MAGNET Exclusive: Dawes’ “Misadventures Of Doomscroller” Track By Track

After a string of recent albums that have emphasized production value and songcraft, sometimes at the expense of grit and chemistry, Dawes have returned to some old business—except now they’re a much better band. Misadventures Of Doomscroller (Rounder) is a player’s album. Its seven tracks offer plenty of opportunities for the Southern California quartet to demonstrate why they’re one of the most fluid, skilled and creative outfits in rock today.

Doomscroller’s bookends are each more than nine minutes long, yet they never overstay their welcome. Like everything else on Dawes’ eighth—and best—album, they’re peppered with so many shifts in melody and momentum that length seems irrelevant. Often, the clever touches are subtle—something along the lines of the triplet tom fill from drummer Griffin Goldsmith, which perfectly accents the verses on “Everything Is Permanent.” Other times, they bowl you over, like the powerful acapella interlude that effectively closes out “Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries To Relax.” 

Frontman Taylor Goldsmith says it was about pushing the limits in almost every sense. “In the past, our music was something we could always get a handle on,” he says. “For this album, it was like, ‘When do we get to that point where it’s not comfortable?’ Like, ‘I don’t really know if I have this in my fingers or not. It might be beyond us, but we’re going to try it anyway.’ It was sort of like the feeling we had making our first album, though we would’ve never done 10-minute songs back then—or even thought we were capable of it.”

Fully recovered from a recent bout of COVID, Goldsmith spoke to MAGNET from his home in Pasadena, Calif., where he’s been laying low with wife Mandy Moore after the tour for her most recent solo album, In Real Life, was cut short for health reasons. The couple is expecting their second child in October. 

Here’s Goldsmith’s track-by-track rundown of Misadventures Of Doomscroller.

1. “Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries To Relax”
“Normally, I’d write a song like ‘Someone Else’s Cafe’ and finish it as quickly as possible and move on before the portal closes. We had this clear song with three verses, a solo break and an ending. I originally wrote that fusiony riff as an outro, but it seemed like a weird way to end it. Then I thought maybe we could respond to the first half of the song with this new way of thinking. One thing led to another as sort of a reaction to itself.”

2. “Comes In Waves”
“Rather than having every song be extra chewy, I thought it would be fun to follow up something that’s pretty monumental with something that goes down easy. For this one, Griffin, (bassist) Wylie (Gelber) and my good friend Mike Viola came over to my backyard during COVID, and we all sat at a distance, playing cover songs and hanging out. I showed them this new idea with a first verse and a chorus. When I got to the chorus, Griff and Mike started doing these call-and-response vocal lines, and it came together quickly. It’s almost like Mike has this compressor in his throat. Every time he sings, it sounds like a record—even though he’s sitting right in front of you.”

3. “Everything Is Permanent”
“We had to figure this one out on the floor. I’d written it as this sort of mellow, almost Elliott Smith progression, where it was very chromatic and gentle. There’s a lot of color in the chords, and when we tried to plow through it as a band, it just sounded ridiculous—awful. Microphones were set up, we were in headphones and recording, and we were like, ‘This not working.’ I ended up making up these new chords on the spot. The new chords worked, and we went from there.

“I’d never played a solo where I was counting—that’s how my jazz friends think. I had the whole structure of the tune, and then we added this eruption, this freakout in the middle with guitar and keyboard solos. But I still felt like, ‘What else can this song handle?’ It was pretty much the antithesis of my past songwriting experiences, when I’d be figuring out what to cut. Then I wrote the ‘Did you really need to cry or be seen crying?’ outro.”

4. “Ghost In The Machine”
“It was cut on arrival. Live. I’d had these lyrics for a long time. I’d tried them under different progressions, but this time it really stuck. We had Jonathan Wilson, our producer, play a second drum kit, so we had to really commit to the performance. We just wanted to unabashedly show how we love playing. Not that I think we’re better than anyone else or particularly fantastic, but I do feel like we’d always hold back because it was in vogue. With this, it was like, ‘Let’s really fucking go and see how close we can get to achieving excellence.’

“Every time I talk about putting ‘Ghost In the Machine’ in the live set, Griff is like, ‘I don’t know how we’re gonna do this without a second kit. It won’t sound right.’ We’ve got to play it, so I’m sure Griff will come up with something.”

5. “Joke In There Somewhere”
“Everyone was writing that ‘pandemic song.’ As listener, I wanted to listen to music that was about anything else but that. But as a writer, I also felt compelled to engage with what I was experiencing (during the pandemic). I kept coming back to this idea that this sort of social agreement we’re all subscribing to is way more fragile than we thought. There’s a lot that we take for granted about how the world works. I wanted to write a song about that. So it’s a COVID song, but it’s not really a COVID song.”

6. “Joke In There Somewhere (Outro)”
“There are a lot of Dawes songs that do what ‘Joke’ does. It’s the closest thing on the album to ‘Something In Common’ (from 2013’s Stories Don’t End) or ‘A Little Bit Of Everything’ (from 2011’s Nothing Is Wrong). We wanted to explore a way to give it some life with an outro. And after so many songs with these solos, we wanted to figure out how to do something compelling without anyone playing on top of it.”

7. “Sound That No One Made/Doomscroller Sunrise”
“It was the first one we tried recording, and we just kept missing it. And because it’s more than nine minutes long, it was getting exhausting. So we got something we felt was OK, and we kept moving on. I’m glad we came back to it, because it’s now become a real favorite for me. There are probably more sections on that song than anything else on the album. And it felt cool to send off the album with just me and the acoustic.”

—Hobart Rowland