Dave Matthews Band’s Boyd Tinsley Discusses His Debut Film, ‘Faces in the Mirror’ – Exclusive Interview
Boyd Tinsley is an avid movie fan, but he’s a musician first and foremost. When the Dave Matthews Band violinist embarked on his first-ever film project, ‘Faces in the Mirror’ (available at www.snagfilms.com/faces), he started in the recording studio, enlisting an ensemble of talented friends — among them his DMB bandmates — to create an ethereal score that influenced the action onscreen.
‘Faces’ premieres tonight in Seattle, and hours before taking the stage to add live musical accompaniment and answer fans’ questions, Tinsley chatted with Diffuser.fm about the unusually constructed film. As the renowned fiddler explains, it was the 2008 death of DMB saxophonist LeRoi Moore that inspired him to finally follow his cinematic muse. He conceived of a simple story about a man coming to terms with his father’s death, but that’s just the beginning. Over the course of 77 nearly wordless minutes, Tinsley and director Aaron Farrington touch on sex, drugs, god and forgiveness, realizing an artistic vision Boyd says he shared with everyone involved.
You come from a musical family, but did you grow up watching movies?
I loved movies as a kid. We watched a lot of classic movies on Saturdays and Sundays, and everyone watched the same movies. I really began to like classic movies, and one of the directors I loved the most was Alfred Hitchcock. I love his use of silence and his use of music in his movies. Just the effect they have — it’s almost like silence can be as loud as music. For instance, there’s this scene in ‘North by Northwest,’ where Cary Grant is going out to Kansas to see this secret agent that doesn’t really exist, but there’s complete silence for at least a minute — which onscreen is forever. You hear nothing but the tumbleweeds and some cars passing by. When you see that, it’s so bold. He was fearless in what he did. That gave me a lot of strength and confidence to do a movie this way, which was really different, to start with the music from the soundtrack with a little bit of a story and have the musicians complete the story.
When you were in the studio, were you thinking specifically about parts of the story, like, “OK, we need music to go along with the funeral scene?”
In this process, we didn’t know where the movie was going to go. We didn’t know how it was going to end, and we didn’t know the complete story … We got to a point where we put together everything we had, then we looked at it and said, “Oh ,OK, we’re missing this, and we’re missing that.” We were building this thing almost like an artist with a blank canvas, making one stroke and and then moving on and creating something just from that one stroke, but really not knowing how it’s going to end up until the very end.
It was a lot of fun. That was the main thing. It should be fun. All the artists — the musicians, the actors, everyone — were excited by the freedom that was allowed. You were allowed to do anything from your heart, straight from your heart. That was the only thing I asked was that people not use their head and think about what they’re going to do.
It has a lot of emotion. Music is all the way through, and that’s what I love most about movies — just feeling something. Hitchcock, you feel suspense. I just love feeling things in movies. Music is a really big part of that … They should give you a tingling sensation when it’s really true. That was the guidepost in this movie. When I felt chills from a scene I was editing, I was like, “OK we go that.” At the end of the process, if I felt that all the away through, [I knew] we had it.
You’ve said that the death of Leroi Moore was a big inspiration. Why did you decide to tell a story about a father and a son? Did it have to do with the mentoring role he played in your life?
He did definitely play a big mentoring role for me for years, even before DMB. So when he died, it hit me hard. It really hit me hard, and I just couldn’t believe it. All that fall, I was down, and I was depressed. I needed something to do. All of a sudden, the thought of doing a movie just hit. It’s not like it came out of anywhere. I’d been thinking of making a movie for 15 years, how I would approach it.
One of the things was I didn’t want my actors to act. I thought the way to do that would be to include an element of the actual actors’ lives in the script, so they could relate to it. Not to make the characters the actor, but just to have an element that made it real. [Lead actor] Ryan [Orr], his father had passed a few years before that. For him, it was something he had to deal with for a while. I thought that would be a good story right there. That’s something Ryan can really relate to. That’s where that came from. I’m sure Leroi’s passing and the topic of grief was something that came from me. I’m sure that had something to do with it. From my logical standpoint, though, it was to have an element of Ryan’s life.
