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Leaning into the world with Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith

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An Evening with Dawes

Englert Theatre — Sunday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.

Dawes will play the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Sunday. Jan. 27. — Magdalena Wosinka/Dawes

Taylor Goldsmith spent a week recently sitting in his Los Angeles house alone, practicing every song he’s ever released.

For the lead songwriter, singer and guitarist of Dawes, that adds up to 63 songs over the last 10 years. The band plans to play every one of them over the course of this leg of their “An Evening with Dawes” tour, which comes to the Englert Theatre on Sunday, Jan. 27. Tickets are $40.

The “An Evening with Dawes” tour has the band, (Goldsmith on guitar and vocals, his brother Griffin Goldsmith on drums, Wylie Gelber on bass and Lee Pardini on keys,) performing two sets of original songs without an opening band, something that Goldsmith describes as “the dream.”

“People always say, ‘Isn’t that tiring?’ Frankly, it’s more tiring to sit around backstage and wait to play. It’s a lot more exciting and fun and makes the night fly by when you are onstage playing guitar,” Goldsmith says. “You look at some of these legendary acts, and it makes sense that Bruce Springsteen or the Grateful Dead would play for as long as they did because they just have such a body of work to represent.”

2019 marks a decade for the band, which has already released six albums. Their latest, Passwords, was released back in June of 2018 on their own HUB Records. It seems strange to ask Goldsmith, just 33, to look backwards and think about 10 years of touring and recording music. He’s quick to trace the early history of Dawes with strokes of chance and luck.

“When we made our first album, I had a day job. I worked at a homeowner’s insurance company. I was talking to plumbers and contractors about installing water heaters. It was rough,” he says, only half-joking. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Well I don’t expect this kind of music to create any sort of career for us that can last, so I will just put everything I can into this record and then go and find the next job.’”

Goldsmith didn’t have to call any more plumbers after North Hills was released in 2009. Dawes quickly became critical darlings, hailed to the point of bruising as the latest harbingers of the ’70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter sound. When they emerged, it was as a band with a reputation for being a band, in the full sense of that word.

On their first headlining tour, they performed as the backing band for their openers, and their talents as a unit were recognized further when they were picked to back up Jackson Browne and John Fogerty. David Letterman also picked the band to perform a tribute to Warren Zevon, one of his all-time favorite musicians and friends. With each song and each additional album, (released at the rate of nearly one full-length album every two years), Dawes has worked to push forward from those original comparisons to Browne and Crosby, Stills and Nash into something unafraid of the modern.

For Goldsmith, relearning the lyrics to his own songs has been a revelatory exercise.

“Some songs I didn’t even know what they were about, but now [it feels] very clear to me … That’s been a real interesting process, getting to kind of know my younger self through the songs,” Goldsmith says.

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He brings up the song “If You Let Me Be Your Anchor” from their debut.

“I always thought when I was 23 that the impulse to settle down and commit was scary and foreign and impossible. Now, hearing that song and thinking about that song, it’s always been something that I’ve wanted, I just didn’t necessarily take it seriously or acknowledge it directly. Lo and behold, here I am.”

The “here” Goldsmith is referring to is his recent marriage to actress and musician Mandy Moore last November. They had a small wedding in Moore’s backyard complete with some solemn performances from musician friends of the couple. His dad, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, a former lead singer for Tower of Power back in the ‘80s, was ready to “rock out.”

“He had a whole set planned,” Goldsmith says, laughing. “We had to just talk him into just doing three.”

In many ways, Goldsmith’s personal life is like a perfect Instagram photograph seen through a cracked screen: human beauty lost somewhere in the broken space of what surrounds it.

“I joked to my wife the other day, the better my personal life seems to get, the scarier the world around us seems to get,” Goldsmith says. “I don’t think that where this country is at negates one’s opportunity for joy and for whatever their definition of success is in their own personal life. But that doesn’t mean that what’s going on isn’t real. I have a lot of concerns and fears as everyone else does.”

Passwords is full of songs that find Goldsmith looking out from that nebulous place we all seem to be living in, caught somewhere between despair and hope, and looking for a solution.

“I feel like songs are experiences you are walking through. I think that sometimes [when] you watch a TV show or you look at a painting or whatever it is, you might walk away and you might feel elated, opened up, and refreshed, but you also might feel sick and traumatized or really dragged through the mud. I feel the same is true for songs. It’s especially true when you are singing those songs every night,” Goldsmith says.

“The kind of person I am, it doesn’t help me to sing songs that have this kind of ominous bleak attitude that there is nothing redeeming in this life or in this thought. This new record, despite how scary certain aspects of a song like ‘Living In The Future’ are, or despite the sort of sour observations on success or celebrity on a song like ‘Feed The Fire’ … there’s still hopefully a chance to glean a hopeful attitude from the singer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t want to sing it.”

It’s an undoubtedly modern record, even for the often verbose Goldsmith, with lyrics depicting a “database,” “micheladas” and the “great divide.” He says he hopes it’s political in a way that goes far beyond which political party his listeners are registered with.

“People aren’t two-dimensional … It’s never convenient figuring out why people are the way that they are,” Goldsmith says. “The further we explore that, the further we look into what might have lead someone down the path that they are on, the more questions end up getting asked then answered. And that’s OK. That’s what it means to be human. It’s much more multi-dimensional than sometimes even we want it to be.”

He describes the state of the country in terms of an unhealthy body, and he wonders about the long-term effects of our short-term “sickness.”

“Right now, we live in this world where we are thinking about the way that the system works. We are dealing with a sickness and we’re thinking about how sick we really are and what parts of us are broken on a 24/7 basis,” he says. “It’s damaging. It creates this constant anxiety and this constant low grade fear that we are all living with to whatever degree.”

Goldsmith is fighting that low grade fear the only way he’s learned how over the last 10 years: with pen and melody first, then tackling the miles between shows with his bandmates and fielding phone calls with strangers.

“As I get older, I started realizing that is part of why I do this. I need to stop shying away from the fact that I’m an extrovert. I can either fight that and try to be cooler and try to keep it close to the vest and not talk about how I feel, or I can just lean in,” Goldsmith says. “I feel like with Passwords especially, I’ve started to lean in and recognize you know what, this is who I am. Some people want to make [films like] Zootopia or Transformers or something. I want to make Noah Baumbach movies.”

“If Dawes songs aren’t earnest,” he adds, “then I don’t know what they are.”

These days, we all deserve some earnestness.


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