Hailed as 21st century icons of the “Laurel Canyon sound” — with forefathers that include Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and numerous others — since their 2009 debut North Hills, the Los Angeles-based Dawes have enjoyed rapturous critical praise and adoring fans while still trying to carve out an identity that is wholly theirs. Though the band have had numerous opportunities to play and tour with several of these rock ’n’ roll legends, they were looking to produce something different.
Their latest album, 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die, was produced by their longtime friend and former bandmate Blake Mills (producer of the Alabama Shakes’ Grammy Award-winning effort, Sound and Color) and features the band stretching into diverse sonic territory, such as adding analog synthesizers to their established folk-rock sound and bringing in guest vocalist like Jim James, Mandy Moore, Brittany Howard, Will Oldham and more.
Weld spoke with singer-songwriter and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith about the latest record and coming to terms with the fact that he continues to tell a similar story in most of his songs.
Weld: You’re coming to Birmingham, so the first thing people will want to know about the new record is where did you get the inspiration for the song “Roll Tide’’?
Taylor Goldsmith: That one is the only song on the album that I did not write. It was written by our good friend, Jason Boesel, who was also a writer on “Pictures of A Man” and “When The Tequila Runs Out.” We wrote those together, but he wrote “Roll Tide” by himself. I was around for it. I remember hearing the first verse and telling him that it was beautiful and that he should finish it. I gave some suggestions here and there, but it’s really his baby.
It’s funny because he didn’t really have any knowledge of college football. He just knew that was a beautiful phrase, independent of what it means. The girl that was no longer in his life at the time was dating a guy from Birmingham who had moved to L.A. The lyrics basically say that she needs to lose this guy (in nicer language than that) and say best of luck, Roll Tide. He then reappropriated that phrase to give people an association.
You hear that phrase and you think football, but if that weren’t to exist and you heard that phrase and what it could mean (especially when applied to a relationship), it’s really beautiful. He was able to have that dual meaning in a very smart and funny way. We jokingly referred to that song in the studio as our “regional smash” and that we would have tens of thousands of people at our Birmingham show. Obviously, that won’t be the case, but that was the running joke. A lot of people wouldn’t know what it’s about, but it would be loved in Birmingham.
That was one of the earliest songs we started to play because we had it around and would play it during the onset of this record.
Weld: You put out two records in two consecutive years, 2015’s All Your Favorite Bands and last year’s We’re All Gonna Die. Was it a case of already having the songs ready?
Goldsmith: Yeah, we already had the material, and we wanted to go back out on tour, so it made sense to put out another record. I don’t think we could do that over and over again; I think you’d eventually wear an audience out, at least now. Back then, David Bowie put out a record a year the entire decade of the ’70s and so did Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and everyone. Now, it doesn’t seem to be like that because every record is followed by touring.
Back then, Bob Dylan would do a tour after releasing three records. Now, it’s just a weird business model if you do a record a year. It only works if you have touring in between each record. But of course, no one really buys records anymore. However, it is fun to get as much material out there as possible. I think there’s a lot of bands now where the deeper the body of work, the more willing people are to discover they’re a big deal. When you look at the success of The National — they’re amazing and way bigger than us — but it seemed to take them a handful of records before people put it together that they were deserving of a huge audience.
For us, it seems like the more work that we have to represent us, the more fans we’ve able to bring on board and keep this thing rolling. As fun as it is to do two records in two years, the fact of the matter is that it would be difficult to keep up that pace for five or ten years. But since we had the material this time around, we figured, “Why not?”
Weld: Were the songs from both of those records written at around the same time?
Goldsmith: Some of them, like “Picture of A Man” and “If By Design,” were both songs that we tried to get on All Your Favorite Bands. They sounded different, but they had existed from those sessions. The rest were all written after.
Weld: Your last three records (Stories Don’t End, All Your Favorite Bands, and We’re All Gonna Die) have an interesting thematic progression, in that the first two focus more on the legacies of ideas such as stories and bands, while the latest record delves into the human mortality element.
Goldsmith: I’ve never thought of that way. I have trouble sometimes not thinking of music and this whole trip in terms of stories and mythology behind the music. I find myself writing about being in a band and being on tour and being onstage and being a singer, much more than other songwriters. I question whether I should be doing it sometimes, but it just comes up. Some people may think that’s strange, and I kind of do too sometimes, but that’s just my experience and what it ends up going back to.
To me, the well wishes of “may all your favorite bands stay together” and “we’re all gonna die,” one’s a more cynical version of that sentiment, but in a sense, it’s two sides of the same coin and the same message. It’s trying to instill a perspective into myself about taking into account what matters and put aside what doesn’t. I’m trying to be really mindful of how to move forward and keep your chin up. Most of the times, these songs are just pep talks to myself. When We’re All Gonna Die came up as a record title, even though it’s pretty bleak at face value, when you take it into context, I like to think it’s pretty uplifting.
Weld: Along with that same idea, two songs on the last two records — “Things Happen” and “Roll with The Punches” — seem to echo each other lyrically.
Goldsmith: Totally. In a way, I feel like I’ve been writing the same song and been putting a different face on it. Two years ago, you wouldn’t have gotten me to say that, because I would have been terrified of that being potentially true. But I look at so many songwriters that I admire, and you look at songs like [Bruce Springsteen’s] “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road” and “Lost in The Flood.” They’re all telling the same story, and sometimes literally the same story of how he found this girl, he’s going to get her out of town and take her someplace better. If you were tell me that there’s a songwriter that tells a story 10 different ways, but it’s always the same ingredients, my initial reaction would be to think I wouldn’t like it, but you hear those old blues records and you’re blown away. Part of the fact that it is the same story in slightly shifted versions makes you love it more because his identity and mythology becomes stronger.
For me, I recognize that “A Little Bit of Everything,” “Most People,” “Things Happen” and “Roll with The Punches” are all more or less saying the same thing or come from the same philosophy. Rather than work yourself into a life where the darkness doesn’t exist, instead finally come to terms with the fact that your life will be a constant exchange with that darkness. You can come up for air and appreciate those moments. You can’t wish the hard parts away or you’ll set yourself up for a lot worse disappointment.
Dawes will play Iron City on Friday, March 3rd. Doors for the all-ages event open at 7 p.m. with music beginning at 8 p.m. For more information, visit ironcitybham.com.