Dawes: Minneapolis is our number one city
Photo by Gabriela Lambert
Taylor Goldsmith's life revolves entirely around music. His band, Dawes, has been on a small tour of independent record stores around the country, playing in-stores as part of a promotion for their highly anticipated third album, Stories Don't End. On Friday, they step things up as the supporting act for Bob Dylan's spring tour, and then, this summer, they begin their official national tour for Stories. They stop at First Avenue July 9-10. (Perhaps it's more accurate to say that Goldsmith's life -- and that of his bandmates -- revolves around the road.)
Stories Don't End, available for streaming here, is unlike its predecessors. No one will be able to call it a "Laurel Canyon sound" album, though it still can fit Dawes, somewhat roughly, in their tried-and-true Americana category. Stories draws heavily on storyline lyricism, the thing that Dawes has always done well and something that now, with tunes like "From A Window Seat," they are getting even better at. The 12-track album lives and breathes in sprawling guitars and easy melodies, with songs made for singing along to.
There's some kind of simple truth that Dawes has nailed down, like a badge they wear without pretension--maybe that's why Minneapolis loves them so much. Dawes might be from Los Angeles, but they have Midwestern hearts. Midway through their hour-long set at the Fetus, Goldsmith thanked the 250 fans that had come out.
"You guys are here because you decided to buy something without even hearing it," he said, beaming, his eyes scanning the sea of enthusiastic listeners. "It means the world. When people ask what your number one city is, it's not even... it doesn't even take a second."
For Goldsmith, the endless touring and the grinding schedule is unfazing; it's obvious that they enjoy every moment of what they do. Before the Dawes in-store performance at the Electric Fetus yesterday, Goldsmith could be found wandering the aisles, flipping through CDs alongside other shoppers. When he stops to give a short interview, he speaks rapidly, barely needing to think about his answers as he covers everything from the integrity of physical music to the new Dawes album to why it's so important to be on the road so much.
Photo by Natalie Gallagher
You guys are really big in Minneapolis, did you know that?
[Laughs] It's definitely our number one city. We have more records sold here, more tickets sold here for records, for shows, than anywhere else. We love it.
You've been playing in these small indie stores, doing these small record store gigs for a while now. Why is this important to you?
Well, it's a way to support record stores and obviously have them show us a good amount of love as well. We happen to have over half of our sales be physical, which doesn't really happen anymore. The vast majority of sales for bands are digital, so for us to have that is a really big deal. And not only do we want to say thanks, but we want to help support that, because obviously if someone's buying our record online that's great, but if someone's buying a physical copy, I just feel like that's so much more of a richer experience. At least it is for me. Even just something as simple as the back cover of a record. The way that a band ties all the artwork to the cover, because you buy something digital and all you see is the front.
I think there's a certain amount of ownership that goes along with something physically, it's something that you leave in your CD player. Sometimes I'll listen to a record on Spotify, and while I'll listen closely, I'll listen critically, I'll try to soak it in, I might not go back to it the way that I would have it I had it on CD. Even if I don't like it as much, I just tend to play it more and really try to live with it a little bit more. So I guess we're just trying to continue to support that experience. I think digital sales are going to continue to be great, they're going to be what they are no matter what.
I feel like there have been a lot of conversations lately where vinyl is the thing right now and CDs are kind of waning, they're in this weird category where they're sort of going out of popularity right now. Do you feel like you're leaning towards vinyl? Do you feel like it's an important conversation to have?
I feel like the same way that a physical copy is a richer experience, I feel like vinyl takes that a step further. Not only because of the artwork being bigger, and creating a richer experience, but more than that -- way more than that -- is the listening experience that it forces the listener to have, where you're listening to the album as an album. You're listening to a full side, and then you're changing it. When I listen to an album, I don't think, "Oh, I want to listen to that one song right now," even if it is that one song I'm craving or something, I'll put on that entire record because that's what I like to. And being on tour so much, it's pretty normal to have an extra 45 minutes to listen to a record, so I like doing that. And I think vinyl more than anything else affords that opportunity. And from what I understand, the vinyl business is a thriving business right now. It's coming up rather than falling off, and if that's where physical music were to go, that sounds awesome. As long as it sticks around.
So let's talk for a minute about the new album. I know you guys were getting a lot of Laurel Canyon sound comparisons, and this album feels like a very marked difference. It's obviously still Dawes, but why was it important for you to sort of change the formula?
Well, I think, like any artist, sort of when we started playing music, the experience inevitably is one where you're trying to find yourself and you're trying to find how to best express yourself on your own terms, and give the best representation of your own individual personality, through your instrument or through your songwriting.
