As local musician Mike Blair told me a few months ago before an upcoming show with his band, the Stonewalls: “The gospel of Dawes is some of the most relatable songwriting out there right now. He’s the closest to singing about life as a guy my age would feel about certain things.”
Blair was referring to Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes’ lead singer and songwriter. Blair’s praise is confirmed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Paste magazines—both of which included Dawes’ title track, “All Your Favorite Bands,” in their “Top 50 Songs of 2015” lists. American Songwriter Magazine pegged the record at number 17 on their “Top 50 Albums” list.
And so when 98.3 The Penguin and Huka Entertainment announced Dawes performance at the Brooklyn Arts Center (516 N. 4th St.), Wednesday, Dec. 9, many rejoiced.
Comprising brothers Taylor (guitar and lead vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums and background vocals), and joined by Wylie Gelber (bass), Dawes is less a member nowadays, since keyboardist Tay Strathairn left the group in late September. Thus a touch of poignancy deepens within the title track of the album, “All Your Favorite Bands”: “May all your favorite bands stay together.” After a brief break, the group eagerly returned to the road during the first week of December.
Released independently, “All Your Favorite Bands” is the second out on Dawes’ own label, HUB Records. By producing their own records, they uphold all creative and financial control.
“For a band like us, it’s amazing because we don’t have to rely on a label anyway, simply because we don’t make songs that are going to be played all around the world on the radio,” Griffin Goldsmith says over the phone, as his dog playfully vies for his attention in the background. “And we’re not opposed to that.”
The level of independence would have been impossible if it wasn’t for Dawes’ management company, Q Prime. They essentially acted as a label but really more of a supporting role. “They made this a reliable and smooth operation,” Goldsmith adds.
As most bands do, Dawes is ever-evolving and changing music. For Goldsmith and crew, how that evolution is facilitated is also important. “All Your Favorite Bands” is their fourth studio album and sets itself apart in many ways.
“This record being done live, also kind of arranged and written on the road, has allowed the songs to be integrated more easily into the set than any of our previous records,” Goldsmith says.
Though similar to their first three records (“North Hills” (2009), “Nothing Is Wrong” (2011) and “Stories Don’t End” (2013))—in that it was recorded live in the studio—according to Goldsmith “All Your Favorite Bands” culminates as a record the band’s been trying to make for years. They’re all stronger players than they’ve ever been.
“It feels like a Dawes show,” Goldsmith adds. “We spend all our time essentially on tour, and we’ve been trying to capture that on the record, and it’s not easy to do.”
Each band member has a hand in the development of Dawes’ songs. Though Taylor does most of the lyrical writing, Griffin brings an outside ear to the table and helps with instrumentals and arrangement. “He keeps me involved throughout the creation and coordination of a song; he kind of uses me as a springboard to bounce off ideas and give feedback,” Goldsmith details.
The brothers’ dynamic in the studio and on the road couldn’t be better as well. They are by blood connected, sure. But musically they gel. “We get along incredibly well, it actually makes touring amazing,” Goldsmith says. “I think since we come from the same place and same background musically, we see eye to eye on most everything.”
Some folks have interpreted their latest album’s overall tone to be more sarcastic and even bitter than others. Ken Tucker wrote in his June NPR review that it grapples with sadness but avoids downbeat ballads. While there’s a bit of pessimistic disposition in songs like “Right On Time,” it’s all a matter of individual experience and interpretation.
“It never struck me as sarcastic, but it depends on how you look at it,” Goldsmith reveals. “A lot of that subject matter is innately sad or cynical and depressing, but my brother is, ultimately, a very optimistic person.”
The last track of the record, “Now That It’s Too Late, Maria,” ended up being a loose (almost jam) session reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. Goldsmith is endeared to the tune, even though he says the recording ended up being less than a perfect outcome.
“There are tons of mistakes on [it,]” he divulges. “I think all of us at some point messed something up. There was a completely different arrangement of it, and then we sat down in the studio . . . and it became something different.”
“Don’t Send Me Away” has become a favorite of Goldsmith’s to play live. It also encapsulates a different approach to music than anything they’ve ever done—a foretelling of their evolution, perhaps.
“It always seems to me that on every record there’s kind of a bridge or one tune that hints at the next record—or where we’re headed as a band,” he notes. “I think this one is that song.”
From intimate club shows or large outdoor arenas, Goldsmith says the band thrives most in smaller settings. It’s also where they have the most fun. More people can catch the intricacies of the songs and the playing is more articulated.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be playing arenas,” he admits. “Though that’s never been the intent—our focus has always been on the quality of the music. “[Nevertheless] I think we would all love to be in a place in which we’re traveling around the world and playing for 10,000 people.”
In the early days, as far back as 2008 when they were under the moniker “Simon Dawes”—from the middle names of Taylor Goldsmith and founding member Blake Mills, who’s no longer in the band—Goldsmith and company wanted nothing more than to hop in a van for at least one tour. Where they are now seemed but a dream.
“Now that we’re here, and as fortunate as we are—and as much as we love our job and lives—we still want to get to the next level,” Goldsmith adds. “That aspiration never goes away.”
See Dawes live at the Brooklyn Arts Center on Wednesday night. Opening the show will be Durham Indie folk band, Hiss Golden Messenger. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and show starts at 7:30 p.m.