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Boyd Tinsley

It's early evening in the Catskills. Kicking back in a soundproof room at Allaire Studios, Boyd Tinsley lays down a vocal track for his debut Bama Rags/RCA solo album TRUE REFLECTIONS. "As I'm singing, I'm looking outside through these huge windows, he says, recalling the moment. I see the mountains, the river below, the moon in the sky. It's a magical place, and one of the coolest experiences--to be surrounded by so much peace." Welcome to Boyd Tinsley's tranquility base, which helps create the peaceful spirit that definitely hovers in and around TRUE REFLECTIONS.

Largely written or co-written by Tinsley, the violinist in the Dave Matthews Band, this is an album that has been brewing for some time. "I finally got to the point where I needed to write these songs, he notes. I started putting together ideas and recording them on the tour bus, at home, wherever I could." From there, Boyd hooked up with guitarist/songwriter Chris Bruce and their collaborations resulted in most of the material on the album. To record the album, Tinsley enlisted some highly regarded talent including: producers Craig Street (k.d. lang, Cassandra Wilson); Espen Noreger & Haavard Hana; guitarist Doyle Bramhall II; singers Lisa Germano and Toshi Reagon; drummer JJ Johnson; keyboardists Patrick Warren and Dave Palmer and bassist David Piltch.

I lived with the songs for a couple of months, adds Boyd, "and developed them. All the lyrics were written after thinking about what's important in life, what I appreciate about life. So the songs are basically about love and relationships." Indeed, TRUE REFLECTIONS walks an unmistakable inner-directed path.

The album kicks off with the acoustic-flavored It's Alright, an ultra-catchy tune with a Beatlesque cachet. The edgy Show Me has a smoky bar room vibe that exemplifies the album's colloquial approach. We didn't try to get a slick, overproduced thing, says Tinsley. "It's just a raw sound coming from the musicians at that moment. When something felt good, that's when it was right. That was the guideline."

The album's eleven tracks explore diverse musical terrain. Country overtones in Run and So Glad provide counterpoint to the bittersweet Long Time to Wait and the raucous 60's-flavored Listen. Boyd takes a topical turn on Perfect World, in which a lilting pop melody belies serious lyrics. That song was for my two kids, says Tinsley. "How do I explain war to a child, something that makes no sense even to me?"

One of the album's surprises is Boyd's take on the Neil Young/Crazy Horse classic Cinnamon Girl, reconfigured as a slow-burn ballad. I've always been a huge fan of Neil Young's, says Boyd. "We started out trying an electric approach as Neil did it, but I felt he had done that version and nobody can touch it. So we decided on a quieter, acoustic approach. Toshi Reagon did a great job on the background vocals.

Equally powerful is the album's closer, True Reflections," (a popular Tinsley-penned DMB concert staple). The track features Dave Matthews on harmonies and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band providing high-end horns. I thought Dave did an amazing job, says an appreciative Tinsley. "He just came in, and like everyone else on the album, put his whole heart into it."

Heart and soul not only define TRUE REFLECTIONS, they also comprise Boyd Tinsley's lifelong approach to music making. As a member of one of rock's most popular bands, Tinsley long ago adjusted to the spotlight, but his down-to-earth demeanor and solid small town values kept the world's top rock violinist humble, happy and musically pure.

A native of Charlottesville, VA, Boyd grew up in the same neighborhood as DMB drummer Carter Beauford and saxophonist Leroi Moore. He was raised in a musical household, with his father the director of the church choir and his uncle a staple in local jazz bands.

Tinsley stumbled into playing the violin after signing up for a middle school strings class. He quickly became proficient, though he notes that his dog and family hated me for a good couple of years. As a teen, he co-founded the Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Orchestra (which DMB bassist Stefan Lessard later joined) and studied under Isador Saslav, concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Impressed with his pupil, Saslav wanted Boyd to move to Baltimore to further his studies, but at 16, Boyd wasn't ready to leave home and make the sacrifices required of a virtuoso. Instead, he immersed himself in the music of fiddlers Stephan Grappelli, Jean-Luc Ponty and Papa John Creach, all of whom traversed the realms of jazz, rock and blues. Boyd further expanded his chops at the University of Virginia, where he headlined all-night campus coffee house jams.

But all of Boyd's own projects fell by the wayside when a young South African singer/songwriter named Dave Matthews came to town. I knew it was something special, says Tinsley. "This was some of the most powerful music I'd heard in a long time. After playing on the demo of Tripping Billies" in 1991, Tinsley hooked up with DMB full-time.

After years of playing with DMB and now having completed his own solo project, Boyd has developed an even greater appreciation for the violin. I experiment with different ways to play, he says. "There are no limits to it. I like playing pizzicato, rhythm, playing with a wah-wah pedal. Mostly, it's really cool to see kids playing air violin in the crowd. That's something new. I hope some kids will take what I've done and expand on it."

As a member of Dave Matthews Band, Boyd Tinsley has performed and recorded in front of a countless number of fans and sold millions of albums. So once the Dave Matthews Band 2003 Summer Tour kicks off, he'll be back on familiar ground. Making things more interesting this time is that he'll be promoting his own new album. "I know my life is gonna be a little crazier than it has been, he says, but I feel more prepared to do it. The most important thing is to play music, have fun, pour my heart out, and move people." That's always been the easy part for Boyd Tinsley.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Boyd Tinsley Facts

Birth Name Boyd Calvin Tinsley
BirthdayMay 16, 1964 (59)
BirthplaceCharlottesville, Virginia, USA
Height6' 2" (1m88)  How tall is Boyd Tinsley compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Not available.