Dawes: We’re An American Band

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We talked to Dawes leader Taylor Goldsmith about creating the band’s critically-acclaimed new album, Nothing Is Wrong, backing up Robbie Robertson, and whether or not we’ll get another Middle Brother record.

How are you feelings about the new Dawes record?

We’re really proud. We’ve been playing these songs live for about a year. We started writing about when the first Dawes record came out. So, we’ve been playing them for a while and working them out onstage, and thanks to YouTube and Daytrotter, people [were] able to hear some of the new material [ahead of time].  The response has been great.

How would you compare it to the first album?

These songs were arranged and written on tour, which is really helpful because I feel like one performance is like 20 rehearsals. To see how something hit, to see if we needed to change the key or the tempo or the feel or take out that solo section or add a chord – things like that that would help in a live setting. So, I feel like that really shaped the record a lot. As a songwriter, it was really helpful because it was a different experience. The material became a lot more direct. There are songs on North Hills that are a lot broader or vague in a way that I hope is still effective, but it’s not like, “This song’s about this” with a clear intention. With Nothing is Wrong, every song has a very clear intention. “I want to communicate this particular feeling,” rather than, “Oh, that’s just what came out. I’m going to follow it.”

Does that require you to approach writing songs in a different way than how you used to?

It demanded more of me. I couldn’t just keep a line because it sounds cool and has a cool phrase in it because it doesn’t pertain to what I’m actually trying to say. All it does is redirect the listener. There was a lot more I had to be conscious of, and there was a lot more I had to achieve just for myself, to really express what I meant. People have said, “Oh, it’s so simple,” but I understand where it’s coming from, and there’s definitely a more complicated emotion going on under it.

To be able to evolve your songwriting, did you study in any way, or did you just sort of bring it out of yourself?

Well, it was more like something I was demanding of myself. When I look back on all the songs that made the record and the ones that didn’t, I saw there was definitely this theme going through it. In terms of approach, there’s a little bit more of a direct feel in terms of the writing itself. North Hills kind of exists in a place of, “Here I am stuck in a world. I’m trying to step out of it and have more life experience.”  As an individual, I was looking for myself a little more. The second record was more like, “Now I’m in the thick of it, and here are some reflections.”

Would you describe this record as moodier than the first one?

I don’t know. I think with the first record, people were like, “Oh, it’s a Neil Young kind of thing.” I don’t know if that would be as quickly thrown out with this album. Not because that’s not an honor to be compared to Neil Young, but because I think we’re trying to develop our own sound and our own specific thing. Rather than saying it sounds like an artist, people say “This sounds like a Dawes song.”

A lot of rock bands are trying to push the genre forward by being as experimental as possible, but it seems like that’s not really your thing.

I see what you’re saying. I can’t pretend like we’re shaping a genre.  I feel like all we’re trying to do is make the best material we can that’s effective for someone. I feel like with a lot of indie artists there’s an “art for art’s sake” kind of thing. People will listen to a certain kind of thing, and they’ll judge it based on other genres or other ideas. “Oh, this band sounds so different from anything I’ve ever heard, therefore I like it,” and I’ve had that experience too, but for us, it’s more about trying to perform on a universal level. If it’s a well-written song and you’re able to carve out your own personality and identity through that, then it doesn’t matter what genre you associate it with.

When we were a young band we were compared to other young bands, bands that I love, like Edward Sharpe, which were definitely helping shape a contemporary genre. At the same time, when you look at artists like Alison Krauss or Josh Ritter or Ryan Adams, none of them reinvented anything, but they all did a great job at working within a genre that already existed and developing their own presence. So, a response like that would be totally exciting for us.

What songs are you particular proud of on this record?

For me, it’s always the last ones that I’ve written. The two newest songs on the record are “Coming Back To A Man” and “A Little Bit Of Everything.” I’m proud of those. I’m proud of all of them.  I’m really eager to play in front of people every night, and nobody’s bored yet.

One of the amazing things that has happened to you recently is Robbie Robertson drafted you guys to be his backing band. How did that happen and what did that feel like?

That happened because his manager was looking for a band to back him up. I sang on his record through a mutual producer friend, which was a really cool experience. Then the manager called back and said, “He needed a full band, and he watched some YouTube videos and listened to your record and wants you guys.” It was extra cool because it showed us that Robbie Robertson’s principles seemed to be about respecting what it meant to be in a band with a capital B. Like, here are four guys that know how to play together.

I’m aware of the fact-and I’m sure Robbie’s aware of the fact-that he could have gotten 200 guitar players better than me, but he didn’t. He got the guy who knows how to play with Griffin and Wylie and Tay because they spent so much time together, and I think he realizes the significance of four guys learning how to follow each other’s dynamics.

Are you a fan of the movie The Last Waltz?

Hell, yeah.

Do you have a favorite scene?

I’ve recently been getting into Hejira by Joni Mitchell. So, it’s really cool to watch “Coyote.” To see her do that with The Band is pretty rad, but also watching Richard sing “The Shape I’m In” was always a favorite moment for me. It’s all pretty special.

Do you think there will be another Middle Brother record?

I hope so. I have no idea. When you’re dealing with artists like Broken Bells or Monsters Of Folk or really established artists, they can take off a year from their main projects, whereas Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit have a long way to go to be at all established. So, there was no time we could take off from anything. We were pretty lucky to do anything like Middle Brother at all. To be able to do it again would be a struggle, and the way things are now, I don’t think it will be any time soon.


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