Stefan Lessard on Berklee Online
Stefan Lessard is the bass player and a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band. He's also taking courses at Berklee Online. I caught up with Stefan when DMB played at the Comcast Center outside of Boston. Check out excerpts from our interview below.
You've been playing with the Dave Matthews Band for 20 years. How did you go from playing small clubs in Virginia to this?
This band, for a while, took every single gig that we were offered. We played every party, every rooftop party, every fraternity; we never said no, we just played everything. I think the most that we played was three gigs in one day and each one of those were about two-and-a-half-hours long. So we just worked ourselves silly for four years and when things started growing, we got on the H.O.R.D.E. tour. And back when we started, taping was huge. We let people tape our shows, and those tapes started getting everywhere, and after a few years, we thought, "Well, we should probably release a professional sounding live album for our first record." So we did, and we threw a few studio numbers on there, but it was mostly just a live show, and people loved it because all they had of us was these crappy sounding mix tapes. So finally there was this quality representation of who we were and what we did. It just really grew from there and it was a steady increase. After our first studio record, it really shot up to some sort of success.
Was Coran [Coran Capshaw, DMB Manager; founder of Red Light Management; cofounder of ATO Records] helping you set up your infrastructure at the beginning stage?
Well, we were incorporated as a band, which was another thing that a lot of bands did not do, where the lead singer kind of owned the whole thing or the guitar player or whatever, but we came together and incorporated. The merchandise thing... we just made t-shirts one day and just started selling the t-shirts, and people loved them, so we just kept doing that. Coran came around because he ran a club that we played at, and we started playing there every Tuesday, and he became pretty interested in what we were doing because he saw that there was a lot of momentum. So when he came into it, there was already a lot of momentum, but he definitely helped sculpt the business model that we have used throughout our career. He's a pretty powerful force when it comes to the business side of the music.
Our band has always tried to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology when it came to the fan site. When we first started, a fan site was more or less just a mailing list where you would sign a piece of paper and send it to a P.O. box and then maybe you got a t-shirt or a couple stickers or something. There wasn't really too much incentive to be a fan member. So we created an online fan site, and it just took off, and that kind of became the model for every band after that.
I have started thinking about a solo record. It's one of those things—in the history of music, most people that do that, their solo record isn't something that carries because everyone sees it as project from the bass player for the Dave Matthews Band. So I decided that I would start a website—a platform that I could express myself, so people could see me outside of being the Dave Matthews Band bass player. So it worked, and for a little while people were signing up and talking, and I would do little blogs on stuff. MySpace came up, and it completely obliterated my whole concept because my concept was MySpace. All of a sudden, I signed up for an account to MySpace and I had 400 more people becoming my friends on MySpace than on my own site. I sort of left my site to the side and I went to MySpace, and then from there I went to Facebook and then from there I went to Twitter. Next thing I know, I had a voice with the fans.
I'm taking courses at Berklee Online, and fans love hearing about the homework I'm doing. I've been posting about homework, and I think people are starting to think I'm crazy, because it's 4 in the morning and I'm like, "Still working!" and they're like, "When do you sleep?" It's been a lot of fun for me, and I think the fans enjoy it, so it is something that I'll keep doing.
The full interview appears on the Mike King's Berklee Online Blog.