Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith on jamming with legends and the unknown art of songwriting

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Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith formed Dawes in 2009. The band's Los Angeles ties typically elicit comparisons to other California rock bands, such as the Eagles and Buffalo Springfield.

Well, yeah. Dawes draws inspiration from the roots-rock bands of yesteryear. But it doesn't mimic those classic California sounds. The foursome takes the "rock-and-roll-with-it, man" vibe, and build on it — writing lyrically rich songs with buttery harmonies. Dawes is at the Grinders stage this weekend, on Saturday the 25, and we recently spoke with Taylor Goldsmith (songwriter, guitar, vocals) and asked him about his songwriting process, how he feels when performing with legendary musicians, and how Dawes maintains its tight-knit, family-like bond.

The Pitch: While the band has only been around for the last 4-ish years, you guys have worked with some amazing people. Who was the first artist that made you step back and say, "Wow."

Taylor Goldsmith: I think the first time that ever happened was when we were at our producer's house. He was having a jam and there were a bunch of musicians there. And there was one night when Benmont Tench was there, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And I remember I was playing piano while he was playing organ, or it was the other way around, he was playing piano and I was playing organ, but I was definitely, like, Wow, this is insane. That was incredible. And, so, two years later to have him come play on some songs on our record was really cool. But I mean it's never really — that feeling has never dulled at all. When we were around Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne, or John Fogerty, it was always, like, This is insane. I can't believe we're in the presence of someone who has meant so much to us musically.

Storytelling seems to be at the root of all your songs. They’re so detailed and intricate. How do you come at each song? Do you write them like stories, or like a personal narrative?

Sometimes it's just trying to illuminate an impression that i have. And them sometimes it's like a linear story. Songs like "A Little Bit of Everything" or "So Well." And then other times with "The Way You Laugh" or "When My Time Comes," it's more of just some overarching line of thought that I'm trying to follow. And I can't even always really control it, like even with writing this new album. As of now, at least, with the songs I have so far it's not really narrative, it's much more along those lines of "When My Time Comes." Something like that. Where it's not, like, it's something that has a beginning, middle and an end and it has an arch to it, but it's not really, like, here are the characters and here's what happens. And it's not like a story. And the more I think about how I write a song the less I think I know how to.

I think the thing with writing for anybody is to achieve something that you didn't think you could have. So there are moments when I'm like, Wow, I don't remember how that came about. And then it's like, Well, maybe I should stop thinking about it and stop questioning it, and just stay open to things like that.

I believe I read that you've had people come up to you and mention how your songs have touched their lives. Do those experiences inspire you to keep on creating?

It definitely reminds me why I'm doing it and what's important about all of this. And, yeah, sometimes, I remember, we were doing a show in LA and we had finished our first record, but we hadn't gone on tour for our second one yet, maybe we hadn't even recorded. And a friend of mine {came up to me}. We were about to leave in about a month and a half for a tour, and he came up to me and was like, "Hey man, don't forget your way back home." And I was like, OK. That's an interesting thing to say to somebody. And then I wrote the song "Way Back Home," and it was informed by my relationship with someone talking about the music. So that definitely happens all the time.

It seems like family is really important to your music. Is that similar to how your bandmates relate to family? Is the band itself similar to a family?

Well, yeah, I think it wouldn't work otherwise. I see bands, you know, like, famous bands, and they are so successful and yet I know that they don't like each other. Or they didn't like each other before they broke up, or something like that. And it's a crazy thing because I would rather be in Dawes any day than in one of the most famous bands in the world where we don't get along. Because that kind of stress is so impossible. Whereas with us, we all love each other so much, we all are each others' best friends, and if we weren't, I wouldn't event want to do this. There are times where we'll be closer than others, but we always stand by each other. We make sure all four of us are happy. It's what makes sense because you don't play music to be stressed and not have fun.

Dawes. Crossroads KC Saturday, August 25. Door time for the all-ages show is 7 p.m. Tickets are $19.50 (general admission), $29.50 (bleachers) and $61.50 (VIP). Support from William Elliott Whitmore and Quiet Corral.

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