Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer and songwriter for the Los Angeles-based roots rock band Dawes, about their upcoming tour with Jackson Browne, what he wants his music to accomplish and their impending release of the band’s second album.
CP: You guys are booked pretty solid this summer, all June, most of July and all of August. Are you worried you'll get road weary?
TG: No, when we see these stories of bands we love and what their careers were like, it seems like them being gone nine months a year in a row seems to be the typical road to being able to have a sustainable career. So if they're doing nine months and, in some cases, years and years, then I wouldn't want us to be complaining about four or six months. July will be pretty busy, too. We'll go to Spain with Jackson Browne and be his band for a week in Spain. We're rehearsing with him in L.A. for two weeks before that.
CP: That's a big deal. How did that come about?
TG: It's a huge deal. He was a hero of ours way before we met him. He's friends with our producers, and he came to a show our producer played that we were the backing band. He said, “Oh, that's great. I want the band to be my backing band for this trip to Spain, and we can all hang out and have a good time.” We're really excited about it.
CP: You guys are all L.A.-based and have this vocal harmony-centric folk/rock sound, which automatically brings to mind bands like The Eagles and CSNY. Do you see yourselves as carrying the torch of that style of music forward?
TG: Maybe not specifically, but a lot of what matters to us - a lot of our priorities, musically - are things that we notice aren't as important now and might never be again. For us, piano solos or guitar solos or well-played percussion are qualities that not only seem a little lost but are, in some cases, unaccepted. It's almost cheesy to some people to play a guitar solo where you're bending the strings and doing the whole thing.
That's something that's important to us. There's obviously folks doing it, and there always will be, but maybe not as much in the contemporary world.
We love a lot of different stuff. We're big Allman Brothers Band fans and Grateful Dead fans and Tom Petty - stuff that doesn't fall into the roots rock, California thing. It's still roots rock, but it's of a different place and time. Our tastes definitely vary. However our record comes out is what we're going to be all about. We're not consciously maintaining a sound or a responsibility to the genre.
CP: Before there was Dawes, there was Simon Dawes, from which Dawes founded. Simon Dawes had a more aggressive sound than Dawes. Was that a sudden shift or a gradual change?
TG: I think it was a natural thing. With Simon Dawes, before the band broke up, two of our newer songs we were going to record on the second record were “Bedside Manner” and “Peace in the Valley,” both songs which ended up on the first Dawes album. There was a natural shift that was going on.
What was really going on was that Simon Dawes was me writing songs with Blake, the other main writer, at 18 years old. We didn't have anything to write about; we didn't have a concept of ourselves as writers, no singular voice. We just wanted to play on stages, so we wrote the kind of songs that we needed to write and didn't think much about it.
When that band started to break up and fall apart, I started thinking, “What am I doing? What matters to me? Am I going to continue trying to be in this Simon Dawes alternative rock band or will I try to write songs that help me out in the way that other songs have helped me out by writers I love?”
I think it was a natural thing. The sound of Dawes would have been a big part of Simon Dawes, had we stayed together.
CP: The band is named for your grandfather, Dawes Lafayette Goldsmith, and during an interview on Mountain Stage with Larry Groce, you said your grandfather used to tell you that, in a band, “If you have a drummer, you don't need a bass player, and if you have a bass player, you don't need a drummer.” Dawes has both. What would he think of that?
TG: He was talking about his Western swing influences. He was talking about being a Bob Wills fan and a Hank Williams fan. That's where our grandfather came from. When you look at old country bands, you'll often see one or the other, but in the music we play, I feel like it's a pretty conventional and important thing to make sure you have both.
CP: Is he still around? What does he think or would think of your music?
TG: He's unfortunately not around anymore. I think he would have approved of it. I don't know that he would have been a big fan. He would have respected it, but he wouldn't have been like, “This is great. I listen to it all the time.” He was 75 or something when he passed. He was up there, and I think he was pretty set in his tastes. I don't know that it would have been his favorite thing in the world, but definitely the music that he was into was a big influence for us.
CP: So old country and western swing are on your list of influences? Who?
TG: Definitely Roger Miller and certain country artists like that who we got into. Definitely some western swing stuff. But not like as much as Bob Dylan or something, but it's something we all listen to.
CP: What is your writing process?
TG: I'll jot things down from conversations or from something I'm reading or a thought, and from that, I can figure out a good topic or theme or title. From there, I'll take a different guitar or piano idea I've been working on and try to figure out what works best together and go from there. Sometimes, the choruses is written first to give me perspective on the next verse. That seems to be our process.
CP: You said Dawes' first album, “North Hills,” reflected a desire to “go somewhere and experience things” and that your upcoming release, “Nothing Is Wrong,” was written while you were actually out on the road having those experiences. How did that having those experiences change your writing process?
TG: It didn't really change the process much. It was an observation I made after the fact, when I looked back on the material. I was like, “Oh, this has a quality of being gone, whereas the first album has this quality of wanting to be gone.” It wasn't something I was trying to maintain while I was writing the second record. It didn't really change my approach or writing process, really. I had to find creative ways of writing songs while on tour, but it didn't change my process.
CP: Do you have a musical philosophy, something that drives you to keep playing or something you want your music to embody?
TG: I feel like, with a lot of my favorite songwriters - Will Oldham and Warren Zevon and John Prine and Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan and guys like that - they helped shape who I am as an individual and helped teach me patience and how to recognize things that are good and right and beautiful. My goal and our goal as a band is to try to help even one person to have that same experience in their music.
CP: Have people come up to you and told you that your music has had that effect on them?
TG: Yeah, several times, and it means the world. That's the coolest part about playing music. At that point, to find out that this person has gone through a similar experience as I have, it almost doesn't matter that it was me that wrote the song; we're sharing a human connection. It's a really cool feeling.
CP: Thinking ahead to a third release, what would you like to do, musically speaking? How would you like the sound to evolve?
TG: It's something that I feel like we've made important not to pre-conceive too much, because I think that, at that point, it would start to sound unnatural. For us, with the development of the second record from the first, it was something that we weren't dead set on, so it came out more organic that way.
If we came into the third album saying, “This has to be more jammy or progressive or more mellow or more country” it would harm the material more than help it. By keeping ourselves open to whatever moves us and comes out organically without pushing that will be what's best for it.
CP: How long have you guys been playing material from “Nothing Is Wrong” on the road?
TG: We started playing new material back in October. We were playing one of the songs, “My Way Back Home,” on our Barnstormer tour for Daytrotter back in 2009.
CP: Did road testing the material encourage you to tweak the music as you saw how people responded to it?
TG: Definitely. Playing them on stage definitely helped us figure out what worked, even if it was on a subtle, individual level like, “I'm going to play this voice into this chord instead of this one.” Every show we played a song in was worth 10 rehearsals. It was really beneficial to be able to tour playing these new songs and see how they were received.
CP: Now that, “Nothing is Wrong” is about to come out, how have people been responding to the songs in the form in which they appear on the album?
TG: It's been great. People have been really positive. Right now, we're on this tour and we're playing songs mainly from the new record. People who aren't even familiar with the new material who I would expect to say, “Why don't you play this (older) song?” are saying “That's great. We're really excited about the new record.” It's been very positive.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...