Catching Up with Dawes @ HOB

The LA band Dawes made a stop at the House of Blues in San Diego this week -- opening up for Brett Dennen -- in support of their sophomore record, Nothing Is Wrong.

The album title suggests the kind of wordplay that in fact nothing is wrong with Dawes, when, in fact, everything is more than all right for this young band. For starters, the band has been touring relentlessly with such bands as Bright Eyes, M. Ward and Vetiver; and has served as a backing band to their idol, Robbie Robertson of the Band, including a stint on the Late Show with David Letterman. Among other successes: being a noted favorite of the legendary Jackson Browne and providing the all-American soundtrack to a Chevy commercial with their song "When My Time Comes."

Besides their reputation for flawless musicianship, you could argue it's their ode to Springsteen; Crosby, Stills and Nash; and Tom Petty that makes them so timeless. 

Frontman Taylor Goldsmith is still wrapping his head around the notoriety.

"We just feel so grateful because there are so many good bands out there, so many bands that deserve to be acknowledged in that way," Goldsmith said before the show. "We feel really lucky to have been acknowledged by our idols -- it's not something we expected."

The growth is audible. From their debut, North Hills -- they released the record, unsigned -- eventually being picked up by Dave Matthews' label, ATO Records, to the release of Nothing Is Wrong, you get the sense the record was nurtured on the road, lending to its live quality.

"We wrote this album on and off tour, so that was a natural thing for it to come off more live.... We got the chance to test it out onstage," Goldsmith said. 

The record was recorded as such, on 2-inch analog tape; as they explained, they'd have to prove that they could play it live the way it was, so what would be the point in editing it afterward to achieve that sound? Brother and drummer Griffin Goldsmith, keyboardist Tay Strathairn and bassist Wylie Gelber worked on harmonies and arrangements to give that Dawes quality to Taylor's ideas. 

A more fully-realized sound comes from sweeping harmonies and layered arrangements. The emotional landscapes of Los Angeles infuses Dawes' music with a "special kind of sadness" due to the displacement of constant travel. Despite a sophisticated sound, songs begin simply with "usually piano or a few chords, and we'll build it from there. There are those bands that are so lyrically focused that fans don't pay attention to much else, but we wanted to have both." Goldsmith is also recognized for his deeply romantic, autobiographical lyrics, which is something he holds firm to.
"I'm sure I've made some people upset in the past, but I don't regret it because you'll get someone  -- who you normally would've never talked to -- go up to you and be like, 'Man, your music really meant something to me,' " Taylor said.
Dawes recently toured with Middle Brother, a supergroup that included Taylor Goldsmith, Jon McCauley of Deer Tick and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit. The challenge of playing both roles was diminished by the fact the Middle Brother was always intended as a side-project.
"We always knew that Middle Brother would be a side-project and it'd help to gain a presence with Dawes," Taylor said. 
What Goldsmith gained was inspiration: "It was cool to perform with Jon and Matt. I was really inspired, you know? Matt would be sick one day and would be out of it all day, but then he'll get onstage with that Matt Vasquez voice. Jon would just be writing all the time, and I think that really motivated me. He pumped out, like, 20 songs that he's cutting down for a record -- constantly writing." 

As Dawes rounds out the tour with Brett Dennen, touring through November is to follow. Up next: a tour with Alison Krauss.

In the meantime, the band is enjoying the eclectic mix of new fans they've gained from the Church of Dennen. Said Taylor, doing his best impression of a Dennen fan: "So I've never heard of you, but I love you. I just wish you'd play more stuff I can dance to!"

If there were anyone to take note of that observation, it would be Mr. Brett Dennen, a barefoot hip-swaying god who played to a near packed-out house at the House of Blues. 

Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms and works in artist relations for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.

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