about, although there are a couple of adventures away from that," he says. "It's always the same: A little bit of death, a little bit of sex, a little bit of love."
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