In his off-time from the Dave Matthews Band’s tours, bassist Stefan Lessard has kept himself busy in the world of outdoor film. Lessard and the mega-platinum Dave Matthews Band, which started humbly in the Blue Ridge foothills of Charlottesville, Va., lent a handful of songs to the soundtrack of the new IMAX film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk. It’s an action-packed 3D movie that follows environmental heroes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Wade Davis on a trip through the wild whitewater rapids of the Colorado River. The purpose of the journey on America’s most iconic river was to raise awareness about the world’s water crisis. The United Nations estimates that 40 percent of the world could face life-threatening water shortages by 2050. The Colorado, which once flowed mightily from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean, serves an estimated 25 million people, but severe drought in recent years has caused the mighty river to nearly run dry.
“I’m hoping this film will raise a bigger awareness,” says Lessard, who also scored the film with new compositions in between the DMB tracks.
In addition to working for the river, Lessard has also been playing in the mountains. An avid snowboarder, he’s the subject of an upcoming Warren Miller film that was shot in Vermont and Colorado and will be released this fall. He recently talked to BRO about his action-packed down time.
BRO: Why was it important for you to get involved with this film?
SL: I knew the work of MacGillivray Freeman Films—Everest and The Living Sea—and they were already going to use six DMB tunes at pinnacle moments of the movie. They asked me if I wanted to be involved with creating the rest of the music for the film. I thought it would be a fun challenge, because I always wanted to do something with film. Their composer, Steve Wood, and I hit it off right away. We were writing pieces from day one. We constructed new themes and melodies out of the existing DMB songs.
BRO: When scoring the music, how did you integrate the natural flow of the river?
SL: I was looking at these beautiful river pictures on a computer screen, so I had to put myself into the vibe of what was happening. There were parts where the river was moving and we realized we needed a backbeat to liven up the scenes. I went for an Americana feel to the sound. I played some fretless and electric bass, as well as a 12-string guitar that has a folkie, hammer dulcimer kind of sound with a very bright tone. We also brought in DMB drummer Carter Beauford and Tim Reynolds for some more technical guitar.
BRO: Why is the cause important to you?
SL: In my mind water is more precious than oil or than anything else that makes things go, because it makes people go. Unfortunately the water crisis has been put on the back burner, and it’s not getting any better. The Colorado River serves a lot of people, and in the film you see the end of it as a little trickle. It shouldn’t be that way.
Bobby Kennedy not only wants to preserve water because we need it, but he’s passionate about us enjoying our natural resources. The film explores that as well. In the future we might not have access to these rivers that actually belong to all of us. We need to go after bigger interests that are holding our natural resources hostage for their own use.
BRO: How did you come to be in a Warren Miller film?
SL: I’ve been snowboarding since 1998, and it’s a big passion of mine. I really enjoy the feeling of surfing down a mountain in fresh powder. One of my business partners thought it would be cool to have a segment in a Warren Miller film that highlighted a bunch of dudes that are not pro athletes—just some guys that love the sport. Miller loved the idea, so we got my friend Ed Robertson from Barenaked Ladies, Ed Gardner from Reverb, a nonprofit that helps bands make their tours more eco-friendly, and Jason Biggs from American Pie, who’s been coming to our shows for a while. We were going down the mountain at Okemo looking like a bunch of goofballs, and the local kids were crushing us, wondering why Warren Miller would actually be filming us. Then they saw us hanging with (Olympic boarding medalist) Ross Powers on the half-pipe, so they realized there must be something there.
BRO: Did this film project spawn your new band Yukon Kornelius?
SL: The film company suggested that we put on a show, so we ended up doing a benefit concert for a local food bank in Killington, Vermont. We grabbed Adam (Gardner) from Guster and Eric Fawcett from N.E.R.D. Adam came up with the name Yukon Kornelius based on the Rudolph the Reindeer character—someone who embodies the spirit of wintertime but also kicks ass. The show sold out, and we played a bunch of classic rock covers. Dee Snider came out, and we played “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Highway to Hell.” It was one of the funnest times I’ve had on stage—just rocking out. Now that this band is born, I think we’re going to hit a few more places.
BRO: What’s the word on DMB?
SL: We’ve just started to record our next album in Charlottesville and Seattle. We’ll also have a four-month tour this summer.
<em>Catch the Wave</em>
Soak in the 3D action of Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk on IMAX screens around the Blue Ridge region. The film is now playing at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, N.C., the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Ga., and the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Va. It opens in Richmond, Va., at the Science Museum of Virginia on May 3.