Headed to town Wednesday night for a sold out set at the Vic Theatre, I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Taylor Goldsmith about Dawes' identity on their latest studio effort All Your Favorite Bands, trying to capture the spirit of a live show in the studio, work on the group's yet to be titled fifth album, the importance of performing live, the Rolling Stones, Prince and more...
The art of performing live is one upon which Dawes has focused, perfecting it on the road in support of four studio albums since 2009.
But the spark that makes Dawes one of America's best live acts is, ironically, one the band had trouble recreating in the studio environment during recording sessions for their first three studio albums. Capturing that in the studio was a priority for the fourth.
The sessions for All Your Favorite Bands (April 2015, Hub Records) featured Dawes performing live together as a full band on the studio floor. Ultimately, the recordings capitalized on the group's knack for live improvisational exploration and firmly established the group's identity on record in the strongest, clearest way yet.
Never satisfied, and looking to augment their live sound, Dawes added Duane Betts (son of Allman Brothers Band founding guitarist Dickey Betts) to the fold as touring guitar player in 2015, stretching out their live shows even further and, as always, covering new ground in the process.
From there, Dawes made an almost immediate return to the studio, recently finishing recording sessions for a yet to be titled or released fifth album while still in support of All Your Favorite Bands. It's a recording pace not often seen today, one that conjures up images of the 60s and artists like Neil Young - not exactly surprising for a Los Angeles based band so frequently compared to the old Laurel Canyon scene.
While the manner in which All Your Favorite Bands was recorded seems to be a successful one - which influenced sessions for the fifth album - it likely won't define it. Because Dawes is a band concerned about creating a lasting legacy through the totality of their recorded works. Continued growth is a necessity. According to vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and founding Dawes member Taylor Goldsmith, the album will continue to explore new sounds while embracing the unique identity Dawes has created.
I spoke over the phone this week with Taylor Goldsmith about the unique sessions that make up All Your Favorite Bands, whether the idea of an album is still a relevant one, creating a lasting recorded legacy and the importance of performing live. A lightly edited transcript of that conversation follows below...
Q. The last year has been a really interesting one for your band, touring in support of an album like All Your Favorite Bands and adding a new touring member to the fold in guitarist Duane Betts. How important has this last year been for Dawes?
Taylor Goldsmith: I think that people have really approached the album and that’s such an interesting thing nowadays in terms of how to register that. I feel like the songs that we play off that album are better received than other records that, on paper, have sold a lot more.
Now that no one is buying anything, the only real meter that you have to see this stuff is how it's responded to at stores or how much ticket sales go up. For us, we’ve always been very lucky that’s it’s always felt like a steady incline. It’s never been this astronomical or exponential jump in numbers. But every time we come into a city, it’s a little bit more than there was before.
I think that the record did that, to a certain extent. It’s also a much more compelling show now having a fifth person making the band feel that much bigger on the stage with us so I think that’s definitely brought a lot too. [For now that's] still primarily a live thing but we’ll see what happens going forward.
Q. Let’s talk about All Your Favorite Bands – you guys recorded it together in Nashville live, as a full band, with the goal of capturing the feel of your live sets. I’ve heard you say previously that you don’t necessarily feel the band ever fully seized upon that live spirit in the studio. Looking back on the album now a year later, do you feel that you got it this time?
TG: I think to a certain degree. I think that when I listen to All Your Favorite Bands, I really feel like, “Oh, that’s how I play guitar.” I kind of can hear myself now.
But I do feel like, when you go see a [concert], there’s a whole wall of subwoofers that make the bass sound impossibly huge. An album’s just not gonna do that. No matter what you do.
So I think it captures the way we play in a way that our other records have not. But I still think there’s always going to be something to a live energy that no record is ever going to be able to compete with – unless you’re playing it on a wall sized PA.
