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Dawes Frontman Taylor Goldsmith comes to terms with not being a zeitgeisty band 

click to enlarge “We want a good night’s sleep, a good meal, and to take care of people we’re close to.” - MAGDALENA WOSINSKA
  • Magdalena Wosinska
  • “We want a good night’s sleep, a good meal, and to take care of people we’re close to.”
Each time Dawes goes onstage, claims frontman Taylor Goldsmith, the band is telling more of an ever-expanding, always deepening musical story, most often to those who have been reading the tale from its beginning.

“We’re on our sixth record now, and it’s like if you read 800 pages of the book rather than 50, the experience gets richer and deeper,” he says. “That definitely happens for us. I don’t know what it’s doing to the audience. We have this deep catalog to explore and we want to take them along with us.”

The band’s live shows will naturally include songs from Dawes’ new album Passwords, which is also its first to reach Billboard’s Top 10. Although which ones is hard to say.

“We’re trying to create that live culture where fans go and have a completely unique experience night after night,” Goldsmith says. “We might start with the same song. Then we try to explore the far reaches of our catalog for the audience and for us.”

Dawes, especially early on, was tagged as retro, a band that harks back to the Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter folk-rock sound. It’s easy to understand why the group was hit with that label by the hipper-than-thou set, admits Goldsmith.

“There are certain things we do that create an easy target,” he says. “We let the lyrics be the focus of the song. Which is not what you hear with some of the zeitgeisty bands. The War on Drugs, who I love, their lyrics are usually buried. And The National, one of my favorite bands, Matt Berninger writes in fragments, in a very impressionistic way. I’ve always been a little more narrative, a little more linear, a little more direct. People instantly want to classify that as something retro. It’s just a way of writing songs.”

In any case, the Dawes frontman believes there’s plenty of room for both approaches. “There have been artists, whether that’s Radiohead or Joni Mitchell, who have been creating a new thing in music, at least to me,” he says. “Then there are artists like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, who are two of my favorites, who aren’t reinventing rock ’n’ roll. Their personality and writing are strong enough to carry them.”
Goldsmith has been crafting Dawes songs for a little more than a decade, ever since he discovered he wanted to write and make music for life. “I found out pretty early — well some would says it’s not that early. I was 20 or 21 when I was really hit by the songs of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Elvis Costello, those three. All of a sudden, the appeal of lyric-writing made me want to be a musician for life. And that led me to Warren Zevon and Joni Mitchell, who is maybe my favorite of all time. Those artists wrote the lyrics that you try for.”

Appropriately enough, the band recorded its first album, North Hills, direct to tape in a Laurel Canyon studio in 2009.

By the time they released last year’s We’re All Gonna Die, Dawes had added synthesized sounds to its organic folk-rock mix, a sonic palette that is further enriched on Passwords. The new album’s lyrics also have some social and political references, although they’re fairly low-key.

“When everything is very obviously and intentionally political,” Goldsmith says, “it becomes something easy to toss aside at that point. But when you talk about the undercurrent of the political opinion, you’re talking about what it’s like to be a human being. When you break it down to the human level, it’s hard to deny people’s thoughts and feelings. With these songs, I wanted to remind people that we need to have a conversation.”

For Goldsmith, that means having the conversation in which he at least tries to understand viewpoints with which he might disagree.

“I’m not saying there aren’t disturbing things that are going on. And that bother me — there’s racism, there are racist statements,” he says. “But I think some of that is a byproduct. When someone says ‘the reason I’m against immigration is I lost my job and can’t take care of my family,’ they’re entitled to that opinion.”

At the end of the day, Goldsmith insists, most of us have a lot in common. “We want a good night’s sleep, a good meal, and to take care of the people we’re close to. That’s the same whether you come from Minnesota or Syria.”

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