In October of 2009, California band Dawes was invited to be part of the second Daytrotter.com Barnstormer tour which included such exotic Iowa locations as Green Island, West Branch and Maquoketa. The crowds at those shows were not prepared for the fiery, passionate performances by this then-unknown band, influenced by the classic sounds of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Since then, the band has toured incessantly, growing their fan-base as they go. Little Village caught up with the band’s frontman, Taylor Goldsmith, in the middle a recent UK run to talk about playing for new audiences overseas, the next album, touring with Robbie Robertson and returning to Iowa.
Little Village: How are the audiences in Europe compared to over here?
Taylor Goldsmith: They’re a lot, lot smaller. I feel like things have been dialed back two years in terms of where things are at for us out here. Having to win crowds over, assuming they’ve never heard a single thing by us, the venues are smaller. It’s really fun, but it’s a whole different thing. It forces us to play a whole different game—how to structure a set and how to play is completely dictated by how big a room is and how familiar the audience is with our material. It’s a whole different experience.
I noticed that North Hills—your first release from 2009—is just now coming out in Europe?
Yeah, they released Nothing is Wrong to time with the release in the US last year. They decided to release North Hills now so they could have both out for these shows. It’s definitely a little strange and a little backwards, but pretty cool too in that it gives a whole new life to playing songs like “When My Time Comes.”
What other changes have you made to your sets—more covers?
No, mainly trying to keep it high-energy. It might be a good idea to not do as much new material. That said, we did three new songs the other night. They actually went over well and that went fine. But in terms of reminding ourselves that we are a new band to these audiences, it would be a better idea to stick to songs they know.
I’ve been following the recent live recordings that have been uploaded to archive.org, and I see that you’ve been playing some new songs lately. How far along are you on the next album?
We’re going to record it in September/October.
Are you going to work with Jonathan Wilson again?
I don’t know—I guess that remains to be seen. He’s really involved in his own thing right now, and it’s an awesome problem to have, but it almost feels like we’d be depriving him of a much more important mission he’s on right now to ask him to step back from that and produce our album—but we’ll see.
Based on conversations we’ve had in the past, I know that you’re a big fan of bands like the Grateful Dead, and you certainly exhibit influences from artists like Jackson Browne. When you look at their careers, what things do you think you can take away that might help cement your vision of the band?
Well, I think that with the Dead specifically there was a willingness to be themselves—which is a good thing to stay conscious of. Rather than beat themselves up about the notes missed or if the groove waivers or something—they allowed it to be what it was, and that allowed them to be fun as well as a band that could stick together. I don’t really like to listen to Dawes live recordings—mostly because I feel that I would get nitpicky about stuff that I’d want to address and bring to the band. But, on the other hand I realize that people are coming to the shows and that number seems to be growing, which is great. So, maybe they are coming to the shows because of the variation and idiosyncrasies and some of the things that are indicative of our personalities on the instruments. So, that is a philosophy that I maintain because of listening to those Grateful Dead records.
Robbie Robertson tapping you guys as his band on tour had to be a remarkable experience.
For sure! One of the cool things about it was that he chose to use us as a full unit. It wasn’t like, “Hey I want that drummer from Dawes and I want that guitar player from this…,” you know it was, “I want all of this one band specifically because of the experience they have together.” So, to me it sounded like the way the guitar player from The Band would look at [picking a band]. He would see the importance of four guys who play together. There are a lot of guitar players who are better than me, but there aren’t a lot of guitar players who can play with Wylie and Griffin like I do. It’s like he maintained those beliefs that he had when he was with The Band and why that band was so great. None of those guys individually were the most incredible players—but when you had them all together they were definitely the best.
It’s been two years since you played Iowa last—in fact, I think it was your show at Gabe’s in August of 2010. Are you looking forward to making it back to Iowa?
Definitely! And hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot of familiar faces from the Barnstormer family.
Codfish Hollow (in Maquoketa) is a really special spot. I would tell any friend’s band to do whatever they can to get there because it is a very special experience. Even everything leading up to the show and after it—it’s such an incredible way for an audience to experience a band and for a band to experience an audience. You’re kind of spending the whole day together in very close quarters.
It seems like all of the bands who play there come away with an even better experience than they imagined—especially considering that Iowa is largely considered a “flyover state.”
Heh, yeah, but I feel that Daytrotter alone is really changing that—it’s making Iowa a really important state for bands to tour. It started with the Rock Island area, but I feel like it’s really spreading. I feel like for any band who is in any kind of closeness with Sean Moeller and the Daytrotter family touring Iowa becomes important.
Will you guys be playing any more Daytrotter sessions?
Oh, definitely. I hope that we can record Daytrotter sessions as long as we play music—in whatever capacity. It’s such a cool experience—such a cool way to hear your own material recorded. It’s a real magical thing—there is a certain vibe to it. So many things can be recorded now, and so many shows are recorded, and so much of the time there is no real identity to it. But, with Daytrotter, it is sure to be a singular version of whatever song it is you are playing.
Dawes’ much-awaited return to Eastern Iowa will be at The Englert on Sunday, August 19. Their ability to translate their songs steeped in the tradition of Southern California folk rock into transcendent live performances makes this a show not to be missed. Joining Dawes will be fellow Daytrotter Barnstormer alumni Nathaniel Rateliff. General Admission tickets are $16 in advance, $18 the day of the show.
Michael Roeder is a self-proclaimed “music savant.” When he’s not writing for Little Village he blogs at http://www.playbsides.com.