"I love how All Your Favorite Bands turned out. I feel like it’s a record we needed to make... I think that [it's] something that we’ve been chasing after in a way." - Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes
Q. David Rawlings as producer, recording in Nashville – how important were those two elements on the finished album?
TG: Nashville itself was only a help in so far as it brought in a few other players – on pedal steel and stuff like that. But,otherwise, the songs were already written. It wasn’t like we went to Nashville and got into some sort of Nashville state of mind. The songs were already there. We had already written them mostly in L.A. or on tour. But Nashville did inform the experience in terms of background singers and musicians and stuff like that that are only going to be found in Nashville.
But Dave was obviously a huge influence. He’s a very involved producer and he’s also, obviously, a very accomplished musician. So to play with someone who can speak those languages – that’s something that not all producers can do. In some cases for a producer that’s a strong suit. But I feel like, for us, when we work with a guy like Dave - who can talk to me about chord voicings or talk to me about certain musical things and talk to every [band] member about that stuff – I think we all thrive in that environment.
And he also just has impeccable taste and he’s an incredible songwriter. He understands the sanctity of songs in a way that few people can. He understands why a certain word belongs somewhere, and why it doesn’t, and how to make a song stronger – how to make a song maintain a feeling the whole way through without ever letting up. He always has a great ear for that.
Q. All Your Favorite Bands is Dawes’ fourth studio album. That’s a point a lot of bands don’t get to regardless but especially in today’s music industry landscape. I feel like Dawes has really developed an identity as a band and that that identity might be clearest on this album. Would you say it’s taken the course of these four studio albums to fully get comfortable with all that this band is capable of?
TG: Well, it’s funny. I don’t ever want to get too comfortable with it. I love how All Your Favorite Bands turned out. I feel like it’s a record we needed to make. I love all the records we’ve made, and I feel like they add to the spectrum of what we can do, but I think that All Your Favorite Bands is something that we’ve been chasing after in a way.
I don’t know… I think you’re right – I think it’s taken us this long to find a certain aspect of our sound. But, in a way, I feel All Your Favorite Bands was a cleansing of the palette that allowed us to kind of start at zero again to be like, “Let’s reduce this to its most basic version of what we do.” And then now we’re using that as a platform to jump off of.
We actually just finished the fifth record. We just finished recording it. It’s definitely Dawes – it sounds like us playing those songs, sounds like us playing those instruments – but it’s much different than All Your Favorite Bands: It’s much stranger in certain respects and much simpler in certain respects.
We did it a few months ago with Blake Mills producing it, who’s a lifelong friend. We’ve always wanted to make a record together so that was exciting to get to do that. I don’t know when it’ll come out, because we haven’t mixed it or anything yet, but we finished it before we head out for this tour. We recorded it in L.A. mostly at EastWest Studios.
Q. It sounds like the way in which you recorded All Your Favorite Bands – in the studio together as a full band – was a successful one. What kind of an effect did that have on the fifth album and will it impact Dawes music moving forward?
TG: We played live to a certain degree on this one but there’s a lot of strange sounds that we couldn’t really get right on the [studio] floor. But every track there’s a keyboard, a bass, a guitar and drums all playing live – and sometimes even the lead vocal. So it was pretty close to live – maybe a little less so than All Your Favorite Bands.
But I’m happy because of that. I feel like if we would have thought, “Cool. We did a thing that we really liked with All Your Favorite Bands, let’s do it again!” I just feel like that would’ve threatened the identity of both records. I like how All Your Favorite Bands is the one that does that the most – at least for now. And then maybe we’ll do a record where we do the whole thing onstage at a show? I don’t know.
But I think that’s something we didn’t want to marry ourselves to for the sake of… We just wanted to keep it different. And I feel like this next record is going to have as much of its own personality as All Your Favorite Bands does. Hopefully.
Q. You touched earlier on the fact that, by and large, the full album is not an overly popular concept right now in the music industry. But it seems like it’s an important one to you. How important is that idea of recording full albums to you?
TG: I just think it gives context to the songs that otherwise don’t hit the right way, you know?
I think if Beggars Banquet wasn’t an album, yes, you could release “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” as just singles and they can stand on their own.
