A member of the acclaimed Dave Matthews Band, Boyd Tinsley has earned accolades for his innovative work on the violin. Critics have marveled at his ability to move from the traditional to the avant-garde, stretching the limits of an instrument not often associated with contemporary rock music. Tinsley has also recorded a solo album, and has become an impassioned and dedicated advocate for music education in public schools.
Wanted to Learn
Boyd Calvin Tinsley was born on May 16, 1964, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and grew up in the same neighborhood as saxophonist Leroi Moore and drummer Carter Beauford, who would later be his bandmates with Dave Matthews. Music was a big part of Tinsley's childhood: his father, George Franklin Tinsley, directed the church choir; his uncle played in local jazz bands; and tunes from Motown records filled the Tinsley house.
In sixth grade at Walker Middle School in Charlottesville, Tinsley signed up for a string music class, hoping to learn to play guitar. To his initial dismay, the class was in classical orchestra. Rather than withdraw, he decided to attempt the violin, which he learned relatively quickly. By his teens, Tinsley was an accomplished classical musician. He co-founded the Charlottesville-Albemarle Youth Orchestra and studied under the concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Isador Saslav. Indeed, Saslav urged his pupil to apply to the Performing Arts School in Baltimore to further his studies. Tinsley decided against this step, however, and chose to enroll at the University of Virginia in 1982, where he earned a BA in history.
At the university, Tinsley joined the Sigma Nu fraternity. He participated in various activities with the fraternity, including a series of all-night music festivals. He also expanded his musical awareness by listening to innovative violinists such as Stephane Grappeli. "Stephane Grapelli was the first violinist I heard outside of classical or bluegrass or country," he commented in an interview for VH1. "He was a huge influence [on me]. He showed a whole different side of the instrument I didn't even know about.… The more I dug, the more I realized there were a lot of other guys doing unconventional stuff with the violin, like Jean-Luc Ponty, Jefferson Starship's Papa John Creach, and It's a Beautiful Day's David LaFlamme."
Soon Tinsley began thinking of creating a rock band featuring violin instead of electric guitar. Though it was tricky at first to slough off his classical training and learn to improvise, Tinsley persisted and, in 1987, formed the duo Down Boy Down with guitar player Harry Faulkner. The group later expanded to include drummer Andrew Weaver, and renamed itself the Boyd Tinsley Band.
Impressed Dave Matthews
at Frat Party
Tinsley first met Dave Matthews in Charlottesville, where Matthews was working as a bartender and playing in small clubs. "I knew [the Dave Matthews Band] was something special," Tinsley said in an interview for Defy Magazine. "This was some of the most powerful music I'd heard in a long time." One night, Matthews attended a fraternity party where Tinsley was playing solo. Matthews was so impressed with the sounds that Tinsley coaxed out of the instrument that he invited the violinist to play with the Dave Matthews Band on the demo of "Tripping Billies," recorded in 1991. Tinsley became a permanent member of the band the following year.
Playing with the Dave Matthews Band has allowed Tinsley to continue his exploration of his instrument. As VH1 interviewer C. Bottomley observed, since joining the band, Tinsley has put rock violin in the spotlight, "mounting wild Hendrix-style solos as often as concocting weepy Appalachian melodies." Guitar Player critic Kevin Ransom described Tinsley's playing as "Celtic-cum-country fiddle lines" that contribute to "some wild improvisations" onstage. "It's not really a competition," Tinsley explained in the VH1 interview. The point of playing with the other Dave Matthews Band musicians, he said, is to push each other to achieve something better each time they perform. "The greatest gigs from DMB," he noted, "are gigs when I play stuff I didn't even realize I could play."
In 2003 Tinsley released a solo album, True Reflections. The title song had been familiar to Dave Matthews Band fans for several years. Tinsley wrote it around 1989, when he was with the Boyd Tinsley Band; the tune went on to become a staple at Dave Matthews Band concerts. "I planned on doing it again," Tinsley told VH1, "but it took 10 years before I got the opportunity to sit down and spend a lot of time writing."
A writer for Defy Magazine described the album as a recording that "walks an unmistakable inner-directed path." The songs, Boyd said in an interview for the magazine, reflect his deep awareness of "what's important in life, what I appreciate about life. So the songs are basically about love and relationships." Among the tracks that critics found especially notable were the title song, on which Dave Matthews contributed vocals, and a slowed-down cover of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl."
Promoted Music Education
A firm believer in the importance of music education, Tinsley has supported several initiatives that provide music classes in public schools. In 2003 he became the official spokesperson for the 'Blue for Save the Music Campaign,' a joint endeavor between Blue from American Express and the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The campaign aimed to raise funds and awareness to support music education. "I joined the Blue for Save the Music campaign because I understand first-hand the powerful impact that music can make on young people's lives," said Tinsley in a press release from the campaign. "As a child, I quickly learned to play the violin through the encouragement of my teachers, and have since turned my passion for music into a career.… I look forward to providing the same hope and opportunity for kids across the country."
