As the dominant songwriter and lead singer of Dawes, Taylor Goldsmith has quickly made his mark on the indie-folk-rock world thanks to his adept lyrics and soft-yet-deliberate vocals. In recent years, however, Goldsmith’s talents have extended beyond Dawes, as has been a frequent collaborator on projects ranging from the indie supergroup Middle Brother (comprised of Goldsmith, Deer Tick’s John McCauley and Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez) to, most recently, pairing up with producer T Bone Burnett on The New Basement Tapes – a collaboration featuring Goldsmith, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons) and Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops). The New Basement Tapes project brings to life previously unreleased songs penned by Bob Dylan in 1967 – throwaways from Dylan’s songwriting spree that ultimately yielded The Band’s The Basement Tapes.
The New Basement Tapes dropped Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes last week. In turn, we’ve dug up our May 2012 interview with Goldsmith from the vault.
When Dawes entered the national spotlight in 2009 with its debut release, North Hills, critics praised the Los Angeles-based four-piece for its classic “California sound.” The album was recorded in L.A.’s legendary Laurel Canyon, an area revered for birthing the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills & Nash (to name just a few).
Dawes shares much of the folk-rock aesthetic of its predecessors with Americana-tinged rock and roll songs, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics and lush four-part vocal harmonies.
Anchored by brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith (lead vocals/guitar and vocals/drums, respectively), Dawes has enjoyed a quick rise to fame on the merits of its accessible songwriting. North Hills caught the attention of virtually every music outlet from Rolling Stone to Paste, but the band’s sophomore effort, Nothing Is Wrong, took the music world by storm in 2011 – the same year that Dawes supported Robbie Robertson (of The Band) as his backing band on tour.
This month, Dawes makes a return visit to The Strand-Capitol Theatre in York. In advance of the sold-out show, we phoned Taylor Goldsmith at his southern California home to talk about the band’s quick rise to fame and what it actually means to be a “California band.”
Fly Magazine: You and I met after one of your shows in Philadelphia last year. Do you always make yourself available for your fans after you play?
Taylor Goldsmith: As long as it’s possible. It’s why we do it – to connect with people. Those moments where someone says, “I dig what you do and it really resonates with me,” are just so cool to me. If we were to meet under any other circumstance, we probably wouldn’t open up like that to each other. But through the song, we’re able to realize that we’ve all been there.
FM: How have you handled Dawes’ rapid growth over the past two years?
TG: Everyone has their own perspective on it. At South By Southwest, someone came up to us and was like, “You’re blowing up right now.” But that’s definitely not how we would describe the experience. In L.A., there are so many bands. We started out pretty close to the same time as Local Natives and Edward Sharpe and so many more bands that have never even left L.A. So some of those bands might be saying, “Wow, Dawes is really doing a lot,” while we’re saying, “Man, look how quickly Local Natives and Edward Sharpe gained all those fans,” and Edward Sharpe could be saying, “Man, if only we could be Bruce Springsteen.” Everybody has somebody in front of them that puts things into perspective.
FM: Does being a “California band” infer more than simple geography?
TG: If you’re a rock and roll band from Seattle, that’s significant – you’re carrying some sort of torch. Same with New York City, Nashville and Austin. But there’s a lot less of a ”scene” in L.A. than people might think. If you look at Foster The People, Maroon 5, Edward Sharpe and Dawes – they’re all L.A. bands, but they’re all different. So when people say we have that “L.A. sound,” that’s not accounting for a lot of bands out here. Even when we made our first album, North Hills, people would liken us to a lot of California artists – like Jackson Browne – that we never even listened to.
FM: Speaking of Jackson Browne, he and Benmont Tench [of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers] collaborated on Nothing Is Wrong. What was that like?
TG: It was incredible, and it still is. Like any time we see them, it’s just like, wow, I can’t believe I know this guy, let alone get to say that I play music with him. When Benmont came in the studio, I stood behind him with my iPhone and took a picture.
FM: Who writes Dawes’ songs?
TG: I write all of the songs on acoustic guitar and then the band figures out what will sound best for it.
FM: For a 26-year-old, you write some pretty insightful lyrics. What inspires you?
TG: I appreciate when people tell me the songs really affect them. I try to read a lot and get inspired by exploring bigger ideas that I read. But I don’t feel like I have more of a handle on anything than anyone else does. I kind of throw out the questions, more than saying, “This is what I’ve learned.”
FM: How autobiographical are your lyrics?
TG: They’re a lot more autobiographical than they are me just making stuff up. I try to use my experiences to create a bigger world. “So Well,” for example, was based on me having feelings for someone that other people did as well. I was fascinated by how three people can all be in love with the same girl for three different reasons – they’d all describe their feelings in different ways. I’m not every character in the song, I’m just part of it.
FM: You seemed really comfortable performing solo on WXPN’s Free at Noon show last year in Philadelphia.
TG: I prefer being with the band. But after three or four weeks of playing full band shows, it’s fun to do an acoustic show where the focus is different. It’s not about keeping up the energy, but it’s about the songs. But if I was doing this by myself, and this was just Taylor Goldsmith from the beginning with the same exact songs, I wouldn’t be where Dawes is today.
FM: Dawes has been known to try out new songs on the road before actually recording them. Are you road testing any new material these days?
TG: We have several songs written that we’ve been messing around with during sound checks and rehearsals, but haven’t played them live yet. I expect we’ll have a few in the set by the time we make it to York.