You were the fading signal that would stick through the static from a station that I never could find —From “To Be Completely Honest” by Dawes
Since Dawes’ inception in 2009, frontman Taylor Goldsmith has often been asked which musicians he’d like to tour with. His response invariably included Jackson Browne, The Band and Bob Dylan. Dawes is now three for three, having worked with all of the aforementioned legends. (Dawes toured with The Band’s Robbie Robertson in 2011) But the California roots rockers famously tied to the Laurel Canyon sound have also opened for contemporary bands like Deer Tick, Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. When asked which tour has been the most exciting, Goldsmith’s answer is somewhat surprising: “It just keeps getting better. Like the tour we’re on right now with Conor Oberst. Every time we feel tighter as a band, then it’s better than the last one. With Conor, we’re not only opening but we’re his backing band. And it’s been great to be on stage for three hours straight.”
Ranging in age from mid-20s to early 30s, Dawes appeals to boomers and millennials alike. The lineup: Goldsmith on guitar, Wylie Gelber on bass, keyboardist Tay Strathairn and Goldsmith’s brother Griffin on drums, is known for its stellar musicianship, signature harmonies and energetic shows. Taylor writes character-driven lyrics in the style of Warren Zevon and his voice recalls Jackson Browne, though he didn’t discover either artist until he was older. The Goldsmith boys’ father, Lenny, was in 70s funk band Tower of Power and the band got its namesake from their country-loving grandfather, Dawes Lafayette Goldsmith.
The title of the foursome’s latest record, Stories Don’t End, was influenced by Joan Didion’s novel Democracy. Known for his love of literature, Taylor is often inspired by his reading material. A character in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, for example, sparked parts of “Just Beneath the Surface.” With recurrent themes of identity and mortality in his songs, one might think Taylor was drawn to philosophy. “I don’t really read philosophy books,” notes Taylor. “I’d like to, but I read a lot of fiction. I haven’t read anything that directly influenced my writing for a little while. Recently, I’ve found more inspiration from periodicals and sports talk.”
On the current tour, Dawes throws a couple of new songs into the set list. “To Be Completely Honest” has an alt-country edge, which could stem from Taylor revisiting his old Replacements records. And the rockin’ “Right on Time” includes a bloody metaphor for emerging from a painful experience to find the right person at the right time. “It’s about how we sometimes enjoy telling ourselves, through the particulars and subtleties leading up to it, that something was meant to be,” explains Taylor.
Fans won’t hear another Dawes record until 2015, but Taylor was one of five artists chosen by producer T Bone Burnett to write and record music for some long-lost Bob Dylan lyrics. Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes debuts in the fall. It will be accompanied by a Showtime documentary on the making of the record set against the historical backdrop of Dylan’s original Basement Tapes. “We all have dreams regarding our respective careers and some of them come true and some don’t,” says Taylor, “but imagining co-writing Bob Dylan songs with this group of people goes way beyond something I could’ve thought up. It was one of the greatest times in my life.”
When asked whom he’d like to tour with today, Taylor says he’d like to share the stage with all kinds of different artists from Willie Nelson and Paul Simon to Bill Callahan and The National. So take note—because whenever he puts something out into the ether, it tends to materialize.
Dawes plays Central Park’s Summerstage on July 29th
Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown on August 1st