Over the course of some 18 years together, the [artist id="814"]Dave Matthews Band[/artist] have reached some rather incredible heights. They’ve sold more than 30 million albums, toured the world more times than anyone can remember and, in 2003, played a free show in New York’s Central Park that drew more than 120,000 fans. It’s been a fairly successful ride, to say the least.
But for all the highs, DMB have never been lower than they were in 2008, when they began work on their seventh studio album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Dogged by infighting and exhausted after nearly two decades spent on the road, the band nearly imploded. (In an interview last year with CBS News, Matthews even admitted that he sent a letter to his bandmates saying the group was finished.) The songs weren’t going anywhere. Nobody’s heart seemed particularly in it this time around. And then, in August, saxophonist LeRoi Moore died , following injuries he sustained in an ATV accident.
Needless to say, it was a pretty bleak period.
So perhaps the biggest achievement of GrooGrux — which is nominated for a pair of Grammy awards, including Album of the Year — wasn’t that it paid tribute to Moore, both in title and sound (the album opens and closes with solos he laid down while sessions were still in their infancy) or that it debuted at #1 , giving DMB their fifth-consecutive chart-topping bow. No, it was that the album got made at all.
Because, more than anything, GrooGrux is a testament to DMB’s willpower, their unyielding drive and determination and their commitment to one another. Moore’s death galvanized the group, made them realize that even the most serious of spats were merely trivial in the grand scheme of things, and they pressed on accordingly. There is an underlying (and understandable) weariness that runs through much of the record — even jovial numbers like “Why I Am” and “Funny the Way It Is” are thinly veiled ruminations on fate, life, love and (most of all) death — but the important thing is that they finished it. Lesser bands would have folded in situations half this bad. That was not an option here. The Dave Matthews Band owed it to themselves, their fans and, most of all, Moore to continue onward. And that’s exactly what they did.
Still, they had some help along the way. Moore might have passed on, but he was still somewhere high above, guiding them through the album — as Matthews explained to MTV News back in April.
“There was one song called ‘Lying in the Hands of God’ that I wrote the words over the piece, [over] the constructed song that we made,” he said. “I wrote the words and the chorus and all the stuff, and then played it back and it was a duet! It was already there, ‘Roi playing along. And it was bizarre, because we hadn’t really turned the sax up, then we did, and there it was. He was playing along the whole time.”