Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes – Etching A Unique Identity (INTERVIEW)

There’s an old show biz axiom that suggests there’s no such thing as an overnight success. However Dawes are in a good position to dispute that notion, and for good reason. Their 2009 debut album, North Hills won them an immediate outpour of favorable reviews, much of it pinned to the proposition that they were championing a revival of the sun-dappled Laurel Canyon sound, an era in music history that gave rise to such revered singer/songwriters as Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Crosby Stills and Nash.

While the band hasn’t necessarily distanced themselves from that vintage description, it’s also clear that they haven’t allowed themselves to simply stop there. Over the course of their succeeding albums — Nothing Is Wrong (2011), Stories Don’t End (2013) and the recently released All Your Favorite Bands — they’ve not only expanded that soft rock palette, but also etched an identity all their own.

Nevertheless, the band — which currently consists of brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (keyboards) — couldn’t be faulted if they were  to bask in the glow of those accolades and accomplishments, Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes’ primary songwriter, insists that he and Dawes are intent only on making their music, without regard to the notice or notoriety. And despite occasional side projects like the ad hoc outfit The New Basement Tapes (a band that found Goldsmith, Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James  and Marcus Mumford recasting some long forgotten Bob Dylan lyrics as a sequel of sorts to the legendary Dylan/Band Basement Tapes sessions) and Middle Brother (a supposed super group that also features John McCauley of Deer Tick and Matthew Vasquez of Delta Spirit), its clear that the 29-year old Goldsmith is wholly committed to driving Dawes forward.

Glide spoke with Taylor just after their headlining appearance at Bonarroo and just prior to a brief 4th of July hiatus. We began the conversation by asking him how the effect of the ongoing accolades and those constant references to that so-called ‘60s sensibility affects their MO.

With all the attention and all the accolades that have been accorded you over the course of your career, does that put an undue amount of pressure on the band to continually strive for a higher standard?

I don’t think so. I never felt any pressure. If anything, as far as the critical acclaim, we don’t pay much attention to the good or the bad notices we get. If we do hear any critical commentary, we don’t put too much stock in it one way or another. If something is positive, we tend to go, “Oh that’s nice,” but if we ever happened to see something negative, we’d likely try to overlook it. It’s hard enough trying to make a career without being focused on outside opinion. We’ve been very lucky. We never felt like we had any real pressure on us. It’s not like we came out with a big hit and we felt like we had to match that like a lot of the bigger bands have had to do, where their entire career has been shaped by that and every succeeding album has to rise to that level. We never had a hit, so we never felt like every album had to have a certain element to it. I’m not a pop songwriter, but of course I would love for my songs to reach people on a broader level. If anything, we’ve had less and less pressure, and we’ve pretty much been able to do what we want.

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You were kind of typecast early on as spearheading this sort of neo-‘60s Laurel Canyon revival. Did you find that to be an apt summary of how you were trying to sound?

Definitely not. I feel that any band that gets caught up in the idea of what people want them to sound like is headed for a very slippery slope, and it goes downhill very fast. Yes, I understand why people tend to put those labels on us. It helps to identify us in a certain way, especially if someone’s never heard of us. But personally, I don’t listen to someone like Gillian Welch or Ryan Adams and identify them as “old folk” or “classic Americana.” I don’t put any of those kinds of labels on them. Its just the rock and roll I like. I only care if it’s a song I like or a song I don’t like. So while I understand why people identify us in a certain way, it’s not a design on our part. It’s not a strategy per se. I like bands that are really accomplished as musicians and not because they fit into a particular niche.

So did it annoy you that people were trying to put that label on you?

It doesn’t annoy me. It’s no different than with any particular artist or singer or songwriter. However, you can’t cater to people’s expectations and that’s what labels do. It’s like identifying Radiohead as a band that possesses these certain proggy elements, but that’s not all that defines them. There are other things to it as well. You’re not going to give people a clear perfect picture of who you are simply because you tend to possess certain these certain characteristics. That goes for anything. It’s always going to come up short. I’m not frustrated by that; I just figured it was part of the equation. Any description is never going to be dead on unless people experience it for themselves.

Nevertheless, you achieved quite a bit of attention right from the start. How did that affect you and the band to have all these people suddenly so interested in you?

Its hard to see that stuff when you’re in it. Obviously we’ve done a lot of great shows and gotten incredible response, and it’s so amazing to look out in the audience and see the fans singing the songs back to us. It’s a great feeling. But at the same time, when you’re in it yourself, it’s hard to be aware of what people are thinking about you.

