Over its three albums, Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles-based band Dawes has slowly gained a following as one of the best folk-rock acts in the business. This has as a lot to do with the band's stellar work ethic — it tours relentlessly behind its releases, playing as many venues as possible. "It’s a fairly streamlined approach to the job: Make the album, release it, tour it," explains lead-singer Taylor Goldsmith.
Recently, this attitude has led Dawes to even higher realms of success, including an opening tour with none other than Bob Dylan. "That was probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened to us," says Goldsmith, still visibly giddy even months after the stint has ended. The band's latest venture will be two nights of special performances that benefit the Newport Festivals Foundation. The shows will include a host of other performers joining the band on stage. We caught up with the band shortly after its recent headlining show at Terminal 5 to talk the its inspirations, Bob Dylan, and life on the road.
Your album has been out for a little while now — how have the new songs been going in a live setting?
Taylor Goldsmith: “It’s been great! When we first took these songs on tour, they were the songs we were the least familiar with. The set we’re doing right now tries to represent our three albums. We’re definitely leaning heavily on this new album and material. Our show’s been really strong.”
Are there any songs that haven’t translated live the way you imagined they would??
Griffin Goldsmith: “If anything, the songs are coming out better than we’ve expected them to based on the recordings.”
Taylor Goldsmith: “Sometimes we’ve gotten lucky taking songs on the road way before making a record, and I feel like that does a lot for a track. Now, a lot of these songs off the new record like ‘Side Effects’ have grown into something much bigger when performed live. It makes you think, ‘Oh, it would have been cool to do this before we recorded,’ but I think those are just displeasing thoughts. What it really ends up doing is lending extra power to the live show. They’re like juggernauts.”
You guys just opened for Bob Dylan — that’s huge! What was it like knowing you were going to be playing with Dylan?
Taylor Goldsmith: “We’ve played with so many people that we really admire, but having our manager tell us Bob Dylan wants us to open; that was a whole other level of — I dunno, it’s just something that we thought would never happen.”
Did you get to talk to him at all?
Taylor Goldsmith: “He’s a pretty private guy. He’d go to his bus after sound check, and he’d go back after the show, too. I met him briefly at the end of the tour, but that was it.”
How is it different opening for an audience that’s primarily there to see an artist like Dylan versus when you’re playing a big show on your own?
Taylor Goldsmith: “I think it poses a challenge. Bob Dylan fans are very committed and typically older. They’re not there to listen to new music. So, it’s our job to do a good enough job of turning them on to new stuff. I feel like we did a good job. I think we came away with a lot of new fans — a lot of loyal fans. You don’t go to see Bob Dylan and drink with your friends, his fans are loyal, and one intense audience.”
How do you guys stay on good terms with each other while you’re on the road in a cramped van for hours on end?
Taylor Goldsmith: “Are we on good terms? [Laughs]"
Griffin Goldsmith: “I don’t know, are we? We all do different things do pass the time. A good portion of it is learning how to get a long. We’ve always gotten along real well.”
Taylor Goldsmith: “I think that’s something that if you look at photos of us or videos of us, you can tell we’re really close. If we weren’t, I don’t think any of us would be able to do this. It’d be too hard. We all try to do something together after a show. The other night after our show in New York, a musician friend of ours explained how lucky we are to have one another. She said we all seemed to have a really nice, close connection. I don’t know, you look at all your favorite bands and what you love about them is the fact that they seem to be best friends. When you look at early Beatles interviews, and they spend the whole time making each other laugh, I think that really informs the romance that we all saw in them or still do. When bands go from being a gang of close buds to guys that are in business together, you wonder why they don’t just call it a day if they don’t want to invest in each other. I feel like if we had to work at it, there’d be a problem.”
What do you miss the most about home when you’re travelling?
Tay Strathairn: "The only thing I’d say is I miss being in one place and having the comforts of your own house. I get antsy sitting around.”
Taylor Goldsmith: “I think it’s the pretty regular stuff, like our favorite restaurants, our homes, our cars. I think we miss the things anyone would miss if they were away from their hometown for 70% on the year.”