Tinsley has also privately supported music education in his hometown of Charlottesville, where he resides with his family. He has provided public schools in the city with scholarship money to pay for private music lessons for low-income students. In its first year, the program provided scholarships to 26 student orchestra members. Additional scholarships are planned for future years.
At a Glance …
Born on May 16, 1964, in Charlottesville, Virginia; son of George Franklin Tinsley and Helen Carter Tinsley; children: two. Education: University of Virginia, BA, 1986(?).
Career: Down Boy Down (band), co-founder, 1987-92; Boyd Tinsley Band, cofounder and member, 1988(?)-92; Dave Matthews Band, violinist, 1991–; solo musician and recording artist, 2003–; model.
Awards: (As member of Dave Matthews Band) Chairman's Award, NAACP Image Awards, 2004.
When not playing music, Tinsley enjoys frequent workouts at the gym. He has also embarked on a side career as a model for such designers as JanSport, Tommy Hilfiger, and Gucci. Modeling, Tinsley explained in a quote on the Dave Matthews Band Web site, offers him a break from the intensity of the concert stage or the recording studio.
Reflecting on his musical success, Tinsley told Defy Magazine that he loves taking his playing to ever-new heights. "There are no limits to it," he said of the violin. "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."
True Reflections, RCA Records, 2003.
Guitar Player, February, 1995, p. 19.
New York Times, January 28, 2004; September 25, 2004.
"Blue From American Express and Infinity Broadcasting to Launch 'Amplify Tomorrow' Tour," For Release, www.forrelease.com/D20030610/002/ (January 17, 2005).
"Boyd Tinsley," Defy Magazine, www.defymagazine.com/artists/Boyd_Tinsley/ (January 17, 2005).
"Boyd Tinsley Sure Can Pull Some Bow," VH1, www.vh1.com/artists/az/tinsley_boyd/artist.jhtml (January 17, 2005).
Dave Matthews Band, www.dmband.com (January 6, 2005).
Charlottesville High School Orchestra, http://avenue.org/chso (January 6, 2005).
"True Reflections: A Profile of Boyd Tinsley," The Delta of Sigma Nu, www.sigmanu.com/documents/DeltaW0304.pdf (February 7, 2005).
—E. M. Shostak
O.A.R., a name which refers to one of today's most notable jam bands, is an often misinterpreted moniker. By the band's own admission it means "of a revolution," and although O.A.R.'s music does not reflect any political intent, the band's unique and revolutionary approach to its music career has proved it worthy of such a name. O.A.R., whose music has been compared to that of the Dave Matthews band, has achieved notable success based solely on its credible body of work, word-of-mouth promotion, and unparalleled dedication to bringing music to its fans through non-stop touring. In a story that seems straight out of a fairytale of big dreams and rising stars, O.A.R. got its unofficial start in the dorm rooms of a university and managed, without a record label, press, advertising or tour support, to become one of the most successful independent bands ever.
O.A.R. was initially started by a group of neighborhood friends. Singer/guitarist Mark Roberge and drummer Chris Culos grew up down the road from one another in Rockville, Maryland. The two spent time during their youth hanging out in the basement of Culos's home. Although the two had varying interests in music, Roberge was inspired by Bob Marley and Crowded House, while Culos pledged allegiance to Metallica and the Beastie Boys, and the two surprisingly clicked on Pearl Jam. They were in junior high school when Pearl Jam's unplugged performance debuted on MTV. They recorded the show and began watching it repeatedly. Inspired, Roberge learned to play the guitar and the two put together a group, eventually joining forces with guitarist Richard On and another friend who played bass, calling themselves Exposed Youth. The group, however, was short-lived.
In 1996, when Roberge was in high school, his older brother Jeff offered him an opportunity to open for his Rhode Island based outfit, Foxtrot Zulu, when they were recruited to perform at the University of Maryland. In need of a group, Roberge again recruited On and Culos, as well as bassist Benj Gershman. Although the newly formed band considered re-naming itself Exposed Youth, the members felt the name would be inappropriate for their new sound, which mixed rock and folk with touches of ska and reggae. Instead the quartet chose O.A.R., short for "of a revolution," a phrase taken from a short story written by Roberge. Following their successful gig opening for Foxtrot Zulu, the group sequestered themselves in Culos's basement and recorded their first album, The Wanderer, in four days. The low-budget recording took off, largely due to the surprising popularity of the song "That Was a Crazy Game of Poker," which appealed to O.A.R.'s quickly developing fan base.
