OPEN DAWES TO GREAT MUSIC
by Norman Warwick
Until reading an article by NTV writer Tom Lanham at Paste on-line recently, their music had somehow eluded me butDawes, I now know, Dawes is an American folk-rock band from Los Angeles, California, composed of brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards).
After reading Lanham´s piece, subsequent checking of facts with WikiP told me that Dawes was formed from the band Simon Dawes after the departure of co-songwriter Blake Mills, subsequently abandoning a post-punk sound in favour of folk rock. Dawes has been described as having a Laurel Canyon sound derived from artists such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.
At the invitation of producer Jonathan Wilson, the band joined a local informal jam session that included Conor Oberst, The Black Crowes‘s Chris Robinson, and Benmont Tench. The band recorded their debut album, North Hills, to an analog tape, in Laurel Canyon in a live setting, resulting in a sound that Rolling Stone magazine called “authentically vintage”. Wilco multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone is also credited with appearing on the release.
The band made their television debut on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on April 14, 2010. Dawes released their second album, Nothing Is Wrong, on June 7, 2011 and toured the US co-headlining with Blitzen Trapper. Original keyboardist Tay Strathairn did not appear on Nothing Is Wrong due to other commitments and was temporarily replaced by Alex Casnoff. Strathairn returned to the band in late 2010. Dawes played alongside Jackson Browne, a subject on several occasions of pieces here among the Sidetracks & Detours, at the Occupy Wall Street event in Zuccotti Park, on December 1, 2011. The band also appeared as themselves on the February 7, 2012 episode of the NBC television series Parenthood.
In February 2013, the band released the single From a Window Seat from the 2013 album Stories Don’t End on Red General Catalog and their own Hub Records.
The song Just Beneath the Surface from Stories Don’t End was featured in the episode Independent Movie of the animated series American Dad!
On April 22, 2015, Dawes performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, paying tribute to Warren Zevon with their cover of Desparados Under the Eaves. They also performed the song Things Happen on the show.
Duane Betts joined the band as a member of their touring ensemble in June 2015, performing as an auxiliary guitarist, whilst Taylor and Duane alternated playing lead guitar on songs. The band’s fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, was released on June 2, 2015.
Three months later, the departure of keyboardist Tay Strathairn was announced in a Facebook post. Lee Pardini began playing keyboards on the band’s winter 2015/2016 tour and became a permanent member of the band in July 2016. Betts also left the touring ensemble, and was replaced by guitarist Trevor Menear.
Dawes’ fifth album, We’re All Gonna Die was released on September 16, 2016, on HUB Records. The record marked a distinct change of style, building on the band’s previous Laurel Canyon folk rock sound with a sonic twist, adding in more synthesized keyboard sounds, heavier bass, and an overall different sound for the group (while still staying true to their roots). We’re All Gonna Die was produced by former founding member of Simon Dawes, Blake Mills. In November 2016, they announced their An Evening With Dawes tour, which began in January 2017. The Evening With tour was distinct from past tours because, instead of having an opening act, they performed 2-3to to three hour long shows with a small intermission.
Passwords, Dawes’ sixth studio album, was released on June 22, 2018. The album saw the return of producer Jonathan Wilson, and was ´for and about the modern age: the relationships that fill it, the politics that divide it, and the small victories and big losses that give it shape.´ The band launched a marketing campaign for the album that encouraged fans to search for “passwords” posted throughout the Internet. Once a password was found, it could be entered onto a page of the band’s official website where each part of the password represented a musical note. When entered correctly, these musical notes played various musical refrains from Dawes songs and unlocked exclusive content, including the singles Never Gonna Say Goodbye and Telescope, as well as a Spotify playlist curated by Griffin Goldsmith.
And now I had also learned from Tom Lanham´s piece that on July 22, 2020, Dawes announced their seventh studio album, Good Luck With Whatever, would be released on October 2 via Rounder Records. In conjunction with the announcement, the band released their first single from the album, Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?
Lanham´s piece filled in the names, characteristics and work ethos of a band that should have been on my playlists long before now.
Taylor Goldsmith, of Dawes, and his wife of nearly two years, actress/musician Mandy Moore, get along great and didn’t mind spending so much time together in their native Los Angeles, where they’re expecting their first child, a son, in early 2021.
Mandy (Amanda Leigh Moore) was born in 1984 and is now established an American singer, songwriter, actress and voice actress. She rose to fame with her debut single, Candy, which peaked at number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her debut studio album, So Real (1999), received a platinum certification from the RIAA. The title single from her second studio album, I Wanna Be With You became Moore’s first top 30 song in the U.S., peaking at number 24 on the Hot 100. Moore subsequently released an eponymous studio album, and then Coverage , Wild Hope , Amanda Leigh and Silver Landings.
