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Dawes: North Hills, That Delta Spirit and The Grateful Dead

Just shy of a year ago, LA Americana/soul quartet Dawes’ freshman full-length North Hills hit shelves. The album’s authentic vintage sound made a ruckus amongst critics, found its way to the hearts of instant fans, earned the band gigs and a performance on The Late Show With Craig Ferguson. The band has toured with Delta Spirit, Deer Tick, Langhorne Slim and other acclaimed acts. Songwriter, singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith also went to Nashville on a whim with pals John McCauley and Matthew Vascquez under the name MG&V (McCauley, Goldsmith & Vascquez) to write and record an album that has yet to be released. In the following interview Goldsmith shares thoughts on how his songwriting has benefited from McCauley’s unpredictable disposition, the inspiration of the Laurel Canyon sound, working with producer Jonathan Wilson, performing at Bonnaroo and playing with the thought of getting to jam with the Grateful Dead.

Tell me a bit about how you guys got together, starting with Simon Dawes—your high school band.

Yeah, Simon Dawes broke up when I was 21 and our bass player Wylie was 18 and my little brother Griffin, who had always been a part of Simon Dawes, was 16. He was still in high school, but we started rehearsing the Dawes stuff, new songs. ‘Cause even if Simon Dawes broke up, Wylie and I still wanted to push music. And so we started playing around LA, found our fourth member [Alex Casnoff], and that’s sort of how it switched gears. A lot of the Simon Dawes songs that were on the record were already written, and when we turned into Dawes we still played them. “Bedside Manner” and “Peace in the Valley” were played in Simon Dawes.

And how did you meet Alex?

He was going to school in New York, but we knew him. Once he’d gotten back to LA and was playing in some bands around LA. And we knew he was a great keyboard player, so that’s how we met him.

You’ve been described as being inspired by the Laurel Canyon sound. Are there specific bands that inspired Dawes?

It was never an intentional thing; it was never like “Oh, we like California music because we’re from California.” It just turned out that a lot of the music that we loved tended to have their records made in and around Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles. Bands like The Band, Little Feet, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Jackson Browne: there was a lot of awesome LA music that for whatever reason permeates California and maybe resonates in Californians a little more—we were just really drawn to it, and then we realized that we listened to a lot of California music sort of after the fact…

I also heard that some of you guys are into the Grateful Dead. Are they an influence?

Oh yeah. Another California band, but not LA. Actually I think everyone in the band respects it, but me in particular. I am a huge fan of theirs. I love that band and I feel like their career is—despite what you feel about the music­— their career is what every musician dreams of, to always stay on tour, and play three hours a night and kind of have a very loyal audience no matter what you choose to do.

How did you guys get in touch with your producer, Jonathan Wilson?

We met him a couple of times around LA, but I really didn’t know him that well. And he didn’t know us that well either and he really went on a limb, because he was like, “Well, if you want, you can make your record with me and come to the house.” And we were like, “Ok.” He said we could start in several months or whatever. Between then we had some shows. We invited him to every show and he didn’t come to any of them. And when we got to his house, the first day we started recording, was the first time he’d ever heard Dawes. And he specifically said, “I intentionally didn’t want to be familiar with the material, so I could really have fresh ears in terms of serving as a producer.” It ended up being really cool. He let us do what we do, and we let him do what he does. He got the most amazing sound, making the experience streamlined and easy for us and he didn’t try to re-direct it like some producers do—they consider the project their opportunity for their stamp on the world, you know. That stuff sort of bothers me, I feel you got to let a songwriter do what he’s doing, and a producer’s job—if the songwriter’s clear on what he wants to say—it’s the producer’s job to make that experience as easy as possible and as inspired as possible.

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