Roberge and Culos were both accepted at Ohio State University. The members of O.A.R. realized that although they were young and wanted to continue with school, they had a very special musical chemistry that they did not feel could be duplicated. On had initially been accepted to another school, but transferred to Ohio State within a semester, and Gershman applied and was accepted there as soon as he finished high school. In the dorms of Ohio State the quartet met saxophonist Jerry DePizzo, who joined their lineup and added to the group's sound. The quintet again returned to Culos's basement to record their second album, Souls Aflame. Considered a more consistent record, Souls Aflame also benefited from a distribution deal with the Alternative Distribution Alliance, which was anchored by Roberge's older brother Dave.
Although the band did not have a record label or tour support, the group's notable performances began drawing capacity crowds in local venues, even selling out the local Newport Music Hall each time they played. However, the members of O.A.R. were still college students committed to their education. Roberge's brother Dave, who managed O.A.R., worked around the band members' respective class schedules as he booked the group in other cities such as Bloomington, Indiana, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and New York, and was able to secure additional college gigs mostly by word of mouth.
O.A.R. continued to pick up steam as their independent albums floated around dorms, and the band encouraged taping, a process which is prominent on the jam band scene. With most major artists, the process of taping is considered illegal, but jam bands encourage their fans to record shows and distribute the tapes without any money being exchanged. As Roberge explained to Relix magazine, "We have so much respect for the bands on the jam scene and how hard they have worked for their fans. We don't see ourselves on the same level musically as a lot of [jam] bands, but we have some similarities in our ethics and goals, touring and relaxed feel."
When Relix questioned Roberge about the factors that contributed to the band's rise, he stated, "The internet and free trade of music. Period." After yet another sold-out performance at the Newport Music Hall, the band secured a deal with CAA (Creative Artists Agency), a prestigious booking agency.
In 2001 O.A.R. released Risen on their own newly formed label, Everfine Records. The group also brought in esteemed outside producer John Alagia, who had worked with John Mayer and Ben Folds, to helm the record. Unlike their simpler do-it-yourself efforts, the group spent three months working with Alagia on Risen, to great effect. The album sold more than 60,000 copies without a major label, and their subsequent record, a double live album titled Any Time Now, went on to sell more than 100,000 copies after its release in May of 2002.
O.A.R continued to work its way into the mainstream music world, participating in the 2002 Jeep World Outside tour, which included Sheryl Crow and the band Train. The band's increasing profile also helped them to secure a deal with major label Lava Records. As Lava founder and president Jason Flom explained to Relix, "I was initially impressed by the band's songwriting and musicianship but what was particularly incredible was the fact that they developed such a large, passionate fan base through hard work on the road."
Alagia returned to work with O.A.R. on their 2003 major label debut, In Between Now and Then. The record placed the band on the mainstream map and on the Billboard charts, and received excellent reviews. Writer Dan Aquilante stated in the New York Post that the album is a "career making record that, despite its hefty 15-song bundle, has no filler. The musicians of O.A.R. … are insurgents in the battle to destroy cookie-cutter music."
O.A.R.'s fanbase has continued to grow, and O.A.R. and Lava Records president Jason Flom seem to have the same goals in mind. As Flom explained to the Los Angeles Times, "The challenge now is to make the leap to follow in the footsteps of great artists like Dave Matthews, who have maintained their integrity while making great records that millions of kids can enjoy." It seems likely that O.A.R. has the creativity to do just that.
The Wanderer, Everfine, 1997; reissued, 2001.
Souls Aflame, Everfine, 1999; reissued, 2001.
Risen, Everfine, 2001.
Any Time Now, Everfine, 2002.
For the Record …
Members include Chris Culos , drums; Jerry De-Pizzo , saxophone; Benj Gersham , bass; Richard On , guitar; Mark Roberge , vocals, guitar.
Group formed in Washington, D.C. suburbs, 1996; released independent debut The Wanderer, Everfine Records, 1997; released Souls Aflame, Everfine, 1999; received distribution deal with Alternative Distribution Alliance, 2001; released Risen, 2001; released Any Time Now, 2002; signed to Lava Records, 2002; released In Between Now and Then, Everfine/Lava, 2003.
Addresses: Record company—Lava Records, 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10016. Website—O.A.R. Official Website: http://www.ofarevolution.com.
In Between Now and Then, Everfine/Lava, 2003.
Alternative Press, June 2003.
Billboard, February 22, 2003; June 7, 2003.
Chicago Sun-Times, May 23, 2003.
CMJ New Music Monthly, June 2003.
Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2003.
New York Post, May 27, 2003; November 28, 2003.
New York Times, November 28, 2003.
Relix, February/March 2003.
Tounge, Summer 2003.
"O.A.R.," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 21, 2004).
Additional information was obtained from press and promotional materials provided by Lava Records, 2004.