I think before Dawes, it was that same process of, "Oh, I'm gonna dabble in this and see if it sticks," and then with North Hills, the first Dawes album, I felt like it was the first time I was like, "Oh, here's where I'm feeling like myself. Here's where I'm being represented. Here's something that needs to be ironed out a little bit more, maybe it needs to be a little more focused," but I started feeling like, "Oh, I'm discovering how I want to write songs." And that's continued and it's still... I haven't figured it out, I'm sure that that will continue to change, and I hope it does, because the reason why we love our favorite artists is because there's periods, there's changes. So I think it's been like a focusing experience where it's led to this album maybe not consciously, like let's stop doing this and let's start doing that, it's more that this just feels right.
This album definitely has that quality. A lot of it is just challenging ourselves as musicians where we wanted to make sure that we were playing a certain way or singing a certain way that was maybe not part of our comfort zone. Like the song "From A Window Seat" where maybe before, like on North Hills, there would have just been an acoustic guitar with singing over it, and maybe Griffin wouldn't have done this like fast tempo or more of a mid-tempo sort of thing. Now, there's like a different energy to it that most other songs haven't had, and I'm playing this guitar thing that I don't have a lot of experience with. A lot of it is just trying to widen the spectrum of our vocabulary as musicians.
So the point for you is to challenge yourself more?
It's not even like, "I want to feel challenged, I want to feel like I'm under the gun," it's more like, "What's gonna be fun? What's going to feel like 'I'm me,' and I'm putting the best version of me across?" I feel like this album, more than the other two, suggest an identity more than the others. I feel like the others were maybe leaning more to... There would be hints, maybe, of a singular voice as a writer or a singular voice as a drummer or as a guitar player or whatever, I feel like now, more than ever, it feels like, "Okay, this is what a Dawes track sounds like," and I hope that will just continue.
Photo by Gabriela Lambert
That's interesting. You covered Blake Mills' "Hey Lover" on this, and you do it really well. It's interesting because he was originally in Simon Dawes, and with this album I can kind of feel things coming full circle. How did you decide to include that?
I mean, he's been a close part of us and our band ever since Simon Dawes broke up. It wasn't a matter of fighting or ill will or anything like that, it was just that he had a career that was available to him to be a certain kind of musician where he didn't have to tour as much--and certain things that we wanted to do that we kind of didn't have a choice. So that's why we split ways. But I consider him a brother, he's my best friend in the world, despite how much time might go between us being around each other.
I think that we've played the song before, we did it on this thing called Voice Projects, and we've always gotten a lot of compliments on it, people really like hearing it. The challenge was... because we had heard that song and that album so much that it was really hard to step up and try to do our version of it because we love his. It would be easy to take a good song that has a bad recording and say, "Let's just do what we do," whereas with that, like, it's already so great that we're just like, "Are we wasting our time? Shouldn't we just tell people to listen to his version?" But we felt like we did something that was different from it.
The funny thing is that a lot of it is based on what he started doing live, like we brought in a different chord at one point and I watched him do that at a show, and our stacked kind of harmonies that go throughout the chorus, that's something that I heard him do at a show of his. So a lot of it is still thanks to Blake. It's more like a current version that he would actually play, that's not on his Break Mirrors album from a few years ago.
Speaking of touring, I feel like that's a recurring theme with Dawes. It pops up in your lyrics, and I feel like you're constantly touring. It's wonderful, but I can't help but thinking, "Oh my God, these guys must never sleep, they must be so exhausted." Is it something you just love to do? Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?
Well, when I think of my favorite bands, and the story that goes along with them, like the Band, like the Grateful Dead, like Bob Dylan, part of it is truly giving themselves and their lives to the music. And we are happiest when we're on tour, when we're making music one way or another. And I've even recently had some musician friends, people that are some of my closest friends, say like, "You're the most nomadic person I know," and I've thought to myself, like, "What? No, we're all musicians, we all do this," and they'd say, "No, it's way different with you, you're gone all the time."
It's a different level of busy scheduling, which is cool, but for us, there's more music than ever -- and a lot of people want to complain about how bad new music is. I think there's more great music happening than there's ever been before, and it's happening all at once. Yeah, there might not be certain singular Leonard Cohens and Bob Dylans and stuff, but there are people like Conner Oberst, like Blake Mills, like Cass McCombs, like Will Oldham, like Bill Callahan, that are wonderful people, that are just as deserving of these high regards as the old greats are. There's all this incredible stuff going on, and there are so many bands that deserve so much that they're not getting. Our only chance is to work as hard as we possibly can, because I can name you fifty better guitar players, I can name you fifty better singers, fifty better songwriters, and if that's how I look at it, then the only chance I got is to be available as much as we can is to be available and make sure we're putting as much work as we possibly can into this.
Photo by Gabriela Lambert
Do you feel like you have a home base?
Oh yeah. Like, L.A. is home. [Gestures to heart] Actually, for the first time since this band started, I moved into a spot recently where I want to make it my home. Before it had always been like a crash pad. This is the first place where I want to put pictures up. I'm excited.
Would you ever consider moving to Minneapolis?
[Laughs] I love it here. I mean I can see myself being a very happy person here. But...
It's really cold.
Yeah, it's very cold.
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