But I feel songs like “Parachute Woman” or “Dear Doctor” – as cool as those are – if they were just released as singles, I feel like it would leave you scratching your head. But the fact that they’re in the context of this record and they’re bookended by songs like “Street Fighting Man” or “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Salt of the Earth,” it allows you to digest them and it gives you context, not only for “Dear Doctor” or “Parachute Woman” but also for the big singles.
And I think that that’s kind of how our music works. If we were to release some of the ballads or some of the long songs or something, it’s just like, “Well, we’re just putting everything out there at all times.” I don’t know if that would really suit our songs best. Maybe a song like “Things Happen” could withstand that but maybe a song like “Don’t Send Me Away” couldn’t? I don’t know. It might just give the wrong impression of where the band is at unless it was in the context of a record.
That’s how I feel about the music. I might be one of about five people that cares about that sort of thing. But even if it’s only for me to look back and say, “These are the records that I made,” then I’m more than willing to do it.
"To stay active and to remain yourself and to still make music where you still want to play stuff off your first records… that’s amazing." - Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes
Q. It’s interesting to think in terms of a career and a body of work that stands the test of time. You just mentioned the Stones. Who else do you think of in that regard? Because I’ve heard you say before that you’d like to be able to look back at Dawes someday and see the band in terms of albums and a collective body of work. Is there anyone specifically you’re trying to emulate when you think of Dawes in that manner?
TG: It’s anyone that’s maintained quality over the course of a career. The fact that Warren Zevon has as many records as he has or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon or Willie Nelson. To stay active and to remain yourself and to still make music where you still want to play stuff off your first records… that’s amazing.
A lot of bands that do, like you said, get to that four album mark – a lot of them want to pretend like the first one doesn’t exist. And that’s their prerogative – if they don’t like it anymore and that doesn’t represent them then, sh-t, they shouldn’t play it, you know?
But, to me, the dream is to be able to continue to make records and get to a point where we have like twenty records or something and still want to play “That Western Skyline” or “When My Time Comes” once in a while.
There’s a lot of examples of it. I think those guys I mentioned are probably the best. But even like Elvis Costello, whose first record came out in 1977, he has almost as many records as Bob Dylan whose first record came out in 1962! That kind of commitment to your art and to your output just gives people more and more content to apply to their impression of you.
So that sort of stuff is always what gets me really excited. So even though we have four [albums], and we have the fifth in the can, I always continue to think, “Man, I just can’t wait till we get to the next one.”
Q. I think another guy who embodied a lot of what you just described is Prince. Are you a fan of Prince or that body of work or the way he went about conducting his business of creating art?
TG: I definitely am a fan of Prince. It’s not something that I can speak to throughout the career but I’m very familiar with all the hits and very familiar with Purple Rain. I love all that I know. But I would feel, especially at a time like this where it’s so sad that he’s gone considering how creative and powerful he was, I can’t pretend that I was a deeply knowledgeable fan.
But, at times like this, as sad as it is, it’s an opportunity to sort of dig into that stuff that we didn’t know beforehand.
Q. Performing live is something Dawes does a lot, and has a strong reputation for, and in this current music industry landscape, coupled with the internet, it seems like it's more important than ever to have that type of strong live set. So, simple question: How important is performing live now?
TG: It seems like the only way to make any money. But, even beyond that, it’s fun.
I feel like, sometimes, making a record is like making a movie where you have to “cut” after every line to say it again in a certain way. Sometimes it can be hard to get into that rhythm of feeling like you’re performing a piece.
So getting onstage and being able to sing these songs from beginning to end, and play the guitar solo, or whatever it is, it’s a blast. And we love getting to do it every single night.
It’s something that we really depend on for the sake of our relationship with music. We love recording too but it wouldn’t be as fun if it wasn’t both of these things. So performing live is a big part of where we get our joy.
And it also seems like it’s what keeps people involved. I feel if we just put out records, we’d lose our fanbase pretty fast.
- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
(Details on Wednesday's Dawes concert below)
Never miss a story or interview! Simply enter your email address and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Doors open at 7PM
Show starts at 8PM
18 and older
Also performing: Hiss Golden Messenger
$33.50 *** SOLD OUT ***
Click HERE to purchase tickets