Sunday, October 9, 2011

An interview with LA band Dawes

Photo by Kevin Hays
A version of my story originally appeared at

The City of Angels figures prominently in the makeup of Dawes. 

Front man Taylor Goldsmith’s lyrical topics gravitate toward his hometown and the laid back band’s cascading, harmony-driven sound frequently evokes the area’s early 1970s singer-songwriter movement. 

“I find it cultivates a cool person. Growing up in L.A. , there’s a mentality you can’t find in other places. Sometimes it’s ugly or charming,” he said, during a phone interview en route to a show in Birmingham , Alabama . “It’s cynical [there], but also brings you down to reality. It’s inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe.” 

Formed as an outgrowth of indie rock band Simon Dawes (which put out a Warner Bros.-distributed CD 2006), Taylor , his drummer/vocalist brother Griffin and bassist Wylie Gelber, shortened the name and focused on such influences as Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. 

On enticing sophomore album “Nothing is Wrong,” the group – rounded out by keyboardist Tay Strathairn - crafts reflective folk/rock tunes. Jackson Browne and Benmont Tench make guest appearances.

From the way Taylor Goldsmith composes lyrics (using a typewriter), how the band recorded (on an analog tape recorder borrowed from Browne, done mostly live without overdubs) and stretches out musically (several songs pass the five-minute mark), the term “old school” definitely applies. 

Jonathan Wilson helmed Dawes’ acclaimed ’09 debut “North Hills” (named after San Fernando Valley locale the Goldsmiths were raised) and signed on to produce again. A psychedelic folk artist who has played on sessions for Elvis Costello and Jenny Lewis, among others, Wilson spearheaded a Laurel Canyon music scene resurgence in the ‘00s. Informal jam sessions held at his home (and co-hosted by Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson) drew a “who’s who” of prominent musicians. 

That’s where Dawes met Tench. “He loves playing and is a true genius,” Goldsmith enthused about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ organist, who nailed the various swirling parts on first takes.

According to Goldsmith, Browne heard their music through Wilson , though it was “right up his alley” and would be honored have them mix it at his own studio. One day, the band asked the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to add those familiar pipes to “Fire Away” and he readily obliged. A tour of Spain with Browne commenced soon after.

When Goldsmith was tapped for a studio singing gig for Robbie Robertson’s album “How to Become Clairvoyant,” it led to more than he and the rest of Dawes imagined. 

“I was blown away and tried not to get too excited. I assumed I’d go there, just meet the producer or some assistant engineer and they’d tell me what notes to sing. Robbie was there and asked me to do more songs. It was crazy. I left and thought that was the last time I’d see him. Several months later, he was looking for a band and said ‘it would be great to have a full unit, so we were thinking of Dawes.’” 

They ended up backing The Band’s ex-guitarist on several TV promotional appearances. (Coincidentally, Dawes once did an unaired TV music series pilot in the basement of Big Pink, the upstate New York house where The Band recorded its landmark 1968 debut.) 

“Few things feel as good as having people that inspired you and had such a big hand in shaping who you were artistically, approve of what you do. If anybody likes our music, that’s an honor and exciting. But when it’s someone like them, wow – that really means the world.” 

While Goldsmith liked the first album’s “scrappy sound,” the new one has a “more realized” vibe and was done in an easier, organic fashion. He also made a concentrated effort to play better electric guitars solos, something Wilson primarily handled before. 

The searing work on Crazy Horse-styled slow burn song “If I Wanted Someone” and CSNY-leaning “My Way Back Home” are key examples. Warm and inviting current single “Time Spent in Los Angeles ” is top 40 at Adult Album Alternative radio; the accompanying music video is being spotlighted via VH1’s “You Oughta Know” emerging artists campaign and will be soon air on mtvU outlets. 

Later this month, Dawes is slated to record an episode of long-running radio/public TV music series “Mountain Stage” with Matthew Sweet and rejoin Robertson onstage for NPR’s “World CafĂ©” Live 20th Anniversary concert in Philadelphia.

So far in 2011, Dawes fans have been treated to a double dose of Taylor Goldsmith music: his side project Middle Brother, featuring singers from Delta Spirit and Deer Tick released a well-received eponymous album last March that got ample college radio play. 

With any luck, the word on Dawes’ confessional songs will spread even further. 

Dawes' American tour with Blitzen Trapper continues through November. For dates and more info, go

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