Moore made her feature film debut in 2001, with a minor voice role in the comedy film Dr. Dolittle 2, before starring as Lana Thomas in the comedy film The Princess Diaries. She received recognition for her starring role as Jamie Sullivan in the romantic drama film A Walk to Remember and starred in the films Chasing Liberty , Saved! , Racing Stripes Because I Said So , License to Wed ), Love, Wedding, Marriage , 47 Meters Down , The Darkest Minds ), and Midway . Moore also voiced Princess Rapunzel in the Disney animated fantasy musical comedy film Tangled , the short film Tangled Ever After , the Disney Channel television film, Tangled: Before Ever After and the series Tangled: The Series (2017–2020).
Since 2016, Moore has starred as Rebecca Pearson in the NBC family drama series This Is Us. For her performance, she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. In 2019, Moore was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She and Taylor often co-write together, as on her new Silver Landings comeback, her first album in more than ten years, and Goldsmith, 35, has spent the rest of his free time perfecting the Dave-Cobb-produced Good Luck With Whatever, the seventh effort from his folk-rock quartet Dawes, and its first for legendary imprint Rounder.
Mandy´s spring tour 2020 was cancelled, as was Taylor´s.
´Nevertheless, I look forward to concerts coming back,´ Taylor told Tom Lanham in an interview for NTV and published in the Paste on-line magazine. but sometimes I feel like it’s around the corner, and other times I feel like it’s three years away, and anybody who says they know for certain one way or the other is lying to you,´
Whenever he is viewing and listening for entertainment, research or inspiration Goldsmith is consciously steering clear of anything that reminds him of the COVID-19 existential crisis.
´If it’s something that’s going to drag me through the dirt, I just can’t do it,´ proclaims the singer, 35, who put thoughtful, cheerful top-spins on Band-retro (there´s a recommendation in itself) new Dawes tracks like Still Feel Like A Kid, Free As We Wanna Be, Between The Zero And The One, and the childhood reminiscence that is St. Augustine at Night.
Whereas if you’re going to uplift me and make me feel like there’s a reason to move forward, I find myself going back to those records—like the new Killers album Imploding the Mirage (reviewed previously on our Sidetracks & Detours pages) —over and over again. I just can’t stop listening to it, because it makes me feel hopeful, strong, and positive.´
Dawes followers, suggested Lanham, will probably soon be viewing the charming, disarming, yet subtly cynical Good Luck album in the same optimistic light.
´Although obviously, our universe is much smaller than that of The Killers’, Goldsmith sighed, self-deprecating to a fault. ´As with all our records, some people may hate it, some people won’t, but it’s fun thinking that if we just stay the course and keep doing what we do, like The Killers did, we’ll get to a point where even the haters will be like, ‘You know what? We’ve really got to give it up for these guys!’
Lanham delved deeper into The Killers reference by asking about his occasional collaborative writing with Branbdon Flowers, the Killers frontman.
´There’s a B-side song on his album called Desired Effect,´ Taylor explained, ´Then the other song was Never Get You Right, which was really cool the way it got written. I was on tour with Conor Oberst—we were Conor’s backing band—and I was texting back and forth with Brandon, who needed lyrics for a song, so we were trying to write something remotely. But then Conor and I just sat down and wrote this batch of lyrics and sent it over to Brandon, and he said, It’s not the right thing for this song, but I really like ’em. So he took those lyrics, embellished them, and wrote Never Get You Right, a whole new song just from those words. So it was really fascinating, and just a testament to the good technician that Brandon is. He knows how to see a song in ways that most people can’t.´
Goldsmith went on to tell Lanham about how Memorized, a track from NBC’s This is Us, has recently been nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.
´That was actually an assignment that started from zero,´ he recalled.
´And it was a trip to do, because Dawes isn’t a “hit” band, you know? We’re very aware of our own particular lane. But the mission was to write a fake hit song, something that the audience would perceive as an arena-sized hit, because that’s how this artist is portrayed. So I was like, “Wow. I’ve gotta try to go for something I’ve never written! And I have to make it believable.” People have to hear it and intuit as, “Oh, I can see that being a hit.” So Sid, the guy that scores This is Us wrote the music, and sent it over to me, and I came up with a draft, and the chorus with the title was there from the beginning. So then we just started chipping away at it, until it made sense for me and Sid and the creators of the show. And it was a blast—up until recently, I’d never done anything outside of just writing songs about my feelings, for Dawes. So to be asked to do that, I was like, “I don’t know how to do this, I’ve never done it before, but I’ll give it a try.” And it ended up being so satisfying, now I want to do more. All the time! And I was so blown away when we were nominated, because I just didn’t think that was a possibility.´
When Lanham returns to the dawes new album by saying how interesting it is that the bass ´rides herd´ on None Of My Business, but with Didn’t Fix Men Still Feel Like a Kid, and the title track, it ist the the keyboards control everything.
