Gary James' Interview With Brandon De Paul Of
Dave Matthews Tribute Band
Big Eyed Phish
It was back in 1997 that Brandon De Paul started a Dave Matthews Tribute Band called Tripping Billies. After touring the U.S., Brandon moved down South and created yet another Dave Matthews Tribute Band, Big Eyed Phish. Brandon De Paul spoke with us about Big Eyed Phish and meeting the man he portrays on stage.
Q - Usually, the tribute bands I interview will be paying tribute to bands that don't tour very much or maybe are no longer together. But in the case of the Dave Matthews Band, they're still touring. So, I'm just wondering who's coming out to see Big Eyed Phish? Would ticket prices factor into their decision to see you?
A - I don't think that's a factor to the fans that come out to see our show. The Dave Matthews Band, from the beginning he's started an underground following much like The Grateful Dead, Phish, etc. The tape trading that they did in the beginning has kind of fueled the whole thing, but it kind of created something to the effect of "Dave Heads" much like The Grateful Dead's "Dead Heads." Dave Matthews speaks to those fans in a way that it touches them. It musically touches them. They go to as many shows as they can. They try to see everything they can about The Dave Matthews Band. Their cars have the stickers. Everything is Dave Matthews this, Dave Matthews that. I think the fans that come out to see us have a void. Dave jams out the entire country for the entire Summer and that's wonderful, but then what do Dave fans do for the next nine months? Listen to CDs. Listen to 'live' shows. Talk to other Dave fans and go see a tribute act. I believe that the fans come to our show initially to check it out. Who are these guys? Who do these guys think they are, doing Dave Matthews? They come back because they see we're as passionate about Dave Matthews Band as they are.
Q - How many bands out there are doing tributes to Dave Matthews? Any idea?
A - I don't actually have an exact number either. I know there's more than just us. I know there's a band on the West Coast. There's a band in the Long Island area. There was a band in Syracuse that are no longer together. And there are other bands that tour much like we do. God bless 'em! I appreciate what they're doing. I appreciate what they're trying to do, but we're so busy with our schedule that we don't get really a good opportunity to even see these other bands. I know of them. I know the exist. (laughs)
Q - How much work is there for a Dave Matthews tribute band? How often are you working?
A - First off, there's plenty of work. I used to be in another band. My original band before this band was called Tripping Billies. So, we were the first bonafide Dave Matthews Tribute Band in the country. This particular band was a full-time job for us. We had a tour bus. We toured the country. We'd hit the road and we'd be on the road for two or three months. That band was from 1997 to about 2003. The beginning of 2003 I took a hiatus from doing the Dave Matthews thing for a bit. I quickly missed it. So, in 2007 I came back to Rochester. I was living in Atlanta at the time, and I came back to Rochester, New York in order to put another band together. We currently are more of a weekend warrior (band). We will tear up a couple of venues for Friday and Saturday night. A lot of the guys in the band have a job they do, but doing the Dave Matthews vibe is definitely a passion of all or ours. If fluctuates, but on any given month we could be playing anywhere from one weekend to every single weekend.
Q - Before Tripping Billies you were in a couple of bands, The Confusion and Naked J. What kind of bands were they?
A - (laughs) The Confusion is kind of where I got my musical start. It was a bunch of friends from high school, but that's where I got my first experience being on stage and performing in front of people and realizing I had a passion for music more than just sitting in a bedroom, playing guitar. The Confusion was more of an original band. We were confused. (laughs) Then some guys in Naked J ended up playing in the band. That was a hybrid thing. We did a bunch of covers. We did some originals. Did the college circuit kind of thing. That's about the time where I discovered Dave Matthews and started to kind of unravel the onion of his music. I decided to go in that direction. At the time I was just a guitar player, well, not just, but a guitar player in the band Naked J as well as Confusion. I started to do some singing and was digging it. Again, right around that time was the perfect storm of being introduced to the Dave Matthews Band was about the time I wanted to front a little more than I was doing, so I ended up putting together a project in the college town of Brockport at a coffee shop. I just wanted to get an opportunity to play in front of people and I was heavily influenced by the Dave Matthews Band. So I put a band together. We had violins, sax, drums, bass guitar, the whole nine yards and we had a couple practices. We got in front of an audience of standing room only. The place holds about sixty people. There were probably two hundred and fifty people that showed up. People were standing outside trying to get in. They were looking in the window. There was a frenzy. That was something I couldn't explain, but I knew something was there. I knew there was a need for this. I knew people wanted to hear it. We were horrible. We were absolutely horrible. I believe if Dave Matthews himself heard us play at the time he probably would have smashed our instruments, but luckily for us he wasn't there. (laughs)
Q - It makes you wonder how did he sound when he started?
