Catching up with L.A. Band Dawes

Taylor Goldsmith chats about touring with Bob Dylan, feeling at home in the recording studio, and Laurel Canyon

Look around and you’ll see Dawes everywhere. The L.A. band has opened for Bob Dylan, Mumford & Sons, and Conor Oberst. They made a cameo in Parenthood. They served as the house band for the Glen Campbell tribute concert playing with Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne, and Jenny Lewis. Currently, they’re in the midst of a run of small headlining shows and playing SOhO in Santa Barbara tonight.

Originally called Simon Dawes—after the middle names of co-founders Taylor Goldsmith and Blake Mills—the band was formed by the two friends who grew up in Malibu. The name changed after the departure of Mills, who is now a respected solo artist, in-demand producer, and “still my best friend in the whole world,” according to Goldsmith, the band’s lead singer and guitarist. We caught up with him to find out what’s new with the band.

Is Dawes more at home onstage or in the recording studio?
The records we’ve always admired feel like sessions. It sounds like [the musicians] are thinking on their feet. As much as I love bands that seem to come up with very specific keyboard lines or guitar lines and let those marinate, that’s never been how we operate. With this new record, we want to bring what we do live to the record in a way we never have before.

Sometimes people come to the show and say, “I never knew you could play guitar like that” or “I never knew you could play drums like that”—not that we’re the greatest ever—but there’s a part of me that says that’s a mistake on our part if people aren’t getting that from the records.

Before Dawes, there was Simon Dawes with Blake Mills, so lead guitar wasn’t something you had to think about.
Yeah. There’s no reason when he’s around. When we were in a band together, we were kids who figured we’d be in a band together forever. I played more keyboards. I never thought of being a lead guitarist. I’m having a blast doing it, but I’ll always be chasing guys like Blake.

Dawes is often described as the modern-day answer to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Do you think that the Laurel Canyon scene exists anymore?
No. I never did. The only time we’ve ever hung out in Laurel Canyon was when we made our first record because our friend and producer Jonathan [Wilson] was living up there. Other than that, there’s no one up there except families and professional people. I’m a big fan of the stuff that was going on there. But I consider a band like Dawes drawing as much from Paul Simon, and Willie Nelson and Tom Petty and Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and a lot of contemporary artists who mean the world to me but wouldn’t be associated with Laurel Canyon. I don’t mind when people describe it that way, but I’d never describe us as a Laurel Canyon band.

What did you guys learn opening for Bob Dylan?
There have been a number of guys from older generations—him, Elvis Costello, Benmont Tench—guys that eat, sleep, and breathe music. With Bob Dylan, it seems the guy you see on stage is the same guy when he’s on the bus and there’s no one around. He seems to have given himself entirely over to the artistic experience; it’s no coincidence he’s regarded the way he is. When you witness people like Bob Dylan day in and day out, you see not only what separates the men from the boys, but a true warrior among the men.

Did you ever speak with Dylan on that tour?
It was all over in about 30 seconds, but he was very nice. Probably one of the greatest moments of my life. He said, “It was great having you guys. You guys are a great band.” I said thanks and he said, “What’s the name of the last ballad you guys play?” I told him it’s “A Little Bit of Everything” and he said, “Oh. That’s a great song.”

When you’re home from tour, what places in Malibu or L.A. do you have to hit?
My brother and I live in Highland Park, so we hit up Hermosillo a lot. We can be there five nights in a row. We can always find a friend there even if no one’s planned to meet up, so I cherish that place.

The only place I really go in Malibu anymore is my parents’ house, but the SunLife Organics juice bar is pretty cool. It’s been changing over there, but the things that needed to stay have stayed, like Lily’s. Lily’s is the greatest breakfast burrito of all time.