Wylie Gelber: “There’s such a rad music scene there that I miss being around that community. We’d get together and jam, and try to do that when we’re all in town together.”
What’s next for you guys? You’re already three albums in; where to now?
Taylor Goldsmith: “I think for us, it’s a very simple idea of what we want to do for ourselves. A lot of things, I think, like what some bands do scoping out different labels and producers is ambitious and deserves respect. If something happens and we suddenly turn into this massive band, that’d be something we would be willing to embrace. But for us right now, we’re trying to gear our careers toward something authentic. We want to be able to look back and say we have 10, maybe 15 albums. That’s really it. We’re not trying to change anything up, or have different careers (solo careers, etc). We want to be able to look back on a band that has a large catalog of music that spans years.”
What did you guys want to be when you were growing up?
Taylor Goldsmith: “We’ve changed a lot, but I feel like I’ve gotten most excited about learning music. Personally, my musical education that informed my decision of what I wanted to do was Steely Dan when I was about 15 or 16. I had listened to some of their stuff before that, but it was more of me being a little kid with zero concept for music. I was a late bloomer when it came to having taste. As a music fan, I’d just listen to what was in front of me. When I came across Steely Dan, I felt something change.”
What about now? Are you still into the same stuff? Is there anything that’s been super inspirational?
Taylor Goldsmith: “I think we all are pretty much the same."
Tay Strathairn: “It’s weird, I still listen to a lot of the same stuff I listened to as a kid. I listened to a lot of jazz and was discovering a lot of stuff as a kid that you’re kind of forced to go back and revisit it. I have a harder time latching onto the newer music. So, I look back on the things I listened to before to try and find something. You know, you listen to a track for different reasons, and each time you’ll pull something different out of it. I think all of us have a pretty wide spectrum of musical taste. If you’re a musician and you only listen to one kind of music, you’re not doing yourself a favor.”
What do you listen to when you’re going out?
Taylor Goldsmith: “It’s weird, my relationship with music is not as simple as seeking our a song for one kind of stimulation. I think listening to music should be inspiring. I get that there are people who treat music as a backdrop that elevates the mood of a conversation, but when you start listening to it, trying to be present in your day-to-day doings is difficult. I would be questioning and commenting on the music playing. I mean, yeah, I listen to stuff that puts you in a good mood — we all do, but I can’t not listen to music critically. We’ve been doing this for so long, that I think it’s difficult for us to take off our critical hats; obviously if a track makes you feel good, it’s good, but a lot of times your enjoyment is informed by the contextual impression of the total environment.”
Do you imagine where people will be listening to it, whether they’re driving down the highway or at a party?
Griffin Goldsmith: “Well, the first thing is you want your audience to have a good time. If you’re trying to make something overwrought, and if there’s too much shit in the fan, it’s not going to work. The hip-hop I used to listen to as a kid never had me questioning where a sample was from. You want your fans to be able to drive in their car and have a nice connection. You have to ride the balance between not being too intellectual while not becoming pop. It’s hard. The sensibility of your work is key.”
What’s next for the band?
Taylor Goldsmith: “Up until now, our album cycle has been a mix of headlining dates here, etc. This album has had us headlining more shows. Now we just played Terminal 5 in New York, and Dawes won’t be coming back to play a New York City show where we’re opening for someone. December when we’ve hit different markets, and we’ll see just how successful our record was. And next year we could very well be headlining, too. We’re committed to hitting every market right now and making our album known.”
What places are you dying to play?
Taylor Goldsmith : “I mean, Terminal 5 is one of them and Nashville’s Ryman where we headlined was incredible. Certain shows like that — we’re playing two shows at First Ave in Minneapolis. Honestly, a lot of these stops have been great so far. Columbus, Ohio was wonderful. There used to be select cities in our market, but in today’s world you need to apply to every market. We’ve played Atlanta, which feels like a major market of yesteryear. The one’s that were big for us before, like the venues in New York now are bigger than that. It’s pretty cool feeling.”
Photo: Courtesy of Dawes