Existential Irony Lurks in Dawes's New Album 'All Your Favorite Bands'

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Photo by Dan Martensen

Taylor Goldsmith and his brother Griffin have just arrived in Boise, Idaho, a couple of days ahead of their Dawes bandmates, Wylie Gelber and Tay Strathairn. The Goldsmiths had flown from Vermont, where they’d attended a wedding, and Goldsmith states he’s happy to be back on the road and touring for the band’s fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, which saw its release on June 2. Following that, Goldsmith immediately points out that the majority of people have got Boise wrong, at least as far as its pronunciation is concerned: “I spent a long time saying that incorrectly, but it’s Boi-cee, not Boi-zee,” he informs. “I always thought it was pronounced with a Z, but we were told by folks here that’s wrong.”

The frontman for this Los Angeles–based band is soon pointing out something else, too, something that’s more directly of concern for him: He doesn’t quite understand some recent comments singling out All Your Favorite Bands as a nostalgic album with songs about the past. To him, he simply writes it as it comes.

“It’s funny: People tell me it seems to be a record that deals with looking back and with memories,” he says. “But isn’t that what most records do? Isn’t that what most songs do? I thought that’s what the whole thing was. I thought that’s what songs do.”

When it comes to songwriting, Goldsmith prefers the Seinfeld approach and just lets it roll out without an agenda. It’s partly due to the music he grew up listening to: “A lot of the artists we look up to — like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bob Dylan, and the Grateful Dead — it doesn’t seem like they were trying to achieve anything. They seem to let the album present itself as far as what the feeling is going to be. That’s how it is for us.”

Produced by close friend David Rawlings at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, All Your Favorite Bands does have something of a nostalgic feel, and there’s a tinge of sentimentality to the title track, which Goldsmith wrote with country music rebel Jonny Fritz, a/k/a Jonny Corndawg. Though the title track is the only song on the record to bring in an outside writer, it elevated itself to central position with the beneficent line: “May all your favorite bands stay together.” A line so soothingly simple and softly sung, one might miss its irony.

“That line is such a beautiful one,” Goldsmith muses. “It’s so representative of how we felt about the record. It’s recognizing an innocence lost on some level, or it’s grappling with something that happens and how to deal with it. 'May all your favorite bands stay together' — there’s a sadness to it, because our favorite bands never stay together. They never do. And sometimes when they do they’re just weird perversions of their former selves. That felt like the representation of what the album is about: trying to maintain some positive acceptance among all the bullshit.”

At a deeper level the song is about change and seeking constants in your life, or presumed constants, because even those are not permanent. Perhaps it isn’t nostalgia that seeps from the pores of Dawes songs, but a quietly seething existential angst. But Dawes hide such artsy notions in familiar-sounding dusty West Coast country-rock, echoing a legacy stretching back as far as half a century (check those favorite bands), and, as yet, you won’t hear dance beats, you won’t hear electronics, or even dissonance and drone. There are no trendy curlicues. Despite any existential undertow, Dawes aren't in the art-rock pack.

“We’re very aware we’re not part of the cool kids. It’s not how our band is identified. I think we really revel in that. A lot of artists, like Bruce Springsteen, who is one of my favorites, when you read about him, he was not always the top of people’s lists. But by sticking around and continuing to make great records, even at a time when his music was not all that relevant, here in 2015 he’s one of the most revered artists still making music — and it’s just because of his sheer commitment.”

Yet, as cool as they shouldn’t be, they are, and thousands of fans and even other musicians — like his pal Marcus Mumford and T Bone Burnett, with whom Goldsmith made last year’s New Basement Tapes album and film — clearly think so.

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“Maybe we don’t make really cool music right now, like — you name it: whoever the cool band is out there in Brooklyn,” Goldsmith continues. “But if we’re fifteen records deep and still committed to being a band and all the changes therein, people might look up and say, 'Look at those guys, they’ve made a bit of a dynasty for themselves.' ”

Dawes perform July 27 at Central Park SummerStage. For ticket information, click here.

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