Dawes still haven’t played with Knopfler and Springsteen but they now have Phil Lesh and Joni Mitchell on their CV.
Occasional Americana UK contributor, Zagreb-based Josip Radic, has again caught up with the Dawes Taylor Goldsmith. The last time Taylor Goldsmith spoke to Americana UK, the world was in the middle of a full raging pandemic, and Dawes were promoting their latest album by playing concerts via streaming platforms, Taylor was sharing his home life and work in progress via Instagram and the future of live music seemed gloomy. While we’re not sure if we have left the doom and gloom completely behind us, Dawes have just released their eighth album ‘Misadventures Of Doomscroller’. During the past year and a half, they undertook a few North American runs, played stadiums in Mexico opening for The Killers, released a concert film, played with Phil Lesh, and have a short tour of Japan planned. For Taylor Goldsmith, one weekend in July was a very special experience. And that’s putting it mildly.
Taylor, someone comes to your 20 years old self and says: “There will come a July weekend in 2022 and you’ll be singing and playing with Joni Mitchell at Newport Folk Festival!”. How would you reply?
I wouldn’t think it’s possible. I would assume whoever told me that was an idiot and enjoyed torturing me with fantastic ideas.
Can you take us backstage to that fantastic day, and how you came to be involved with the whole concert?
Brandi Carlile invited me to her house one-day last year when they were having people over to sing, and that’s when I first met her. At some point, someone handed her a guitar and she tuned it to an open D major. Her caretaker asked if anyone knew one of her songs in that tuning, I did and I immediately started singing ‘Come In From The Cold’ from her 1991 record ‘Night Ride Home’. That’s when we first really connected and that’s the song I got to sing with her at Newport.
Last time we spoke, you said that the new album will be “very different for us”. It seems you kept your promise in the best possible way if I do say so myself. What is the album’s timeline, are there some leftovers from previous albums that finally made it onto the record?
Some of the lyrics were leftovers from times gone by, but all the music was reimagined. Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelbe, and Lee Pardini are especially incredible musicians, and our music has rarely featured everything they are not capable of, and that was a high priority with this album. We started recording it the month after ‘Good Luck With Whatever’ came out in 2020. I had been writing during the entire lockdown, so we were ready very quickly. Then we wanted to wait a little while to let people discover ‘Good Luck With Whatever’.
To my ears, the album radiates some Grateful Dead/Steely Dan/Dire Straits vibes while at the same time perfecting the arc of Dawes’ sound that brought you here all the way from your first record. Was there any briefing within the band before entering the studio, were there any ideas like let’s make an album exactly like this?
I was listening to a lot of jazz and loving how some classic jazz albums are only five or six songs long. We wanted to take as much time as we wanted and not try to over-economize anything. Rather than being guided by the principle of what else can I trim down, this time it was what else can this song handle before we go too far?
What informed your lyrics on the new album? It seems that at the same time you laugh at and empathise with the Doomscroller, would you say that this duality is the symbol of our times?
I like the way you put that. Yes, it’s a scary reality we’re living in, but it’s the only one we have so I try to find new ways of readjusting and accepting, rather than simply condemning. The passage of time also looms large in these songs, but I guess that’s on all my songs. I really tried to stay away from judgment. I hope I succeeded. I want to ask questions, I don’t want to answer any.
Your lyrics are one of the most finely crafted in modern music. If you would offer advice to a young inspiring songwriter regarding lyric writing, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid of honouring what feels right to you. Many writers have rules about what kind of words you can say and what kind of topics you can sing about, but I find that all my favourite writers break those rules over and over again.
Would you agree that songwriters in their thirties lose some of the naivety, beauty, and innocence of their songs when cynicism creeps in? Is there any way to fight it, or is it actually a good thing?
I think you’re right, but I do think it’s a good thing. For a while, all of Dylan’s songs were very black and white protest songs. There was a right and a wrong way to live. But eventually, his songs became less judgmental and more observant and therefore more wise, in my opinion. As an older songwriter, I feel like I can accept and occupy more perspectives than I could in my early twenties. Some people figured it out way faster than me, this is just how long it’s taken in my case.
There is a batch of new songs you’ve performed live recently that didn’t make it on the new album, ‘House Parties’, ‘The Game’, ‘Little One’, ‘Blame The Kids’. They didn’t find their place on the new album, why? Speaking of Joni earlier, when I first heard ‘The Game’ I thought it was a song about her.
‘The Game’ is totally about Joni Mitchell, but it’s also about Brandi Carlile, Mandy Moore, Phoebe Bridger, and all of the female songwriters that are a hundred times stronger than I’ll ever be, even their level of understanding because of all they had to overcome to get where they are. As for the rest of these new songs I can’t wait to record them, however, I don’t know when that will be though.
Tell us about the dynamic within Dawes today, what have you learned about personal relationships and holding the band together for so long? What advice do you have for other bands that are just starting up?
We get along very well but that is because we prioritise our relationships over our band. I think it’s essential. We’re always checking in and making sure we’re on the same page. If that didn’t come first, everything else would fall apart.
How do you see yourself as a member of the “mixed CDs and dial tones” generation today? How do you handle the challenges of fatherhood, family, and being a touring musician?
I try to be malleable to the changing times, but I’m just not as good at understanding social media and constant connections as people of the younger generation. And that’s not a judgment, I do wish I was better at that stuff, I’m just not, and especially not now that I have a kid to chase around when I’m off tour. Thanks to him, this has been the happiest time in my life, but it makes touring harder. Despite that, I know I have to do it because for my kids to be proud of me they’re going to need to see that I lived my life doing what I love. I wanna be home more now, but I think I’ll be able to balance it just fine.
“It would be a dream to play with Mark Knopfler or Bruce Springsteen”, you said in our last interview. You still didn’t get to play with them, but you have Phil Lesh and Joni now in your music CV. What would you like to do next, what is something that drives you musically?
Joni is at the top of the mountain for sure. I just wanna keep making records. I want some of my best songs to still be out in front of me. I wanna play bigger venues and in more countries, but I want to do it by being true to ourselves.
Finally, can you give your European fans some sort of encouragement about seeing you again on this side of the Atlantic?
Yes! We’re in talks now about getting out there sometime in early 2023.
Dawes ‘Misunderstanding Of Doomscroller’ is available now on Rounder Records.
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