When Dawes first debuted in 2009, it was easy to lump their joyful Americana in with the hollow “Ho hey!” movement pushed by ascendant mainstream acts like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. But there was always something deeper and more authentic in the work of brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith and third wheel Wylie Gelber. Wild, uninhibited strains of heartland rock ’n’ roll. A heavy dose of paisley-tinted Los Angeles folk. And an uncanny combination of anthemic arena ambition and true-blue down-home instrumental chops, best demonstrated by the fact that Taylor and Griffin named the band after their fiddle-playing Okie grandfather.
Like early supporter and collaborator Jackson Browne and fellow Laurel Canyon icons Fleetwood Mac, Dawes’ sweet, soothing sound often serves as an expert cover for inner disorder and fractured utopia. Take the band’s most recent album, All Your Favorite Bands, which sounds like a high-minded rock ’n’ roll retrospective but actually delves deep into the complicated emotions surrounding a painful breakup. “A really big part of what this band’s been about from the beginning is bringing that personal side of songwriting to a four-member rock ’n’ roll band that loves Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, and The Rolling Stones,” Taylor Goldsmith tells Folio Weekly Magazine. “Writing quality songs while also playing guitar and hitting hard is so important to us.”
Folio Weekly: On your current tour, does the set list still focus on All Your Favorite Bands?
Taylor Goldsmith: I like to keep it retrospective. I don’t know if anyone else cares, but when I go see a band, I want to see each record represented, with some curveballs thrown in that I wasn’t expecting to hear. For us at this point, we like to go deep into the catalog. But All Your Favorite Bands was very much written and arranged for the stage, so those songs inevitably get more represented than others.
How important was it to marry intensely personal songwriting with big, anthemic rock ’n’ roll on the album?
My favorite artists are the ones who regarded themselves as singer-songwriters: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon, or even later guys like Will Oldham or Bill Callahan. But as much as I love writing songs, I also love playing guitar. So we’ve always wanted to bring together the personal side of songwriting while making sure the rock ’n’ roll band is incorporated and well-represented.
You have reliably released an album every two years since 2009. Is the next one already in the works for 2017?
We actually just finished recording it. Some great bands put out a record a year and ended up with such extensive catalogs. As cool as it feels to already have four albums, when I look at my heroes like Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello, who have upwards of 30 albums, four was barely the beginning. That’s what we’re striving for.
You recorded Favorite in Nashville. Did you record the newest album there?
No, this time we did it in LA with our good friend Blake Mills, who just had a great year in 2015 — he did the last Alabama Shakes record. We were in [pre-Dawes punk band] Simon Dawes together, and we’ve been best friends since we were 11 years old. I think it was the best step forward for us — a closing of the circle, if you will.
But not a “this is our definitive work” closing of the circle? You just mentioned striving for a 30-album discography.
It’s hard to imagine any band getting to that place where you say, “This is exactly what we want, and this is where we hope it stays.” We’re four guys from LA who play rock ’n’ roll songs that can be five or six minutes long and slow as fuck — the fact that we have the opportunity to even have a career is so unbelievable. We consider ourselves lucky to just go on tour and make money and play to good crowds in certain cities. So the next steps we want to take are creative steps — not just trying to make the crowds bigger or have a big hit single. We really enjoy plugging away: watching the slow and steady growth instead of struggling to follow up some overnight success.
This tour, you’re performing at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. But St. Augustine holds a special place in your hearts?
It’s fair to say that our most memorable show was our last one opening for Bob Dylan [in 2013] at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, when we actually got to meet him. That’s something good we’ll always associate with St. Augustine. We have family there, too, so we always love going fishing with them when we’re down there.