On the soundtrack, there’s a lot of blues- and gospel-influenced sounds, but also a lot of other things. In the scene where they go to the crazy party in the woods, there’s kind of a hip-hop element. Did you go in with any sound in mind?
The music we had just happened in the moment. I told them the story, but we went into the room and just played. Someone would start — the drummer or singer — and everyone else would fall in. Everyone knew where to go with the music. It was one of those “I can’t believe it” moments. It was absolutely magical. Everybody believed in it. When I’d tell people about what we were going to do, everyone was like, “This is really cool,” and they understood it. It opened up this whole magic. It’s probably the purist form of artistic expression you can get. When you open yourself up like that, you grasp stuff you’ve never done before. I played some of the best music I’ve ever played on this soundtrack.
Did you direct the musicians in terms of following the storyline?
When we had that first session of recording, I didn’t direct them in any fashion to play a song like this or play a song for this scene. We played pretty much nonstop for five days, six hours a day. We’d get there at 12 o’clock, and I told my engineer to hit record and just leave it there. People would take breaks, but even in the breaks, somebody would come back into the studio and start playing. They might play on the piano or pick their bass up or something, and that’s some amazing stuff, especially when they don’t even realize they’re being recorded. We even got stuff like that.
The second session we did, the second main session, when we got to the point of putting everything together we had initially, we said, “OK, we’re missing that and we’re missing that.” For that, we got a group called the Silent Comedy from L.A. and those guys came in, and I let them go, just like Shawn [Smith, of the band Brad] and [the group] Maktub, but there was a point where there were things I did suggest. One song, I just put some words out there: mercy, forgiveness, grief. Because that was the vibe there. And the one time, I asked for an upbeat rock kind of thing, but that was it … We basically played until I just knew: “We got it.” When I listened to all of it, I said, “We’ve got everything we need right there.” It’s a long music-editing process, because we had a 15-minute jam, and we’d edit that into a four-minute song.
Did you make a conscious decision not to have it sound like DMB?
A lot of the stuff I played on this is stuff I never played — in DMB or out of DMB. I have no idea where it came from. There’s this violin piece I played in the very beginning. It sounds like nothing I’d ever played before or even since. That’s the kind of stuff that just happened. I wasn’t even really thinking about not playing anything that sounds like DMB. To a degree, as far as the way I play, I’m going to do that, but this was really just a whole different kind of music, and it was completely open. I felt like I went places I wouldn’t ordinarily go.
I was able to take that — a lot of the stuff I got from the soundtrack, as far as opening up creatively — to DMB. When we did our sessions in January for the new album, I just had this whole new avenue of creativity that came out in that recording.
It was really cool of a lot of the band members to come and play on the soundtrack. They were really glad to do it. Three of my boys from DMB — that really made me feel good, just to have them behind me on this and there with me. Stefan [Lessard], he came in one day and just laid down some bass. From that, we made three songs — three of the pieces that occur in the bonfire scene. [DMB horn players] Rashawn [Ross] and Jeff [Coffin] came in and played horns on that big gospel song, and Tim [Reynolds] played a lot of atmospheric things.
On the scene where the main character goes to his father’s funeral, around the time he puts his hand on the casket, a saxophone can be heard on the score. Was that an homage to LeRoi?
There is saxophone in there. That was, I guess, not planned that way. It’s definitely one of those special things, because LeRoi, his presence was there. He taught me so much about music. It was almost like I was hearing him tell me all this stuff in the studio. It was almost like I could feel him being there with me. He had such a great spirit. It still lives in me. He taught me so much that will be with me forever.
Watch the ‘Faces in the Mirror’ Trailer