A - Well, yeah. I saw some early videos that are shaky, but they tear it up now!
Q - When you say you were going around the country in a tour bus, do you mean a school bus or a real tour bus?
A - It was a tour bus.
Q - Did you buy it or rent it?
A - We rented. You have to understand the facilities we were playing were all across the country. We were playing five to six shows a week.
Q - So, you could afford a real tour bus then.
A - Yeah. The tour bus kind of pushed the band in a demise. It became an incredibly expensive expense. We were in a situation where we were too busy for a van but not quite making the break to the point where we could totally afford the tour bus. So eventually we had to go back to the van thing. Once the guys got to a point of a certain way of living it was very difficult to go back to squeezing into a van, especially five, six days in a row or more and again we would hit the road and we wouldn't come home for three months.
Q - You must've had a driver for the bus as well.
A - Yup. We had a Road Manager, Tour Manager, us, we had a couple of roadies. We had a whole crew. We were playing pretty good size venues. We were playing theatres, sometimes 1,200, 1,500 seaters. Festivals. Anything you could think of. The only time we would play small clubs is when we came to New York City or Boston or that kind of thing.
Q - Was it hard to recruit guys for the band?
A - I had kind of a formula for finding people. I knew what I was looking for from the Tripping Billies. I'd done it once. A lot of guys from that band dispersed. The drummer went to Colorado. The bass player joined the Army, that kind of thing. I didn't have that pool of people to resource again for a new band, Big Eyed Phish, but I knew the formula. I knew how to word it. I knew where to go to look for people. I knew how to quickly figure out, "Is this the right candidate? Is this the wrong candidate?" It took some dedication. It took some persistence, but it really wasn't that difficult.
Q - Did you have any difficulty getting the look and voice of Dave Matthews down?
A - The voice thing and the look, I mean I never did anything to my look other than I put contacts in. I wear glasses when I'm not on stage. I just so happen to kind of have his look. Many people think he's a very attractive man and other people are like, "He's balding!" (laughs) The voice was more, I just sang. I didn't spend any time in front of a mirror. I just had that kind of tone to begin with, maybe because I never formally took voice lessons to really learn how to sing properly. I smoked cigarettes and I got on stage.
Q - Do you still smoke cigarettes?
A - No. I quit many years ago, thank God. From singing so much it became difficult. I would get sick a lot and the absolute worst thing for a lead singer is to be on stage and have laryngitis, which has happened to me more than once. I can't hide that. A guitar player can be on the verge of puking, but he can hide it. He can still play his guitar and the tone is still right. When you have laryngitis there is literally nothing you can do to hide that. It's glaring, especially when you are the front focal point of the band. I can remember many shows, more so than I want to, (laughs) where the bartenders are tearing up whiskey so I can sip on it before I go on stage. Just something to break up the vocals a little bit.
Q - I never did understand why someone who made their living by singing would smoke.
A - I agree. I'm glad I came to a point where I quit smoking, put singing aside just for health reasons. It's pretty much a nasty habit.
Q - Does Dave Matthews know about Big Eyed Phish?
A - Yes. Dave definitely does know about us. We got into a Dave Matthews biography book. We've had many connections through that band and just being in the business, doing our thing. I don't know how Dave feels about it, but I pray and hope that, what's the saying? The greatest form of flattery is imitation. That's all we're trying to do. Were just huge Dave Matthews fans just like everyone else that stands in front of us. We just happen to have instruments in our hand and spent some time learning the music. (laughs)
Q - And when you think about it, when you really get down to it, you're helping promote Dave Matthews' music.