In Conversation: Dawes
When Dawes released their third album in the US earlier this year it was to pretty decent reviews. With Stories Don’t End finally getting a release here next month ahead of a European tour, I had the chance to catch up with frontman and creative force Taylor Goldsmith. The intermittent yawns suggest I may have woken him today.
2013 has been a pretty good year for the band so far. As well as the album’s strong reception across the pond they’ve toured mercilessly since March, including six weeks with Bob Dylan, and they’ve appeared on the David Letterman show. So a busy life for the band, it must be all go today then? Taylor laughs a little, “Uh, today? Still at the hotel, I slept in so haven’t really done anything yet!” Ah there we go, I had woken him. The life of a rock star, in bed until mid-morning.
Anyhow, let’s take a step back. If you’re not familiar with the band I asked Taylor to set the scene “Well, we’re a four piece rock ‘n’ roll band. I write the songs, sing, and play guitar. You know, it’s rock ‘n’ roll but at the same time people will mention things like folk or Americana. I feel it’s as much those as it is Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead or The Damned are. So it’s that kind of thing but also exists in this day and age in a similar space to Bright Eyes, Arcade Fire, and Band Of Horses.”
The band’s drummer is Taylor’s brother Griffin, I wondered it there were any Gallagher brother moments. “We get along great. A lot of people think that’s how it is for us [arguing] but I don’t think we’d want to do this if that’s how it was.”
So no gossip there then. But was the plan always to be in a band? “I think that’s how it was always going to be. There was never a consideration to what I wanted to do; it was always ‘be in a band’, it was always ‘write songs’. It was only a matter of time until high school ended and I could start; music was clearly going to happen one way or another.”
And clearly it was a good choice. Now on their third album, what progression has there been across their sound across North Hill, Dawes’ debut, Nothing Is Wrong, and the new release? “I think it’s a little different in the sense that we tried to expand certain things about the band. Before we just arranged the songs according to what we first thought of. With this album we were giving each song its own identity and trying to add something to it chord-wise or with the guitar part or with the drum part; just one step beyond what was most obvious. So that it still sounded natural and organic but at the same time was something that our approach to was different to any song we’ve made before.” So a bit more structure then? “Yeah, just give it its own place in our catalogue.”
Their first two albums were produced by Jonathan Wilson before his burgeoning solo career interrupted and they had to go a different way on Stories Don’t End. Did that have any effect on the album process? “I feel like that’s inevitable really. With Jonathan [going]... it was more of a circumstantial thing. He’s so great and such a good producer but he’s also such a great artist and very busy right now. And so when we moved to the new producer we weren’t planning on changing anything but I guess that’s just the way it goes when you work with anybody” The new producer being Grammy winning Jacquire King who has worked with Lissie, Kings Of Leon, Of Monsters And Men, amongst a host of others. “Jacquire definitely had different ideas, different suggestions, and also just a different sensibility on the board when it came to what was right for him. And what he thought we should do for arrangement and stuff. He was coming at it more from a listener than a player obviously, more from a place of what felt good just listening to it. So there would be some suggestions that were very unique for what we’re used to ‘cause we’re not hearing it like that and so he was coming from a more objective place, he was just very helpful.” Lucky then? “No, we met with a lot of producers and Jacquire was the one that we thought would be great for this album.”
As well as a change of producer the band moved across country to North Carolina from their homes in LA. “I think it was something to help us focus on the record rather than be in our hometown with any other distractions. I don’t think it changed the way that we sounded or played or anything.” Having been tagged as a ‘Laurel Canyon’ band I wondered whether it was a move specifically designed to distance themselves from that? “The Laurel Canyon thing is something that I feel like I understand why people say it, but it is a little misleading because none of us live there. We made our first record there but that was just because Jonathan lived there, we didn’t choose to go ‘let’s make sure we’re in Laurel Canyon’. And is it still a bohemian place where musicians meet? “Obviously Laurel Canyon was an important place for music at a certain period but ever since then... now it’s just families and business people. There’s not really a culture there anymore. Obviously there’s a lot of history but it’s not like when I’m home in LA I go there, because there’s nowhere to go.” But your music sometimes has that feel to it. “I understand people saying it because of the sounds, in terms of what Laurel Canyon is affiliated with and the kind of bands that we might sound like. But in terms of where we literally spend time it wouldn’t be accurate.”
With Taylor writing all the band’s original songs I wondered whether his songwriting process had developed along with the band’s sound. “I guess with the first two records I felt that even though I was in a band before, Dawes represents the beginning of my relationship with songwriting. With the first two records lyrically, and even chordally, it’s much more simple. With the chords it was always what can I do with the simplest decision. We’ll just like go and do a four chord, like how powerful can that be? Lyrically I think it was a matter of... with the first album and the second record there’s mention of pine tree or anchors or sunsets or whatever and I just feel like those terms and images run dry eventually for a writer, I feel like anytime someone starts writing what’s in a more traditional folk sensibility, even just to a small degree, those are going to come up.” There is a progression then, and a desire to want to change? “Now I look at that and feel that’s not really accurate to who I am in life and so this album it’s talking about airplanes, basketball games, swimming pools and glamour shots, and beers from our dressing room and stuff. I’m still trying to carve out meanings from images but now I’m trying to get to a place where it’s a more contemporary conversation”
Dawes generally tour like crazy, mainly around the US but crossing the globe semi-regularly. For a band that likes being on the road so much, is writing and recording the boring bit? “It’s all really fun, and I think writing is the most proud aspect of it for me. If I couldn’t write... that’s where I get the biggest thrill, knowing I’ve finished this song that I know I can stand behind.” Touring so much must take its toll on writing though? “It is harder to find time to do that but it always works out. It’s not like there’s any time crunch as to when these albums have to come out or whatever. I try to write as quickly as I can and have as many songs as I can but you can’t rush that sort of thing.”
Over the years playing with legends like Jackson Browne, Dylan, and Wilco, you must pick up some tips or advice? “When we tour with other artists that have been playing a long time there’s never really any advice, it’s more just about watching their operation, that definitely informs our experience.” Anyone in particular? “We were on tour for a month with Bob Dylan. First of all, watching him play songs every night reminds you of how he’s just a great songwriter! But also, he’s 72 years old and to know how many shows he’s played for so long it just really reminds you of what it means to be truly committed to the art and to the music. And that’s something that’s truly inspiring. That’s the kind of band we want to be. We don’t want to be the kind of band that after five records we just go ahead and start other careers or play solo or something. We wanna be the kind of band that you look back and there’s a long body of work. Obviously we’re gonna to try hard to be that kind of band but you never know what’s gonna happen but that’s definitely what the dream is.”
With all this time on the road, what music have you been listening to recently? “We’ve been listening to a lot of... I don’t know if you guys know Cass McCombs? He’s a great songwriter, or Bonnie Prince Billy, or Father John Misty I’ve been listening to a lot of them.”
And what’s next up for Dawes, more touring? “Yeah, we’re gonna go home, finish our US tour, then we get a little bit of August off, in the middle of that we’re gonna film ACL Live, the TV show, in Austin Texas, then come to Europe and that’ll be the start of the Europe tour. Other than those coupla weeks in August we’re pretty much busy from now till the end of November. It’s a long time.” It’s fun though, right? “Oh yeah, we’re having a great time. That’s why we do it.”
He may have a laconic style conversational style but Taylor Goldsmith is definitely passionate about what he and his band does. He loves writing music and they love playing it; for a four piece rock ‘n’ roll band that’s a mighty combination.
Dawes' new album, Stories Don't End, is released on 19th August 2013, and they play End Of The Road Festival and a few small venues at the start of September.