Dawes is a California-based quartet formed by Taylor Goldsmith (vocals, guitar) with brother Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Wylie Weber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (piano). Often pegged with a Laurel Canyon sound reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dawes plays a gritty mix of Americana, folk rock and soul. The backbone of Dawes’ inspiring tunes are themes of love lost and the search for home.
The band recorded their 2009 debut, “North Hills,” live to analog, resulting in a sparse but achingly authentic album. “Nothing is Wrong,” Dawes’ 2011 sophomore effort, maintains the tight, minimalist and haunting vibe of the first release while delving deeper into Taylor Goldsmith’s relatable yet profound lyricism.
Dawes is best experienced live, where audiences bask in the band’s soaring vocals and charismatic energy. Dawes, a hardcore touring act, has graced stages with the likes of Blitzen Trapper, Deer Tick and Mumford & Sons and recently backed legend Robbie Robertson for his “How to Become Clairvoyant” record. The band has been sought out by Chevy advertising execs and was picked as one of VH1’s “You Oughta Know” artists. Taylor Goldsmith has also recorded as part of Middle Brother, an indie supergroup of sorts.
I talked to Taylor Goldsmith between Dawes’ latest sold-out show at First Avenue and their upcoming two-night stand at the Varsity Theater for New Year’s Eve.
Minnesota really has a thing for Dawes. Would it be accurate to say we were one of the first states that picked up on you right out of the gate?
Taylor Goldsmith: Our shows in Minneapolis are the biggest and sell out the quickest than any other place on tour. Dawes has a greater fan presence there than in our hometown. It’s been an organic experience; it’s not like we owe it to a blog or something. The reason why we're received so well there is pretty straight up: Minneapolis has a winning combo of a radio station that people love, a record store people love and really cool venues. You put those three things in place and people want to come to shows.
Talk about the transition from “North Hills” to “Nothing is Wrong.” While both albums speak to personal pain and suffering, it seems as though the first album was rawer and in the second album, there’s a sense of surrender.
TG: I try to keep mindful about what I write without being manipulative. When I think of songs that I’ve really liked, it’s because they've had a story that gives perspective on a situation. I’m not trying to teach the listener a lesson by any means—because what the hell do I know about anything—but I am trying to create an experience. I write to help myself, so if the songs sound like they have more resolution, I might just be getting better at it or…processing experiences differently?
A lot of your songs are about heartbreak, love and relationships. You’ve also said that the songs on “North Hills” and “Nothing is Wrong” were about different women. Is dating more difficult when songwriting is involved?
TG: It can be…but not all of our songs are about love and not all of the songs are about one person. And it’s not that I haven’t had positive, healthy relationships; it’s that I can never tap into something about losing someone when I’m in a relationship. When songwriters write about something they’re not experiencing, you can see through it. I always want Dawes to create music that people hear and say, “Yeah, that experience sounds authentic.” I never want it to be concocted.
If you had to choose between being successful in music or being successful in love, which would you choose?
TG: Music is what I love most but I would never sabotage love for a song. As awesome as it is to be an artist, what really matters is having someone to love and relationships with family and friends. What I appreciate most about this experience of being in a band is spending time with the guys and my brother. It’s not about, “Listen to this cool song I wrote.” It’s about relationships. So, love. Absolutely love.
How many shows has Dawes done this year?
TG: Somewhere around 200.
How do you keep the performances fresh, both for the band and the audience?
TG: That’s dictated by the audiences. When I’m playing “When My Time Comes” for the 500th time and people are responding by singing the lyrics back to me, it brings me back to what it meant when I first wrote the song. So in that sense, it never gets old.
Have you had any particularly memorable or creepy experiences with fans?
TG: Lots of our fans have become good friends; in fact, one of them is from Minneapolis. He came up to us after a show and we talked about what a certain song meant to him and then we talked about books and music and we’ve just become closer and closer ever since then. And, yeah, there have been creepy experiences, too, but I’d hate for someone to read about that and feel bad.
Over the past year, you’ve done a lot of interviews. What is the one question you’d be happy to never hear again?
TG: There are a few, actually. Some questions feel like they’re set-ups or like someone wants to stir up something scandalous. I’ve been asked what I think about a certain pop star and I can’t answer questions like that without incriminating myself or sounding like an asshole. Other questions are just unnecessary, like people who have never listened to the music asking me how we’d define our sound. It’s a difficult thing, to describe Dawes, but it feels like some people are trying to search for something that’s not there.
Let’s try some unconventional questions. If you ever make it to Sesame Street, which character would you like to collaborate with?
TG: I would be so honored to play on Sesame Street with Oscar the Grouch or Big Bird...or Bert and Ernie, either together or with just one of them. I don’t even know if they’re both still on there? I also love the Muppets. It’d be cool to play with them.
If you were to do a jingle for a cereal commercial, which kind would you want to write about?
TG: The band has become pretty health conscious, so I don’t know…if we eat anything close to cereal now, it’d be random granola. I couldn’t even come up with a brand name. Thinking back to what we liked as kids, it’d be Cap'n Crunch.
Who uses the most hair products in the band?
TG: I don’t think that any of us uses products. It's just shampoo. Griffin is blessed with a lot of hair—and I’m not just saying that as a biased brother. Tay washes his hair everyday, Wiley has that long black hair…and I have a normal haircut.
How did you get involved with Middle Brother and are there any future releases in the works?
TG: Dawes was on tour with Deer Tick and John (McCauley, the frontman for Deer Tick) said, “Let’s make a record.” I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, but then it did, so I suggested bringing in Matt (Vazquez) from Delta Spirit, who I was already friends with. John was cool with that, so we made a record. There’s nothing planned for the future. Deer Tick just put out a great record and Delta Spirit is going to have another album out soon, too.
Do you have anything special planned for the New Year’s Eve show at the Varsity? Disco balls? Champagne?
TG: We’ll work up as much material as we can beforehand, probably some covers, but beyond that, we don’t have any big plans.
Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Dec. 2011