For a lot of Western New Yorkers, tomorrow night’s show featuring Tim Reynolds at Samuel’s Grande Manor will mark their first foray into the live music scene since the pandemic made everyone forget how to behave in public. Will they be grateful for a return to normalcy or has a year of animosity and isolation sullied their appreciation for the communal experience?
That question would be the most compelling talking point leading up to the event were it not for the fact that Reynolds is a guitarist whose magisterial style is all that is required to generate excitement. Whether he’s jamming with Dave Matthews or setting a spiritual tone on his latest solo release, “Venus Transit,” his passion for performing and establishing an organic connection with the audience is never in doubt.
I caught up with Reynolds earlier this week to discuss what he’s been up to and how much he’s looking forward to seeing real fans again.
MNOD: This week will mark your first string of shows since the pandemic began. How have you been dealing with the time away?
Reynolds: Well, I’ve been playing guitar a lot. I’ve been excessively practicing and focusing on some things that I’ve always wanted to do for myself. I’ve had a lot of time to work on what I do. I’ve spent a long time learning classical pieces as well as reading a whole lot. I used to read books all the time while on the road, but now I’ve been reading some shorter stuff. The world has gone through some crazy shit in the past year and I can feel the energy starting to come back. I feel a purpose coming back. The moment when crowd and musician meet again will be a beautiful exchange, because there’s a different vibe when you’re playing in front of people as opposed to a screen in your living room. I’ve done some streaming stuff from home, but it’s not the same. Being off the road has meant that I’ve focused on doing things that I can do by myself such as just playing guitar for three hours at a time uninterrupted. The pandemic caused us to listen differently, as well, so I’ve been playing around with some different material than usual. Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ has been the soundtrack of the pandemic for me, because it has a lot of dark, grey, and other shades to it. I’ve been working on my version of that for a long time. I’ve also been practicing with a pick again in addition to my usual finger picking. Playing along with the CDs of my favorite music is also something that I love doing, so that’s been fun.
MNOD: How does your mindset shift when you’re playing a solo acoustic show as opposed to a large outdoor set with the Dave Matthews Band?
Reynolds: It’s different, because I’m sharing that space with so many other people. With DMB, we’ll have a set with the occasional room for improv, but certain audiences want to hear the song the way they’re supposed to be played. When I’m by myself, I’m totally free to explore things in a different way. I’ve always tried to throw people for a loop and do the opposite of what people expect. I released an album called ‘Venus Transit’ last year, which was really different than anything else I’ve done. I had the material sitting around for 15 years and decided to finally put it out there. I’m excited to finally get the CDs out there at the live shows, as well, because early on in the pandemic I was worried that people wouldn’t want to buy something that was touched by someone else.
MNOD: How has your technique changed as you’ve gotten older?
Reynolds: I had a stroke a while back and that forced me to change my style a little bit. It was a bad situation that actually became good in a way, because it opened up my playing. I remember playing a show where we were covering White Zombie’s ‘More Human Than Human’ and that requires a lot of down strokes. You can use alternate picking on it, but it’s a little different. There’s also a technique that a lot of Flamenco players use that is a trill with two fingers while playing arpeggios and that can be difficult.
MNOD: I know that you were born into a military family, so I was wondering how all that moving around led you to a life in music.
Reynolds: We moved a ton when I was a teenager. I lived in Germany, Indiana, Alaska, and St. Louis among other places. Then, when I got older, I lived in Charlottesville, New Mexico, and the Outer Banks. Music has always been the thing that I gravitated to regardless of where I lived. I’ve always loved learning music. I’ve been in bands that played all covers and I’ve also been in bands that played all originals, but my approach has always been to fuck shit up and do the opposite of what people expect. That’s what my power trio in the late ’90s was about. I never like to make the same record twice. ‘Venus Transit’ sounds completely different than the project I just did with Michael Sokolowski called ‘Soul Pilgrimage.’
MNOD: I was listening to that as well as “Stream” this week to prepare for our conversation and I love the diversity in styles.
Reynolds: The best things are those that have different flavors. For that project with Mike, he was able to send me a Zoom recorder so that I could contribute to the tracks. It’s so cool to have friends that are willing to do that for you, because I’m not really big into technology.
MNOD: Have you kept in touch with the guys from DMB during the pandemic?
Reynolds: Yes, we’ve actually done some recording. We haven’t been all together at once, but a lot of it is already sounding great. Now that we’re getting vaccinated, it’s been easier to get together. Sometimes, it’ll be Dave, Carter, and a horn section and other times it’ll be a different combination. In a normal year, we would spend a whole summer rehearsing so that we would have around 70 tunes ready to take out on the road and it was always exciting. There was a lot of preparation to make sure everything was tight. For my solo shows, I’ve practicing three hours non-stop by myself, so the vibe is pretty free.
MNOD: What do you remember about the first time that you met Dave Matthews?
Reynolds: I had known him a long time before I ended up joining the band. He was working as a bartender and also doing some acting in one-person plays. I never knew he had a musical side until we started talking and discovered that we had similar likes such as Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel. I remember hearing him play the piano one time and he was playing something that sounded just like McCartney. It wasn’t a McCartney song specifically, but it was that good. I played an African drum during the first gig with him. Someone else might have a better memory of that time than me, because all time is confusing to me after the pandemic happened.
MNOD: After you recorded “Under the Table and Dreaming,” did you know right away it would take off or was there still some hesitation?
Reynolds: I knew they were going up, because the trajectory was already promising. They had a really smart management team behind them and they would always draw a large crowd whenever they played. There was a club that would book them on Ladies Night and the house would always be full. They put in so much groundwork leading up to the album that someone at RCA would had to have really fucked up for it not to work. I remember Dave telling me that the guitar parts would be really fat if we both played them together, so that’s what we ended up doing in the studio. Of course, the album came out and ended up being a really hot item. There are times that I’ll be listening back to stuff that we did and go ‘Oh, did I do that?’
MNOD: What can people expect when you come to WNY this week?
Reynolds: Well, the last show I played was back in March and I had a technical difficulty where my guitar was humming, so I had to run home and grab another one as quickly as I could. What should have been a relaxed afternoon ended up having some anxiety. For this solo run I’m doing, I’m excited to finally connect with a crowd again, because streaming one show every couple of months is completely different than getting out there for 90 minutes a night and having that moment with people. The pandemic forced us to do a lot of things differently and we’re crazier for it. DMB being nominated for the Hall of Fame means that I’m not a young pup anymore, but I’m still humble and I’ve really enjoyed relearning a lot of my old material.
Tim Reynolds plays Samuel’s Grande Manor on Thursday, June 10.