Dawes aims to find beauty in emotions set to music
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
It’s hard not to feel the landscape of Southern California in the music made by the alternative rock four-piece known as Dawes.
Songwriter Taylor Goldsmith grew up in Malibu, and the band has been heralded as modern-day purveyors of the “Laurel Canyon sound” — an aching prettiness descended from the folk-heavy rock of artists like Neil Young, The Eagles and Jackson Browne. He’s keenly aware of that musical lineage, and on his band’s most recent album — “Nothing Is Wrong” — he strikes the sort of balance that would do his forebears proud, straddling the ideal line between strong, emotional lyrics and beautiful music.
The album takes what the band did so well on “North Hills,” its 2009 debut, and adds more cohesion, Goldsmith told The Daily Times this week. This time around, he and his bandmates were determined to craft a thing of beauty from the outset.
“I feel like when we made our first record, we didn’t know who we were necessarily because we didn’t have any records made,” he said. “We didn’t know what we were going to sound like. With our first record, anything else we made was going to be an offshoot from or the reaction to it, and that was a big thing for us.
“The next time, I wanted to be a better guitar player, and I wanted there to be more guitar playing on the next record, and I think that’s apparent. But the songwriting itself is a big thing for me. On ‘Nothing Is Wrong,’ each song to me feels like it has real intention. Before, I’d stumbled onto moments I liked, words I thought would be cool. On this second record, I wanted there to be intentions behind all the songs.”
From that opening track “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” Dawes conveys that intent. There’s a rough edge to the production that resonates throughout the disc, allowing the lyrics to rise to the top on the wings of chiming melodies and ragged beauty. From the craggy cliffs of rural Los Angeles County to the cold rolling surf of the Pacific on Southern California beaches, “Nothing Is Wrong” pulses with life specific to the geography in which it was created. The themes, however, are universal ones.
“In terms of what it’s about, some of the songs I wouldn’t have an answer for, and I think that’s a cool way for it to be,” Goldsmith said. “A lot of my favorite songs have that quality, and for fans, whether they like it or don’t like it, where I was coming from in writing them shouldn’t change that. I wanted to pick certain kinds of emotions and see if I could convey them. I was working with a lot of good lines and good ideas before I even set out on a song. I would have no title, just an idea, and it would become what it is.
“It’s a lot to ask, but I feel like with my favorite records, it’s not really an experience that pumps me up or makes me excited or makes me want to party. When I think of records that mean the most to me, it’s records like ‘Songs of Love and Hate,’ by Leonard Cohen, or ‘Master and Everyone,’ by Will Oldham — things where I feel like, ‘This is changing the way I look at my life; this is making me reconsider my feelings about this person or about myself.’
“It’s about learning important human qualities, and for me — because I’m a musician — I learned that stuff through my favorite songwriters more than anybody,” he added.
Dawes evolved out of a high school project Goldsmith started with fellow songwriter Blake Mills. Originally called Simon Dawes, the group released one full-length in 2006 and toured with acts like Band of Horses, Maroon 5 and The Walkmen before Mills left the band. Goldsmith kept part of the name, and the new group released “North Hills” in 2009.
An exhaustive tour schedule led to the songs on “Nothing Is Wrong” being written in stops and starts, with the band taking advantage of its raised profile to do things like back up The Band alumnus Robbie Robertson on national television for his 2011 release “How to Become Clairvoyant.” When the songs were finished and it came time to commit them to tape, Dawes was joined in the studio for guest appearances by Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Laurel Canyon vet Browne.
“We learned a lot from working those guys, mainly what it looks like to be around someone who has a lifelong commitment to something,” Goldsmith said. “We’re on our second record; compared to these guys, we’re babies. Being around them, it’s like, ‘Wow — that’s what it’s like to spend 40 years on something and have something to show for it.’ They show what it means to a real work ethic and commitment to the craft.”
With any luck, such a future awaits Goldsmith and the rest of his Dawes bandmates. And given the sheer beauty of “Nothing Is Wrong,” that luck would extend to fans of good music as well were such a future to unfold.
“We’re only going to do our best,” he said. “We didn’t expect this would ever happen like it as, but as a songwriter, that’s what the goal is.”