The Dawning of Dawes

By: Nancy Dunham

Dawes by Matt Jacoby
Receiving your first electric guitar from Miles Joseph, one of Bob Dylan’s regular collaborators, is certainly enough to make one want to become a musician.

At least that’s how Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer of Dawes, felt when that happened to him while Joseph was visiting Goldsmith’s dad Lenny Goldsmith, former lead singer for Tower of Power and Sweathog.

“He had brought three Stratocasters with him and while he and my folks were hanging out he said, ‘You should go play my guitars,'” said Goldsmith. “They were three amazing Stratocasters, just about as cool as it gets. At the end of the night he said, ‘Which is your favorite of the three?’ and when I told him he gave it to me… I was so happy and grateful he gave me this amazing Stratocaster!”

Then a young teenager, Goldsmith had wanted to become a musician ever since he was in grade school. He and his buddies formed rock bands where prestige was paramount and he said “good songwriting wasn’t any sort of priority.” That changed, of course, leading Goldsmith to start Dawes, which has had its share of critical and popular kudos including a piece in Rolling Stone. The transformation in Goldsmith’s musical direction was made after some serious soul searching.

“Once [the band I was in] broke up, I wanted to figure out if I was going to keep going,” he said. “At that point I was 21 and I thought, what are my reasons for wanting to be a musician? Before my reasons were to be 17 as long as I could. For any musician, that is cool if that’s what you want. But when I got older I started evaluating what I really wanted to do.”

Dawes by Matt Fruen
Goldsmith’s dad raised his sons on a steady diet of Otis Redding, James Brown and other soul music, instilling in them the idea that performance and tight execution were of the upmost importance.

“When I told my dad about Bob Dylan [when I was younger] he said ‘Don’t waste your time, he can’t sing,” said Goldsmith. “When I got older and realized how great [Dylan] is I played songs for my dad and even he thought the stuff was really good. I feel like because of the world I grew up in my dad took an extra step and realized [Dylan’s brilliance].”

Not that Goldsmith’s father hadn’t made earlier concessions to his son’s musical tastes. A keyboard player, he was sympathetic when his son wanted to play guitar.

“When I was 11, I picked up a guitar and started learning and applying it to piano,” recalled Goldsmith. [My dad] helped me learn to sing and helped my brother [Griffin Goldsmith who plays drums in Dawes] as well. When I was growing up I always knew I wanted to be a musician. There was never a time in my life when I was confronted with not knowing what I wanted to do.”

Although the family is from Malibu, Goldsmith is quick to correct any impressions that they are wealthy, noting they came from North Hills (also the name of the group’s debut album, released by ATO on August 18, 2009), a place he called “the grimiest part of the Valley. People have ideas about what Malibu is but that’s not me or my family.”

What did define his family was music, which is why his father heeded his pleas to buy him a guitar when he was only 11.

“He wanted me to play guitar but he told me, ‘you’re a little kid and you’ve got to realize I’m not buying you a really good guitar,'” laughed Goldsmith. “We went to the store and we bought literally the cheapest guitar we could get, a $60 guitar. It sounded bad and it was hard to play. I was just learning and got a guitar book to learn chords the best I could. When I could move my fingers fast enough to play chords, I started writing dumb little 12 year old kid songs.”

What fueled Goldsmith’s creativity more than anything, he said, is that his parents never held him back.

Dawes by Matt Jacoby
“I thought, I know a lot of records and even though I don’t know the first thing about how to write, I’ll try. As a 12 year old after learning three chords and writing my first song – something like ‘Why don’t you like me,’ nobody told me I shouldn’t write, to wait and learn more,” he said. “That probably would have stayed with me. But instead, they let me strum and sing. As a little kid it just came really easily.” So easily, in fact, that at age 24 song writing sounds almost as if its second nature to Goldsmith these days.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that much of Goldsmith’s music – like those of his idols Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, and others – is drawn from personal inspirations and experiences. Dawes’ music, especially on North Hills, tends to be acoustic with lush harmonies and strong vocals weaving throughout. Think of them as musical vignettes and you have the right idea.

“Listen to ‘The French Inhaler’ about Norman Mailer by Warren Zevon. That hits me hard on an emotional level” said Goldsmith. “It’s not his story and it’s so impressive that he’s able to maintain his scope as a writer and stay varied. Every time I go down that road and try to make up a person I want to do it but I give myself a hard time. It’s very personal and you have to feel confident enough to make it work.”

The buzz around the band – which also includes bass player Wylie Gelber and guitarist Alex Casnoff – has landed them some high profile headlining gigs and Goldsmith and his band mates are busy fine-tuning the live act.

“I think we’re pretty darned hard on ourselves; sometimes it’s good,” he said. “In our live shows we are very conscious of the fact that we are a support band. Now we are looking at these amazing bands with great live reputations like Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Tom Petty, and The Grateful Dead. There is so much nuance and so much going on that maybe not everybody picks up on but it’s what makes them the best of the best. So we always [critique] our shows saying this could have been better. But we’re really trying hard to develop it.”

Dawes tour dates available here.

Go here to download a free Dawes song.

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