Dawes: Dawesian Blur


Taylor Goldsmith and Dawes learned to trust their instincts

Taylor Goldsmith has experienced slightly rising levels of anxiety with each successive Dawes album since North Hills, the band’s 2009 debut. The goodwill generated by his previous band, Simon Dawes, seemed to naturally carry over to his new project, and yet in some ways, Goldsmith is still waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“Those early years for a band, that definitive time, it’s almost like they can do no wrong or something, and as time goes on, those records are used as a barometer for the new stuff,” says the L.A.-based Goldsmith. “As the band, we’re always happiest with the latest thing, as it should be, but I don’t ever want to get to a point where it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is cool, but man, our second record was so much better.’ So, it’s good to hear people like it. It’s the first fourth record we’ve ever made.”

To date, Goldsmith and his Dawes compatriots—drummer/brother Griffin Goldsmith, bassist Wylie Gelber, keyboardist Tay Strathairn—have maintained plenty of forward momentum, a string that remains unbroken with the release of All Your Favorite Bands. As with the first three Dawes albums, All Your Favorite Bands sighs with bittersweet ’70s folk ennui while maintaining a contemporary pop/rock edge. The difference this time out is that the group was determined to make Favorite Bands considerably less mannered and studio-massaged than its predecessors, 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong and 2013’s Stories Don’t End, and perhaps even closer to the ramshackle verve of 2006’s Carnivore, Simon Dawes’ only full-length release.

“It wasn’t a reactionary thing against Stories Don’t End; we love that record and we love playing those songs,” says Goldsmith. “But with every record you make, you learn a little more about when you’re at your best. Despite the joy it was to make Stories Don’t End, there were obstacles that had nothing to do with anything other than us being, in our estimation, relatively inexperienced in the studio.”

All Your Favorite Bands might have turned out very differently if not for the amazing string of life and career experiences that took place in the wake of Stories Don’t End. Their 2014 trip to Rwanda had a profound effect on all of them, as did their opening dates for Bob Dylan (perhaps to a slightly lesser degree), but the most potent wild card in the deck may have been the Goldsmiths’ participation in T Bone Burnett’s New Basement Tapes project, which led Dawes down completely unexpected paths.

“It really opened my eyes to what we could do,” says Goldsmith. “There would be days where we would cut five or six songs a day, and I’d get a nod from Elvis Costello or Marcus Mumford to take a solo, when I didn’t even know if there was going to be one. And right there, I’d have to hit it, and then I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s actually one of my favorite solos I’ve played. Maybe I should stop and think about that.’ Griffin was part of those sessions, too, and the more Dawes talked about it, we realized we’re most comfortable in those spontaneous circumstances where we really have to think on our feet. We finally realized we need to stop being scared to just play together and start trusting ourselves. I can sing this song. I don’t need to get meticulous over some vocal take; I can just sing it with the band. And that’s what we did.”

The other significant factor in the sound and structure of Favorite Bands is the presence of producer David Rawlings, best known as Gillian Welch’s performing/recording partner, but quickly gaining a reputation as a savvy boardsman. Recorded at Rawlings’ Nashville studio, All Your Favorite Bands is a solid document of musicians looking to make some changes, and a producer willing to let them.

“We would play the song four or five times, and he’d be like, ‘Cool, I think we got it, let’s move on,’ and we wouldn’t even listen back,” says Goldsmith. “We didn’t hear any of the songs we recorded until we were seven or eight songs in. So, when it came to editing or picking a certain solo section, that was all Dave. That was really cool for me, because this is how we play, this is what we sound like, so that process of having Dave construct and edit the tapes without us being a part of that helped the experience in a lot of ways.”

—Brian Baker