Dawes: We are an American band
We chatted with Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith about the creation of the band’s critically acclaimed new album, Nothing is bad, supporting Robbie Robertson, and whether or not we’ll have another Middle Brother record.
What do you think of Dawes’ new record?
We are really proud. We’ve been playing these songs live for about a year. We started writing about the release of Dawes’ debut album. So we played them for a while and worked them on stage, and thanks to YouTube and Daytrotter, people [were] able to hear some of the new material [ahead of time]. The response has been excellent.
How would you compare it to the first album?
These songs were arranged and written on tour, which is really helpful as I feel like a performance equals 20 repetitions. To see how something hit, to see if we should change the key or tempo or feel or remove that solo section or add a chord – things like that that would help in a live setting. So I feel like that really shaped the record a lot. As a songwriter it was really helpful because it was a different experience. The material has become much more direct. There are songs on Northern Hills which are much wider or vague in a way that I hope is still effective, but it’s not like “This song is about that” with a clear intention. With Nothing is bad, each song has a very clear intention. “I want to communicate that particular feeling” rather than, “Oh, that’s just what came out. I will follow him.
Does it force you to approach songwriting in a different way than you used to?
It demanded more of me. I couldn’t just keep a line because it sounds good and has a cool phrase in it because it’s not about what I’m trying to say. It just redirects the listener. There was a lot more that I needed to be aware of, and there was a lot more that I needed to accomplish just for myself, to really express what I meant. People said, “Oh, it’s so simple,” but I understand where it’s coming from, and there’s definitely a more complicated emotion underneath.
To be able to evolve your composition, have you studied in one way or another or have you just taken it out on your own?
Well, it was more like something that I demanded of myself. When I think back to all the songs that made the record and those that didn’t, I saw that there was definitely this theme running through them. In terms of approach, there is a bit more of a straightforward impression in terms of the writing itself. Northern Hills sort of exists in a place of “Here I’m stuck in a world.” I try to get out of it and have more experience of life. As an individual, I was looking for myself a bit more. The second album was more like “Now I’m in the thick of it, and here are some thoughts”.
Would you describe this record as more gloomy than the first one?
I do not know. I think with the first album, people were like, “Oh, that’s a Neil Young thing. I don’t know if it would be thrown out so quickly with this album. Not because it’s not an honor to be compared to Neil Young, but because I think we’re trying to develop our own sound and our own uniqueness. Rather than saying it sounds like an artist, people say, “It sounds like a Dawes song.”
A lot of rock bands try to move the genre forward by being as experimental as possible, but it seems like that’s not really your thing.
I see what you say. I can’t claim that we shape a genre. I feel like all we’re trying to do is create the best possible material that is effective for someone. I have the impression that with a lot of independent artists, there is a kind of art for the sake of art. People will listen to a certain kind of thing, and they will judge it by other genres or other ideas. “Oh, this band sounds so different than anything I’ve ever heard, so I like that,” and I’ve had that experience too, but for us it’s more about trying to play a universal level. If it’s a well-written song and you’re able to carve your own personality and identity through it, then it doesn’t matter what genre you associate it with.
When we were a young band, we were compared to other young bands, bands that I love, like Edward Sharpe, who have definitely helped shape a contemporary genre. At the same time, when you look at artists like Alison Krauss or Josh Ritter or Ryan Adams, none of them reinvented anything, but they all did a great job working in a genre that was already there and developing their own presence. So an answer like that would be totally exciting for us.
What songs are you particularly proud of on this album?
For me, these are always the last I write. The two most recent songs on the record are “Coming Back To A Man” and “A Little Bit Of Everything”. I am proud of those. I am proud of all of them. I really can’t wait to play in front of people every night, and no one is bored yet.
One of the amazing things that happened to you recently is that Robbie Robertson recruited you to be his backing group. How did it go and what did it feel like?
It happened because his manager was looking for a band to support him. I sang on his record through a mutual producer friend, which was a really cool experience. Then the manager called back and said, “He needed a full band, and he watched YouTube videos and listened to your record and wants you guys.” It was super cool because it showed us that Robbie Robertson’s principles seemed to be to respect what it meant to be in a band with a capital B. For example, here are four guys who know how to play together.
I’m aware of the fact – and I’m sure Robbie is aware of it – that he could have gotten 200 better guitarists than me, but he didn’t. He got the guy who knows how to play with Griffin, Wylie, and Tay because they’ve spent so much time together, and I think he realizes the importance of teaching four guys to follow each other’s dynamics.
Are you a fan of the movie The Last Waltz?
Do you have a favorite scene?
I recently launched into Hegira by Joni Mitchell. So, it’s really cool to watch “Coyote”. Watching her do that with The Band is pretty awesome, but also watching Richard sing “The Shape I’m In” has always been a favorite moment for me. Everything is quite special.
Do you think there will be another Middle Brother album?
I hope. I have no idea. When dealing with artists like Broken Bells or Monsters Of Folk or really established artists, they can take a year off their main projects, while Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit have a long way to go to establish themselves. . So we didn’t have time to take off from anything. We were very lucky to do something like Middle Brother. Being able to do it again would be a struggle, and as it stands, I don’t think it will be anytime soon.