Nothing Is Wrong
Four L.A. kids in their mid-twenties, Dawes is precocious in sound if not in demeanor. Formed four years ago around the axis of brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith — the front man and drummer, respectively, are joined by Tay Strathairn on keys and bassist Wylie Gelber — Dawes made an auspicious debut on 2009's North Hills, but the band really comes into its own on Nothing Is Wrong (ATO), released in June. It's the kind of record Ryan Adams's (much) less snotty kid brothers might have made.
Between the two albums, Dawes filled up its address book with some of the biggest names in folk-tinged classic rock. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, who met the band at an early jam session with the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, sits in. So does Jackson Browne, who also took Dawes to Europe as his backing band this summer.
If that wasn't enough, Robbie Robertson did the same thing, recruiting Dawes for several shows and other promotional appearances for his first album in 13 years, How to Become Clairvoyant. Effectively, this puts the young Angelenos in the same position Robertson's band the Hawks (soon to become The Band) was in with Bob Dylan in 1966, but there seems to be little danger of Dawes getting a swelled head about it.
"We've laughed about that and joked about that," says Taylor Goldsmith as the Dawes van winds its way toward Winston-Salem, North Carolina, part of a prodigious touring schedule. The band hits Fitzgerald's for the third time in less than a year next week before heading out for a string of dates with fellow neo-Americanaists Blitzen Trapper.
"Obviously, what we want to do is continue working and have a nice, long, substantial career," Goldsmith adds. "If this experience with Robbie can help us the same way that his experience with Bob Dylan did, that would be amazing."
Houston Press: As far as bands with brothers go, are you guys closer to the Black Crowes or Oasis?
Taylor Goldsmith: In both cases, don't they not get along?
HP: I think the Crowes are a little friendlier than Oasis.
TG: Oh. We get along great.
HP: What kind of advice have you picked up from people like Benmont Tench, Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne?
TG: Obviously we're not on the same level as any of those guys, but we can't be fans or else we'd lose those relationships. I've heard stories of old friends of my dad's playing with legends and being like, "Hey man, can I get an autograph for someone?" or whatever, and then they get fired.
I don't think that Robbie or Jackson or Benmont is that kind of person at all, but I do understand that that might not make them that comfortable. Mainly for us, the one thing that I'm constantly reminded of when I'm around them is what a lifelong commitment to your work and your art looks like. I feel like all those guys have put in so many hours and worked so hard. It's a profound thing to witness, being in a band that's only put out two records.
HP: At the same time, when you're playing with them, is it hard to concentrate on the music and not think, "I'm playing with fucking Jackson Browne?"
TG: That's definitely happened. I've always been a huge fan, so that's definitely the case at times. But at the same time, we want to do a good job, and he's one of the greatest players around, so we definitely can't screw up. We try to focus and do the best job we can.
HP: What is it about the band's music you think resonates with these older guys?
TG: I don't know. We're very honored. But I think a lot of it is what their priorities were, in terms of the way things are played and arranged, is where our priorities are. We don't really have a lot of understanding of Auto-Tune or synthesizers. I don't think there's a lot of bands that are trying to explore the traditional qualities of guitar solos or B-3 organ.
Like, rather than talk about how weird a drummer can get — which is awesome; I love hearing the approaches that bands like Bon Iver and Local Natives do — but at the same time, for Griffin, for Dawes, he tends to fall more in line with guys like Russ Kunkel and Levon Helm.
HP: It seems like you guys aren't having any problems picking up fans your own age, too.
TG: Yeah. Dawes has not at any point been some kind of overnight sensation that all the cool kids are rushing to go see. I feel like there are some bands out there that you say if you went to their show and you go to school or work the next day and you tell everybody, then you're cooler or whatever.
I don't think Dawes is that kind of band. And that's something we're cool with. We like this slow trajectory, because we feel like the longer it takes a fan to subscribe to you, that means the longer they're going to stick with you through thick and thin. The ones who decide to buy your ticket after only hearing your single on the radio, I feel like those are also the kind of fans who won't really notice that you're not in their lives anymore.
HP: It seems like people in their twenties who know The Last Waltz are pretty rare. How did you get turned on to it?
TG: Just through playing and different musicians. We're very curious guys and we want to hear it all. You can't really get into Bob Dylan and start getting into all the trivia and the fun facts without realizing that he played with The Band. It just ends up there eventually. I think all things lead back to The Band, especially for American rock and roll.
Especially among musicians. I think it's the most romantic concept of what American music could ever be, where you have the guy who writes the songs doesn't sing 'em, and there's three singers, and there's a personality with each musician.
HP: How much does L.A. itself figure into your music?
TG: I think as much as anybody else who's connected to the place they come from. I think it's the same way that you'll hear a lot of New Jersey with Bruce Springsteen, or you'll hear a lot of Texas with Willie Nelson. With us, we come from L.A. It's not like I'm really in love or obsessed with it, but it's the world that I know because that's where I've lived my whole life. So whenever I'm talking about geography, if that comes up in a song, that tends to be the place.
HP: Some musicians have said that the city is almost like a character in their music. Would you say that's true for your band?
TG: Definitely. I think I have a relationship. I think anybody does eventually, but I definitely have a complicated relationship with L.A. There are things that I hate about it and things that I love about it, and also I like that it's kind of two things at once. It's fascinating to me.
HP: It sounds like you guys have pretty much been on the road since North Hills came out. What do you plan to do when you finally do get a substantial break?
TG: Make sure the next record's written. We don't mind working. We like staying busy, be it at home making an album or being on tour. In this day and age, where content is so accessible, the only bands that stand a chance are the bands that never really leave the scene
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