Dawes does exactly what rock bands aren’t supposed to do: evolve |

Dawes. Photo: Courtesy of Dawes

Young rock bands are struggling. Such a long and rich history precedes them that they can easily feel like they are standing in someone else’s shadow. It doesn’t help that hip-hop and avant-pop are overwhelming both the charts and the conversation, making a lot of guitar-based music little more than an echo of the past.

The young American rock band known as Dawes decided to do something about it all on their new album, We are all going to die. Previously, the critically respected quartet walked a clearly marked “folk-rock” route, following style markers such as Jackson Browne, CSN and The Byrds. In the process, they became mainstays of the so-called neo-Laurel Canyon sound, alongside the likes of Jonathan Wilson, Jenny Lewis and Rilo Kiley. This path not only served their muse, it made Dawes a solid choice for fans looking for a smart new band working in a familiar vernacular.

On their new album, however, Dawes took a sharp turn without signaling. They swapped rattling guitars for swampy keyboards and ditched traditional folk-rock for timeless pop-soul, all with rapturous results. “We needed a new vocabulary,” says band leader Taylor Goldsmith. “If we kept making the same record, people would end up saying, ‘Yeah, this band is doing this stuff and I’ve heard them do this stuff before. So I’m no longer interested. ”

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The band’s evolution mirrors the arc of two other contemporary rock bands: Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Both started out using key elements of folk and country rock, as well as psychedelia. Later, they abstracted these genres with sounds and moods that borrow from the avant-garde.

“At first, they were more comfortable celebrating what it means to be a folk-rock band without challenging themselves or their listeners,” Goldsmith explains. “But, over time, this challenge became essential for them to be ready to remain a group. This is very much the case with us. We are four young guys singing rock ‘n roll songs with guitars at a time when Daft Punk and Kanye West also exist. We need to reflect that.

At the same time, Dawes’ previous albums have proven they can live up to folk-rock’s legacy more surely and creatively than most others on the current scene. They began refining their approach a decade ago. Goldsmith started out in a band named Simon Dawes with his friend Blake Mills when they were still in high school in Malibu, California. The quartet took their name from Goldsmith’s middle name (Dawes) and Mills’ birth name (Simon). “We were angsty 16-year-olds who wanted to be understood — and we picked a name no one understood,” Goldsmith said.

their beginnings, Carnivorous, was released in 2006 and garnered attention. But Mills was uninterested in touring, preferring to pursue a career as a session guitarist and producer. After his departure, Goldsmith led a new band, rebranded under the old one’s last name. He brought his brother Griffin into the fold and they released Northern Hills, their debut as Dawes in the summer of 2009. Goldsmith’s elaborate verses, flowing melodies and mournful timbre immediately stood out. Vocally it has a certain Jackson Browne cadence. He also shares this star’s penchant for philosophical lyrics. “His music came to me at a time when I was really impressionable,” says Goldsmith. “I found that guys like Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and Bob Dylan went so far and so deep, and yet they still had three and a half minute songs.”

In 2001, Goldsmith somewhat emulated the Crosby, Stills and Nash approach by forming the brief folk-rock “supergroup” named Middle Brother with fellow neo-folk-rockers John J. McCauley of deer tick and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. The three weren’t exactly superstar quality, but their album served to draw more attention to Dawes while providing a worthy reflection of the classic Laurel Canyon sound. That same year, Dawes returned with nothing is badfollowed by The stories don’t endin 2013 and All your favorite bands two years later. All of these releases showcased Goldsmith’s literary skills as well as his flair for flowing melodies.

Ironically, Dawes’ first album to break away from the Laurel Canyon sound was their first recorded in Los Angeles in years. (Most recently they had worked in Nashville and Asheville). For this project, they hired their old friend Mills as a producer. Over the past few years, he has fulfilled his dream of becoming both an in-demand studio guitarist (for everyone from The Dixie Chicks to Norah Jones) and a successful producer (for Conor Oberst, Alabama Shakes and more). ). Last year, Mills earned a Producer of the Year Grammy nomination for his work with the Shakes.

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Mills encouraged more experimentation in the studio and more manipulation of sound. For the first time, guitars and drums took precedence over bass and keyboards, aided by new member Lee Pardini’s work on the latter instruments. The new songs also draw inspiration from a different genre – the hearty 70s pop-soul of Michael McDonald (back then with the Doobie Brothers) and Steely Dan (on their early R&B-leaning songs).

One element that connects the band’s work is the lyrics. The titles of the last three albums find Goldsmith writing about the mythology of the bands, whether from the perspective of the musician or the listener. In the new “We’re All Gonna Die”, he expresses his jealousy for a fan he spies on at one of the band’s gigs who brings more passion to the songs than he can at the time. .

“There have been times when I’m on stage and I’m not in song,” Goldsmith says. ” I’m away. Then I would see someone in the audience and I could see that the song meant more to them at that moment than I could access – and I wrote it! It sucks, but I can’t imagine an artist not feeling that way sometimes.

Goldsmith said he used to feel embarrassed writing songs about being in a band, despite artists as crucial as Pete Townshend and Ian Hunter making a career out of it. “Sometimes I feel like I’m making movies about movies,” Goldsmith said. “But if that’s my focus, my way of talking about the human experience, then I’m cool with that.”

“Being a writer is weird,” he adds. “You’re supposed to be some sort of expert on what this thing called life is, the nature of our relationships, and the secrets behind our experiences. But the reality is that you spend far more time behind a guitar or in front of a computer than a normal person who actually engages in all the human experiences you write about.

It’s a classic dilemma, just as tricky as trying to give a young rock band a contemporary sound. At least for now, however, Dawes appears to be on the safe side of the fight. “Over time, our approach has been less ‘what would a rock band do in this situation’ and more like ‘what wouldn’t a rock band do?’ Let’s do that instead. ”

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