King is sitting at the controls, quiet for a few minutes, and eventually introduces himself to me – though that’s where the conversation ends. I sit in the icy room, which is an organized mess of wires, instruments and random products: Tylenol, light bulbs, cortisone cream and aspirin are on the table, and a picture of Jimi Hendrix is tacked to the wall. A sign on a glass studio door reads “do not walk into me! I am closed.” Those over-the-counter painkillers are the only drugs in sight.
The band is working on a track called “Side Effects, which is a slower number about the demise of love. It’s mostly Taylor’s day, and he’s working on vocals and guitar, toying with a ukulele from time to time. The atmosphere in the studio is completely calm – Tay and Wylie filtering in and out, and Griffin sitting in the corner with his feet up reading a collection of essays by German philosopher Max Weber. Every once in a while, he puts his book down and hops up with some kind of idea for the song. At one point, he leans over from his seat to tap out a drum part on the table with his left hand.
There’s a cool soulfulness to the new songs: a mellower, nuanced confidence. The first single, “From a Window Seat,” rocks with a mature groove and a syncopated vamp, and influences from bossa nova to the Beatles seep through the tracks. There’s no big sing-along like “When My Time Comes” or “How Far We’ve Come,” and fewer harmonies than past songs. “But there’s a richness,” says Tay. “A harmonic complexity. They are more esoteric.” The melodies are strong but subtle, lingering not from repetition or hand-claps but unique arrangements that aim to challenge the listener a bit – the band strove to make sure Stories Don’t End rings as a complete work with consistent character, and that each player, as an instrumentalist, really shines.
“Lyrically, it’s still as direct as it always has been,” says Taylor. “I don’t think there are many Dawes songs that people are going to listen to and be like, ‘what is that about?’”
I’m getting ready to leave, and Taylor is working on one section of “Side Effects” with the ukulele, which they haven’t quite gotten right yet – King thinks he’s playing a little too quietly, but Taylor doesn’t want to overpower the other instruments. It’s a beautiful, cascading riff, set to soft percussion. Griffin stands up and walks behind King; his head, a big pile of blonde curls, bobbling gently to the rhythm.
Behind the glass, Taylor tries a different strum, walking his fingers along the neck and singing a small part of the verse: “now there’s a loophole in my theory/that I cannot figure out…”
“Okay,” King chimes in, once he stops. “Let’s play that back.”
“What? I just recorded that?” Taylor says over the intercom, surprised.
“Yup,” Griffin responds, smirking a little. “That’s the best way to record.” Because like the trees outside the studio, even though the colors change, leaves are still leaves. And Dawes is still Dawes.