The fact is, we feel very lucky to have our music heard at all. For us, it’s always about how can we do better, how can we reach more people. We’re always thinking about how we can take it a step further. How can we write better songs, make better records? So while we’re grateful for what we’ve accomplished in the last five or six years, we’re always trying to look ahead.

Was there any change in the MO when it came to making the new album? Was there any overreaching concept that tied these songs together?

There was no sort of concept or predetermination of what we wanted to do. I just let the songs come out the way they were coming out and we embraced the way we played them. In the past, we were maybe more meticulous and more determined to get it right. This time, we allowed ourselves to be more spontaneous and found out that when we do, we’re really at our best. I feel like that really brought a lot of energy to the album. For me, as the songwriter, I feel there are as many joyful moments as there are more serious moments.

It appears you’re pretty satisfied with the way things are going.

Yeah, I would say so. I definitely don’t subscribe to the tortured artist syndrome. I don’t think that’s necessary. I feel like being an artist, being a musician, being a songwriter is first and foremost a form of catharsis… or at least it should be. I wouldn’t want to do this if it made me hurt more or if it made me lose myself more, or beat myself up more. If anything, I think I’ve gotten a better sense of how I feel about things, and yes, I consider myself a pretty happy person. While that may not be the ideal rock ‘n’ roll persona, it’s definitely who I am, so I’m going to be honest about it. And when an artist is honest with his or her music and what they’re putting out there, that’s the best way to ensure success.

How did you come up with the album title and the title song itself, “All Your Favorite Bands?” What was the idea behind that?

When you talk with a friend or have a conversation about certain artists from times gone by… bands that really were coming up at a certain time, or bands that aren’t together anymore… when you talk to those fans — maybe like fans of the Replacements who remember Let It Be or Please To Meet Me or Tim, you can see how much that band means to them. Not just musically, but culturally. They felt like they were spoken for in a way that nothing else really could do as effectively. That was a part of their life and who they were, and once that band broke up, that was a chapter that was closed. And then when the band gets back together a couple of years later, it’s as if a part of them had been reawakened. It’s so much more than saying, “I really like that song.” It’s a representation of who you are that can’t be expressed in any other way. It’s such a huge part of how we identify ourselves.

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Speaking of which, you’ve had the opportunity to play with many of your early heroes and the people that influenced you early on. Has that been intimidating or overwhelming in any way?

On the one hand its a real honor and a dream come true. To play with Jackson Browne or Connor Oberst has been amazing. But at the same time, you can’t treat it like some fan encounter. When we were invited to play with Connor, I never thought I’d meet him, let alone be in his band. It was like a totally surreal experience. I felt like saying, “Oh man, I just love your stuff, I’m so unworthy!” But he knows that. So it becomes a professional relationship. We were there for a reason and we had to act professionally.

What’s the status of your various side projects, such as the New Basement Tapes and Middle Brother? Can we expect to hear any more from either?

The New Basement Tapes is not an ongoing project because it was based on a limited amount of material. We could only get so much out of those Dylan lyrics and we did, more than I thought we ever would. There is a possibility of getting together with those guys and doing a few shows, but in terms of making more music, that would go against the whole idea of what the project was about. As far as Middle Brother is concerned, I do love those guys and I try to get together with them as often as I can. But there is that experience of having made that record together and the people that had that experience by buying the record or coming to the show, shared in that memory. So part of me wants to get together with them again, but part of me also wants to keep that experience contained to a beautiful time and a beautiful record. There’s no chance of duplicating that. What if the three of us got back together and made a record that people felt was a disappointment? So part of me thinks we should leave it where it was and move on with our respective gigs. I don’t know.

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But is there pressure perhaps from the record company to have you guys regroup?

I would love to do it, but it’s not a matter of what would be the most lucrative scenario. It’s nothing like that. It’s not even based on a professional standpoint. It’s more out of regard for the project itself.  I love Middle Brother so much and I never would risk that by bringing it back around and have a less than a beautiful experience with it.

So other than promoting the new album, what’s on the horizon for Dawes?

We’re touring constantly and that’s the one thing on our plate. I’m still writing, so maybe there will be a quicker turnaround to our next record than there has been in the past. You never know.

You’ve never lagged when it comes to releasing new records. Four albums in six years isn’t a bad track record.

Yeah, but then you look at Bowie and Kristofferson and Joni and Dylan and how they turned out a record a year, then you know that we’re lagging. We’d love to turn out a record a year. That would be a blast.

You could always put out EPs between the full length albums.

Yeah, there’s that. But we also want to build up a nice catalogue. We want to be the kind of band that looks back and says, look, we have 30 records. But if that were to take 40 years, it would be pretty daunting.

Live Photos by Arthur VanRooy.

 

 

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