When you think about ’90s music icons, it’s hard not to see Dave Matthews as an odd man out, a beatific baja-wearing goofball slotted between grunge and hip-hop. But this stellar Alex Pappademas profile for GQ recontextualizes Matthews’ life and music — surrounded by death, but striving for joy — in a way that’s probably long overdue.

“Experiencing what I had—I was like, I gotta figure out another way to say something that I believe, that has hope at the end of it,” he says. “And I still feel like that. I can’t get rid of hope. Which I’m sure makes at least half the people who hear my music go, Ugh—this guy’s a fucking sugar-sweet nightmare.”

Which is funny, because as Dave Matthews sees it, the comfort he’s offering in his songs can be pretty cold. 

“The point is, you’re going to die,” he says. “You’ll probably die a painful death, like most of us do. You’ll wither, you’ll wrinkle—if you’re lucky!—or you get hit by a fucking train. It’s not gonna be good. And you might have love in your life, but the reflection of love is despair. And that’s it. There’s no way it’s not gonna be that. Every once in a while you get your head above the water and you can look around if you’re lucky. But mostly, it’s terrible. But that’s great. ’Cause it’s amazing. That’s how I feel.”