Dave Matthews explains how Robert Fripp inspired his hit song Satellite and developed the guitar's role in his writing

Dave Matthews of Dave Matthews Band performs onstage during the Bud Light Super Bowl Music Festival at Footprint Center on February 10, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona
(Image credit: Rich Polk/Getty Images On Location)

Dave Matthews is celebrating the release of new album Walk Around The Moon by looking back on some of his biggest songs to date. One in particular saw him pushing himself as a player, via the influence of Robert Fripp.

Satellite, from Dave Matthews Band's 1994 debut Under The Table And Dreaming, is a serious workout for a singer/guitarist and turned out to be quite a game-changer for the songwriter in the longer term too.

Why do rock bands do everything in A and E and C, why don't they ever do anything in A flat or E flat?

"Satellite was a challenging lick," reflects Matthews in the video interview with GQ below. "I liked to watch Robert Fripp and how he played. But he has got this crazy way of playing – his hands are all spread out and he gets this coverage. Which is unnecessary if your guitar is tuned traditionally."

Nevertheless, the idea of spreading his fretting hand got him exploring melodic ideas, combined with a desire to break out of traditional rock keys. "Another friend of mine had said, 'Why do rock bands do everything in A and E and C, why don't they ever do anything in A flat or E flat?' And it's because all the chords are down there," adds Matthews. "So that made me think, if I'm doing this weird spread out thing I can do a pattern that works, that looks kind of like Robert Fripp but is unnecessary, and is A flat."

The song ended up being a stepping stone towards a new mindset. "The way I first learned to play it and sing at the same time was like an exercise. I would play it over and over again and I would talk as I was going it, make up silly lyrics to it" remembers Matthews. "It taught me I can separate my voice from my guitar – one could be the marching orders and the other could be singing and dancing, flying around the structure a little bit more."

The final lyrics have long been rumoured to reference Matthews' father, who passed away in 1977 when the musician was ten years old. Even he isn't sure though. 

"Maybe, I don't know why I always start something," he admits. "Lyrics are not easy, some people are really good at it but the songs that I'm unapologetic about are the ones that comes quickly, then they don't have time to get dragged through the gravel and through the dirt and I don't think too clinically about them. But I imagine that a therapist might look at Satellite and say, 'That's about death, or about loss or about accepting that it is loss. And so if you look at my life you'd say, 'Well his dad died' but my dog died too, so it could be about my dog." 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.