"Stay Or Leave," Dave Matthews

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:00 am

While on my journey into the heart of America, my fellow Team American Courtney introduced us all to a heck of a lot of Dave Matthews Band music. Most of the time I enjoy his music quite a bit, though I still think that as a songwriter he doesn’t quite measure up to the likes of U2 or Coldplay or Derek Webb. On the trip, I secretly borrowed Some Devil, Dave’s solo album, from Courtney and put it on my computer to listen to at a later time; and I’ve only recently started listening to some of the songs. (For the record, as an artist I don’t support stealing music. I consider things like this to be akin to borrowing a CD for a while; after I’ve finished listening to the music, I’ll delete it from my computer. And in case you doubt me, I have done this multiple times before.)

I’ll post about a few of the songs separately, but the first one I want to write about (which I listened to a few nights ago on my iPod) is “Stay Or Leave,” which is track 8. The song was notable in my mind for three reasons. The first was the immediate association the chorus of the song created with Coldplay, particularly the style of Parachutes. I’m not sure what it is; probably the vocal leaps up to falsetto notes have something to do with it, à la the choruses of “Shiver,” “Yellow,” and “We Never Change.” The leap (at least the one on the phrase “stay or leave”) is up to the third scale degree over the IV chord, so it forms a major seventh interval with the root of the chord, and for some reason that just sounds like Coldplay.

The second thing that interested me about the song was its use of percussive vocalization for background effect. Not background vocals, just percussive vocal sounds. Something like “Shakacha cha-cha ooh ah” is the main one, in the interlude following the first chorus and during the second chorus; after the second chorus it’s something like “[rest] choo choo choo koo koo” in steady eighth notes (in 6/8); also in the beginning there’s some sort of sampled percussion that could be a voice saying “ks ks ks.” It’s interesting because pop music seldom utilizes the voice for anything other than pitched singing (speaking and rapping excluded, of course), apart from beatboxing, which isn’t quite what Dave is doing. Mad props for creativity here.

The third interesting thing is a subtle meter shift. The song starts out with a chill rhythm guitar progression in 6/8, and remains in 6/8 until the 2:43 mark, where it changes to a laidback, swung 4/4 with the “exchange rate” of a dotted quarter in the 6/8 equaling a quarter note in 4/4. It’s so subtle that most listeners might not even notice the change. After a new section in 4/4, he actually returns to a previous section of the song (the bridge), but plays it in the 4/4 instead of 6/8. And it still works because the change is so smooth. I have to confess that I’m often impressed by the musicianship of Dave’s songs, although most of the time it’s the other band members’ contributions rather than his playing or singing or the songwriting itself. But hats off for this song–great ideas, terrifically executed.

(The listening sample for “Stay Or Leave” on Amazon.com’s page for Some Devil comes from the first chorus and a little after, so you can hear the leap and some of the vocal percussion. You can hear the full track here on Last.fm. The timer counts down rather than up, so the meter change occurs at -1:19.)



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    Mike Morabito on 05.30.2008

    Yeah, I really like Dave. I totally agree that most musicians only use their voice for one thing. That may be why I like Dave so much, because he is open to other sounds.

    Very cool review.


    ps. you should get a amazon affiliate id so that when you send people to amazon you get a referral fee if they buy something. Also, they have widgets which could display in a cool way things which you recommend to buy and then you would get the referral fee. It may take awhile before you would be able to make any reasonable amount of money from it but if your site starts to get a lot of traffic it could make a lot of money for you.

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    Ryan Fleming on 05.30.2008

    I really enjoyed that song. I too was impressed with the meter change. But while songs like these are interesting and fun to listen to, they never really stick in my head (but that’s just me).


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    Courtney on 05.30.2008

    I, of course, love this song. It gives me the chills. Great analysis of the vocal percussion, that is one of my favorite features. Although I love the live versions of this song, I chose the studio version for my mix because those sort of eerie sounds give the song a certain depth. I also love the bridge. I feel like sometimes bridges try too hard… like when you write a paper at the last minute and restate your thesis too strongly in the last paragraph because you can’t think of anything else to say… but this one really accentuates the tone of the rest of the song, rather than distracting from it.

    Nice post. Way to enjoy the Dave.

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