Tim Reynolds Talks Solo Work, DMB, TR3 & More

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Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Eddie Roberts, Jorma Kaukonen, Jeff Sipe, Eric Gould, Tom Constanten and more.

Words By: Chad Berndtson

Tim Reynolds the interview is a little like Tim Reynolds the guitar player: forward, intense, sparking with creative energy and hinting that things could come off the rails but then tying together incisive thoughts in much the same way those furious flurries of notes resolve into an interesting musical statement during one of his adventurous guitar improvisations.

The self-taught Reynolds, a guitar sorcerer of the first rank, is perhaps best known for his decades-long collaboration with Dave Matthews, both in the acoustic duo format (memorably captured on the beloved 1999 album Live at Luther College) and, for years now, as an electric sideman in the touring ensemble of Dave Matthews Band.

That’s just one side of Reynolds, however. If you’re a fan of his dazzling approach to guitar, you owe it to yourself to seek him out in the solo acoustic format — he just wrapped a string of solo dates in the Northeast and has a new album on the way — or with his TR3 trio, which plays thrilling rock-fusion and kicks off a new stretch of East Coast dates on February 10 ahead of a massive DMB Summer Tour.

Here’s Tim:

JAMBASE: So it sounds like you’re working on a new solo album.

TIM REYNOLDS: Yeah, it’s an album of solo acoustic guitar pieces. I’ve done albums this style before, like Stream and Nomadic Wavelength and Limbic System, but this one is strictly instrumental guitar solo pieces that I’ve worked on. Some are really old and some are really new, and it’s 16 tracks I’m recording.

I have a really limited time to do a lot of this shit, so I’ve set aside a few days, and each day I’ve dedicated to some of these, and trying to set up the situation where I get the best possible take of it. I’m in my little window — this is the time when I don’t have a lot of other gigs so I’m looking at it before I get busy again.

JAMBASE: What appeals to you most about the solo guitar format?

TR: It’s both extremes of playing: it’s the most formal and structured thing I do, but it can also be the most freeform thing I do. Playing alone is interesting because after playing onstage with bands for a while, it always takes a few gigs to get back into the normalcy of it. It’s like, every little mistake is going to be so blatant and I’m going to keep fucking up. [laughs] So it takes a bit.

JAMBASE: Are you structured in how you compose or do a lot of these pieces emerge from free improvisation?

TR: Almost always from improv. I collect little snippets over time, and the hardest part is to go back and sift through that, and then the real hardest part is to figure out what in that to make into a song. But it’s fun when you just get into the mindset. It takes a lot of time, and it also takes away from what is my 100 percent favorite thing to do, which is listen to music. But I wrote four new songs this month and I’m going to write a bunch more stuff later this year. It’ll be slower paced until then because I’ll be back on tour, but I’m psyched about the new stuff I have. I’ve played some of it [in my solo shows this month] but it’s not quite codified yet.

JAMBASE: You mention listening to music and you must absorb a lot of different types of music. What are you listening to now?

TR: Right now I am infatuated with string quartets, especially certain artists. Since the 1970s I’ve been listening to Bartok and a lot of really eerie and kind of serious, high brow, long-hair, Hungarian classical music from the early 20th century. I also listen to Shostakovich, he had all these string quartets, like 15 of them. But my point is that listening to this stuff over a long span of time, it gets really familiar, and it gives me a lot of ideas for format. Schoenberg is another one, the 12-tone practice, the dictaphonic composing. I knew that from music theory classes in high school but it’s crazy shit. It’s not atonal, it’s just a different thing, and it’s still very musical the way he structured it. It’s fucking brilliant, it’s not far from off prog rock.

I love rock ‘n’ roll and I listen to 70s rock all the time, and I love new shit too, Kendrick Lamar and all that. But that’s the type of stuff I look to for education. Paco de Lucia is another one. Flamenco is way over my head, man, but just the way he uses space. I also listen to a lot of Brazilian jazz — that’s very advanced rhythmically. But I try to keep studying music. The more you learn, the more you put in your brain, the more you know.

JAMBASE: How do you think you’ve changed as a player over the years?

