Dawes

THE MODERN CALIFORNIA SOUND

BREAKING FROM THEIR ROOTS BASED IN THE ‘70s-ERA CALIFORNIA SOUND, DAWES INFUSES A MIX OF INDIE AND FOLK SOUNDS WITH SOLID SONGWRITING AND MUSICIANSHIP. NOW ON THEIR THIRD ALBUM, STORIES DON’T END, THE GROUP IS GOING STRONG WITH THEIR MOST AMBITIOUS AND INTRICATE RELEASE THUS FAR.

The band came together as an evolution of the previous group, Simon Dawes, which contained guitarist, vocalist and principal songwriter Taylor Goldsmith and bassist Wylie Gelber. Adding the singer’s brother, Griffin Goldsmith, on drums and Tay Strathairn on keyboards, the group was complete in 2009. Taylor Goldsmith discusses how the sound of the band came to be. “By the time Dawes started, we were living out in North Hills. We were living in the valley. I think we were just listening to early rock ’n’ roll records and early folk records. I’m not proud to say it, but I was a real late bloomer when it came to Bob Dylan … I think, like, 20 years old. That’s when I first started realizing the most traditional of songwriters.” He continues, “The whole L.A.-centric or California-centric aspect of it, I feel like just sort of happened on its own. We really weren’t aware of L.A. music until we made our first record, and people told us, ‘You sound like an L.A. band.’”

Each of the members started playing fairly early. “I started playing guitar when I was 12, but, again, I was making music with Blake [Mills, co-founder of Simon Dawes]. I think I was 12, he was 11. And he was such a phenomenal guitar player right off the bat that I never really drifted towards guitar as an expressive, lead instrument. I just learned it to write songs.” Goldsmith explains, “When Dawes started, that was the first thing that I did … I, sort of, had to start actually learning how to play guitar. North Hills, our first album, those were the first guitar solos I’d ever really played. It’s been a blast. Even yesterday, we were rehearsing and I was just thinking about how much fun the instrument gets—more and more as time goes on. But, yeah, I feel very new to the instrument in a lot of ways.”

Bassist Wylie Gelber started slightly younger. “About third grade I started playing the bass, which was mainly because my mom had got a copy of Sly Stone’s Fresh record. She played it, and I was, like, ‘What’s going on? What’s that cool sound … here?’ She said, ‘I think you’re talking about the bass.’ That was how it’s been for me.”

Goldsmith was able to sit in on professional-level gigs soon after he began playing, with some help from his musician father, Lenny Goldsmith. “I remember when my dad would invite me—when I was first learning guitar—to play, rhythm guitar with all the guys. And he played with some incredible guys, like Gerald Johnson from the Steve Miller Band. He played organ with Joe Cocker.” Goldsmith says, “I didn’t really know what I was doing yet. I just, kind of, was playing chords and trying to just keep up. His band, they weren’t playing gigs to show some kid how to do his thing. They were playing shows because they wanted to do their job. They were really not thrilled about the idea of some 12-year-old or 13-year-old getting up on stage with them. It was really scary—like, these guys were family friends—but when you’re there on stage … they weren’t there to babysit. I really had to come correct. He did that to me a bunch, and I’m really grateful for it. I felt like it helped me start to get an idea as to how to think on my feet and start to listen, where I could play by watching and pick stuff up a little quicker than maybe I would have gotten to learn otherwise.”

His early gigs with his dad in the past, Goldsmith is happy to be doing it on his own. “It’s so special to play a show with up to two hours worth of songs that we made. To see people respond to it and even just show up in the first place, is so incredible. I feel like now, the more time we spend as a band, and the better that we get, just in the sense of how well we know each other and what we can depend on each other in terms of what we bring to our respective instruments … the whole thing continues to just get more and more fun.”

With a solid band and three albums worth of material to choose from, Goldsmith feels more enjoyment than ever as he performs with the group. Speaking to the early days, he says, “Back then, I don’t think we even really thought we were going to get out of town. I think we were just, let’s make a record because we feel like we have to, but if no one ever hears it, at least we made it. I feel like with our expectations being that, this has all just been an incredible experience. We didn’t really know if there was really that much room for a band like us.”

The group switches up their equipment from year to year, but always keeps a number of favorites around for recording and live shows. “We’ve accumulated so much gear while we travel and over the years. We definitely have our main, go-to things that we use live. Those, of course, are always brought into the studio.” Goldsmith says, “I don’t know if it will continue this way, but every year I’ve sort of ended up with a different rig. Last year, for the whole year, I was playing this really great 1964 AC30 [VOX]. Before that, it was a Fender Deluxe, a ’65 or ‘67 or something. So we just change them. I’m sure we’ll continue to, and get bigger … and smaller.”

For instruments, Goldsmith often relies on one main Fender. “For guitars, I’ve always gone back to my Telecaster. I have other guitars I really love. I have this [Gibson] Les Paul Junior that is really cool. I just got a [Gretsch] White Falcon that I really like. I use those, but when it comes to the heavy lifting, I always go back to my Tele.” He augments his setup up with a few select effects. “Nothing too elaborate. The Fulltone [Supa-Trem] trem pedal, it is really good. Wylie actually made me my midrange booster—that sounds incredible. He also made the pedal board, which is pretty rad.”

On the bass side of things, Gelber keeps his setup fairly simple as well. “Basses, mainly for the beginning of Dawes and everything, I always had my Gibson Ripper—that kind of esoteric Gibson they made for around eight years or something. I have a few of those. I have an old ‘53 [Fender] P Bass that I always bring into the studio and play live.” For amplifiers, he chooses Ampeg. “Mainly SVT … I’ve had old ‘70s ones. I play the new SVT VR a lot, the reissue ‘Blue-Line’ ones. And then 4x10s, 6x10s, whatever. I always have a B15 in my room. I always bring that to the studio. That’s pretty much it.”

Gelber discusses the microphone choices. “All Shure stuff, usually. Just, like, classic [SM] 58s and 57s.” He says, “And then, in the studio, obviously, sometimes try different stuff, but I feel like—and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Taylor—but it just goes back to, like, the simpler usually the better for vocal stuff. “Goldsmith comments, “I felt really good about the SM7s. We did that whole first record on an SM7, and, actually, the whole third record, too. The second one, we did a good amount of it on there, but we tried some other ones as well. But, in continuing, it made it pretty clear that that’s the best mic for my voice for now.” Dawes is a band that doesn’t mind discussing their gear, as Goldsmith says, “I think that’s one of the most fun parts. You can’t really geek out with all your fans unless they’re musicians as well. The gear aspect of being a musician is one of the stories.”

For the latest album, the group headed into Echo Mountain Recording Studio. “It was done in Asheville, N.C., and we did it with this guy named Jacquire King, who’s from Nashville. He’s done a bunch of Norah Jones and Tom Waits and Kings of Leon kind of stuff.” Goldsmith explains, “We were just meeting with a bunch of people, and we got with him, and he was cool and nice. It all happened, like, pretty fast. And then we just ended up taking it to Asheville, just because it’s a cool town.”

Currently on tour in the U.S. in support of Stories Don’t End, and headed to the rest of the world a few months later, Dawes is happy with their progress so far. As Goldsmith says, “While it’s not the biggest band in the world … we have such a solid group of fans now. We’re so grateful for it. Way beyond anything we ever thought was possible.”

Written by Troy Richardson / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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