´And a lot of that is just the mix,´ Goldsmith revealed. ´When we were doing Didn’t Fix Me, that is largely a guitar riff. And the way that Dave Cobb found the mix that he was looking for, the keyboards were kind of out front. I still hear it as a shared riff between the two of them, but I also know that I’m way too close to it to have any kind of objectivity, because I was in the room when it was made. But I love that — it’s giving a personality to this record that maybe our other ones don’t have, with shifting roles. And Dave really has this incredible sense of catching a spirit, catching a ghost, because we never got past a second or third take—Dave recognizes how precious that is. It was very live-oriented, and he didn’t give you an opportunity to overthink, and that forced us to live with a moment of inspiration or a moment of innovation, when it’s very easy in 2019, when we recorded it, when the studio can do anything. We just kept moving on, and at the end of two weeks, when we listened back to it, everything had an urgency, everything had this little light on. And that’s how it felt. Obviously, it doesn’t sound anything like Highway 61, but when you listen to Highway 61, you can hear them thinking on their feet.´
In comparing St. Augustine, off the Dawes new album, to Springsteen’s My Hometown, Lanham reckoned there’s a new believability factor at work, too. So autobiographical is the narration of the song that it had him believing that Taylor was actually born in Florida, and he had to double-check that he actually does hail from California, as Lanham had always thought.
´That´s cool to hear,´ Taylor responded. ´And that’s the whole question — how do you land on something that feels real, whatever that means? How do you do it? With a turn of phrase, a certain reference? But I chose St. Augustine because we had family there, and whenever we were on tour and had a show in, or near, St. Augustine, we would ask our agent for a day off so we could all hang out and go fishing or whatever. So this song is a composite—it’s not about one person in particular, but it’s based on my experiences there, and based on my conversations with family, and just seeing how that town is, how everything is interlocked and everyone knows everyone. So it’s about St. Augustine in name and references, but I’m hoping it will be relatable to anybody who has a home town. Which is everyone.
And I love that Springsteen song. It’s about what it means to watch your life go by and reconcile yourself with that, and the pride that you take in where you come from. In recognizing that, this put a stamp on me that I cherish. And that’s how I identify myself. But there was that aspect of a little bit of research involved, which is a new thing for me. But I find that a lot of the novelists that I love do a lot of that, like Thomas Pynchon. And he was a big part of this album for me—I wrote songs like Good Luck With Whatever and Between The Zero And The One right after reading Gravity’s Rainbow. That book loomed large. But in songs like Zero, where I mention the Tarot, I had to look shit up, because I didn’t know how the Tarot works. And I needed to, to write that verse, to put it over the top of believability. So I actually bought a Tarot deck and studied it to find out what card means what.´
Lanham then raises a recurring theme on the record, that of mankind’s enslavement to his own fast-moving technology, a la the new Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.
With ´Free As We Wanna Be´, said Taylor, ´it’s funny, because when I watched The Social Dilemma, I thought, This song is about that movie, exactly. Like ´If I don’t look up from the mirror in my hands, I’m gonna miss what’s on TV´—it’s meant as a joke, but I think it’s something we’ve all experienced. You wonder if you should put your phone down, and then you do. But you just plop in front of the TV instead—we’re addicted to something to such an extent that we’re not willing to acknowledge it, because it’s terrifying. I don’t wanna be the guy that simply dismisses it as evil. It’s like alcohol — if you can exercise a little discipline, then sure, it’s great to see that so-and-so just had a baby, or it’s great to see what my wife’s day looks like when she’s at work and I’m at home. That’s nice. But that discipline that I’m talking about is not something that I see practiced by many people, myself included. So we don’t treat that world with the respect that it needs so it won’t keep zapping our brain. So I’m still learning how to draw my own lines, and I’m not really encouraged by my results so far. ´And Free As We Wanna Be´ is about our complicity.´
Tom Lanham jokes that the only thing missing from the new Dawes album album title is the word ‘dude,’ as in Good Luck With Whatever, Dude. It just feels like a big shrug, as humanity hurtles toward its own extinction.
´That song is all paranoia,´ Taylor laughs.
´That lyric, ´There’s a man with a chainsaw standing out in my yard.´ And it’s trying to be funny, like it could be my gardener, or it could be Leatherface. Or you see a car parked across the street, and you populate it with your own details to make that story as horrific as you want.
And that’s something that we all do, and it’s the basis of the conspiracy theorist in all of us. But with that song, it kind of hinges on that last line, how about how ´All of my biggest fears are the ones that never come true.
For me, even during COVID-19, even during this American election, like I was telling some friends of mine, “I am the worst fortune teller that you have ever met. Everything that I decide to be scared of, and every way that I interpret a situation — like “Oh, my God—this could happen!”—you could pretty much take that to Vegas as insurance that it won’t. Because everything that I get concerned about is just not the way that things unfold. And I think we’re all really bad fortune tellers. If you told all of us two years ago that COVID’s on its way, and these are the general points of what it’s going to be, I think we’d all tell the worst version of that story imaginable. The situation we’re dealing with is needless and sad and horrific and scary in a lot of ways but we’re also cracking jokes, we’re also seeing family, and we’re also singing songs. And that’s a weird thing to say. But it’s also just what human beings do.´
As we prepare for the lifting of Covid restrictions we could remind ourselves again what it is to feel human by watching a full Dawes concert from 2013 via the Paste archives:
source; a Tom Lanham work for NTV at Paste on-line