TR: I think what’s different now is that I practice improvisation as a matter of normal practice. Some of that comes from playing with DMB — there are places to improvise in the music, but it’s not like you’re doing it all night. I practice it a lot more so that when there is space in that music to improvise, you’re truly free. It’s not as much stepping into that space, stomping on it and screaming out a whole bunch of notes. I think true improv comes out of a space — you play a note, and then expand on an idea, and it’s never the same as what you might have done in that space last night. That leads you to some good places. I can tell when I’m really worked up, when I’ve really hit it.

JAMBASE: Do you have favorite launchpads in the DMB catalog that get you to that space? Favorite big jam songs you wait for?

TR: It’s one of their old staples, but “#41” does it for me. The chords are, well, not like blues but they kind of move like that, a minor to a minor fourth. It’s got a great mode.

JAMBASE: I’ll come back to DMB in a minute but I did want to ask about TR3. This is the version of the group you assembled when you relocated to North Carolina in 2007 and it seems like you guys have a nice rhythm where you get together and it happens when it happens.

TR: We have so much fun it’s sick, really. We’re always trying to learn something new. Sometimes it’s really fun when we haven’t played together for a while, and it’s like this wild interlude in our lives. It’s pent up — it’s “let’s pour our hearts into this.” It’s nice that there’s all these different variations of interplay energy — we get to a different place every night.

JAMBASE: Will you be recording again with TR3?

TR: Oh yeah. No plans immediately but we’ll look to it at some point. I like going into the studio with those guys. It could be wild, fun shit, and it’s not always something we’re going to release but that’s a blank slate.

JAMBASE: Looking again at DMB, you’ve known those guys forever and have been part of the touring band for a while now. What do you think has changed most about DMB over the years?

TR: I think maybe that it’s just settled in to be something super professional. They’ve got the best crew in the music business — the nicest people, just super efficient, and they make it just an easy thing to do. It’s a lot of traveling for sure, but they have it in place to get you on the road and make sure you do things like eat and sleep and get where you need to be. The road can crush you if you let it.

JAMBASE: It’s a big road band these days.

TR: Yeah, but I feel like every year, the practicing and improvising, there’s more of sense of taking that to another level and just making that part of it better and better in what we can do together.

JAMBASE: The fans really seemed to like the two-set, acoustic-electric format of the past few tour legs. It seems like it brought a different energy to the band.

TR: I think so. It’s a little more work every night, but for me, personally, it’s great because it puts an acoustic guitar in my hand for every gig. Before that, I’d be playing electric for three hours a night, for three months, and then feel neglectful of my acoustic playing.

JAMBASE: Sounds like DMB will be back again this year?

TR: Oh yeah. [Ed. Note: DMB announced a Summer Tour and that they would not be touring in 2017.]

JAMBASE: And how about the duo format with Dave? Any plans?

TR: None on the books that I know of, but that’s always in the cards for some point in the future. Everyone’s a little tired right now from doing a European tour and working in the studio, so it’s given us a chance to do other things, and me a chance to do these gigs.

JAMBASE: I always close this column with a sit-in story. Anything stand out from your road adventures with TR3 or DMB in the past year?

TR: I’ll note two standouts and it was playing with these jazz masters with DMB: Herbie Hancock one night and Charles Lloyd another night. Guys like that, they just never stop getting better. They’d be out there playing and they’d transcend what was going on with this sick harmony, and we’d all be like, whoa, what the fuck was that?

We did one song with DMB and Herbie was in it and just started reharmonizing it on the spot. It’s like a two-chord jam and what Herbie was doing might have been over a lot of people’s heads, and we were all mesmerized. And then the night Charles got up, he plays sax and his sax is very expressive and he’s got so much soul. Both of these guys are in their 70s, man. Jeff [Coffin] has this picture of Charles where he’s almost levitating. He’s got this sax player pose with his beret, and he’s on his fucking toes playing like he’s going to float away. They are such masterful musicians. They clearly keep getting better, and you’re like, fuck, man, that’s a genius Einstein on his instrument. They’re getting to almost an obscure level of what they can achieve in their playing.

Who do you want to see interviewed in a future installment of The Art of the Sit-In? Leave a comment and let us know.

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Tim Reynolds