Reel Time: Boyd Tinsley Talks New Project Crystal Garden

Rob Slater on February 6, 2018

Andrew Scott Blackstein

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Relix, prior to Boyd Tinsley announcing he would be taking time off from Dave Matthews Band.

On Jan. 25, 2016, Dave Matthews Band dropped their annual cross-country summer tour dates. But their announcement came with an important caveat: 2017 would be their first year completely o the road since they formed 25 years earlier.

There were several reasons for the break: The band members were eager to spend time with their families, take a breather from their usual grueling tour schedule and pursue a variety of other musical endeavors. For violinist Boyd Tinsley, that project is the rising Seattle-based Crystal Garden, which he took under his wing in 2015. He threw all his weight behind the rock outfit, sitting at the helm for their 2017 debut, Let the Rocks Cry Out, adding his trademark fiddle to the set of songs and recruiting DMB collaborator Stanley Jordan to appear on the LP. He also spent a good portion of the year on the road with the group, packing into small clubs and even throwing the occasional pop-up show.

Behind his patented dark sunglasses, Tinsley still finds comfort in the embrace of a song. The outfit now finds itself on the precipice of another album and more live dates (Tinsley says to expect a harder edge from the group.) “It’s a whole different part of my brain that’s working,” Tinsley says. “And once again, as a producer, a lot of things that I do in the studio are things that I learned from Dave Matthews Band. It’s what I’ve learned from other producers who’ve worked with us, and what I’ve learned from my playing and observations.”

Follow the Leader 

What I have to offer [Crystal Garden] is 30 years playing music professionally—even before DMB. There’s a lot of stuff, just from my experiences, that I can teach them and show them. But the incredible thing about these guys is that they follow my direction absolutely flawlessly. When I ask them to do something, they completely get it, and they do it. They’re very pliable. They trust me, and they allow me to mold them as a band.

They can do just about anything, musically. They’re really studied musicians; they’re just so knowledgeable. The younger guys, Charlie Csontos and Matt Frewen, go back and study music from other decades. They’re like 25 and 27, and they study stuff  from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. You always hear them listening to all of these different periods of rock music, and they fuse those eras together. They just soak all of that up, and have such a wealth of rock knowledge. One of the things that impresses me is these guys’ ability to go from genre to genre of rock, play all of it confidently and be familiar with it. Their songs have a lot of diversity because they can go into different directions. 

Learning Yourself

As far as playing with them, it’s like when you play with musicians that are better than, or of the same caliber as you. It brings stuff  out of you. It’s a different band than DMB,

but it’s also a group that’s very talented. You just play different things and you learn. There are things that I’ve learned from playing with them—and I’m sure this is the case with Stefan [Lessard] and Carter [Beauford] and Je [Coffin], who also play with other people on breaks. You learn by being exposed to different people and different music. Then you come back to DMB, and you have all of this new music inside of you to bring to the band. That was one of the things that I got from them— being able to play and listen to music that was different from what I’ve played before, and to learn from that.

I’m looking at everything as a producer. You’re looking at the big picture and you’re also listening for those things that are going to make a good song. I love that aspect about it—finding the nuggets of gold that present themselves and then putting it all together. It’s just fun.

The Lillywhite Way

[Longtime DMB collaborator] Steve Lillywhite was a big infiuence on how I look at producing music. Steve’s thing was that he knew how to get the best out of people. He knows how to get the best out of you, and he knows how to put it together.

On those first [DMB] records— particularly on [Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash], but even on Before These Crowded Streets, to a degree—there would be days where Steve and the engineer would be working on the stuff  that we’d recorded, and sometimes, I would just stop by and listen. Steve really didn’t like people in the studio when he was editing; he just wanted it to be him and the engineer. I would come in and I wouldn’t say a word, and I’d put myself in a place where I wouldn’t be in the way. And because of that, Steve would let me stay.

I’d listen to how Steve was putting together the songs. And just seeing the whole process that those two guys would go through, I was just learning—almost like in a classroom—from Steve about how to go about producing a record. There would be times that he would turn around, look at me, point something out and be like, “Check this out right here.” He’s been a great role model and mentor. 

Getting the Band Back Together

We’re going to do the [next DMB] album. As far as the timing of it, that hasn’t been worked out right now. But there’s been some work going on between the musicians in the band so, in a sense, we’ve already begun the process. Sometime [in 2018], we’ll head to the studio and get that next DMB record out.

It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s probably going to be a record that will be directed more by the musicians initially, like our first three albums we did with Lillywhite. All of those songs, or at least most of them, we had played onstage—they were songs that we had already crafted before we went into the studio. I think that’s what the process that’s evolving now will look like. We’ll craft some of these songs together as band before we actually go into the studio. When the musicians start the songs, arrange the songs and, of course, write the songs, I think it brings out the truest form of Dave Matthews Band.