The California four-piece Dawes has captured audiences with its low-key folk rock sound, especially their anthem “When My Time Comes.” We caught up with front man Taylor Goldsmith via e-mail. The band is currently finishing up work on a new album.
“When My Time Comes” is a really compelling song, and it looks like it’s doing pretty well on YouTube. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the song?
“When My Time Comes” has definitely been the song people have drifted to most. If I had to guess, it’d be because it’s a bit quicker; it’s a coming-of-age song that doesn’t get too specific, allowing everyone to potentially relate; and also because part of the chorus is wordless, and that is always easier to sing along with.
As to the genesis of the song, I was 22 when I wrote it and I definitely felt aware of the fact that there wasn’t too much life experience I was drawing from to base my material on, so this song was more about admitting that and trying to open myself up to whatever’s in store, rather than pretend I already have a handle on it.
A lot of the press about you compares the band to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but I hear a lot more post-punk undertones in the way you put songs together. Does the comparison annoy or flatter you?
It’s very flattering. CSN+Y is on every classic rock station and are responsible for some of everyone’s favorite songs, so that isn’t a comparison we mind. The post-punk thing is interesting. I definitely am into coming off that way, but I am always listening to the structures of more classic songwriters’ work. Guys like Bob Dylan, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson—who use simple structures and therefore find different ways to make the songs unique through the lyrics or arrangement of that simple structure. But my key influences are always changing. I’m willing to give anything a listen and try to wrap my head around why or how it moves anyone.
Which comes first: melody, lyrics, or song structure?
I always get the structure and the melody worked out and always need a complete idea before I can start any lyrics. Sometimes I have the title before anything and will hold on to that until that leads to the rest of the song.
The kind of group harmonies you guys rock can be pretty challenging. How do you put them together in rehearsal?
I write the harmonies as I’m writing the rest of the song. Griffin [Goldsmith, Taylor’s brother] is maybe the most musical guy in the band, so he often elaborates on harmonies and sometimes adds new ones and has a real good understanding of my melodic sensibilities. He and I have been singing together since we can remember, and our progress with Tay has been quick. For a guy who wasn’t really a singer before this band, he’s really doing great.
The digital age has both increased exposure and also hunger for authentic experiences like live shows. Do you have any thoughts about where Dawes fits in that range, from a living-room old-time square-dance to the club scene to Taylor Swift? Where do you put yourself in the musical tradition?
It’s sort of a scary time for real live music, I think. At this point when people can create sounds that are more unbelievable and larger than life, why would a kid who’s brought up into that world get off on hearing Mike Campbell play a true rock and roll guitar solo? Now that there are so many more ways to be expressive (but debatably by lesser and lesser degrees), something that’s more direct, like a rock and roll instrument, might not feed someone’s need.
So far there have been enough people to still appreciate what it means to play rock and roll, and I hope they all stick it out with us, but there was a time when a rock-and-roll band coming through town was easily the coolest thing anyone could think of doing that night. Now with iPads and the Internet and any movie available at any time and all these other qualities of the age we live in, a rock and roll show has a lot more to stand up against.