“I think for me, being the songwriter, it sometimes feels like you are doing bumper bowling. You keep hitting all these obstacles,” says Taylor Goldsmith, leader of the California folk-rock band Dawes. “You have to straighten yourself out and get in the groove and just do what is natural to you.”
Dawes still delivers songs that put listeners in mind of the Laurel Canyon scene, but Goldsmith has honed his writing to such a degree the songs are even more sophisticated, introspective and, yes, natural-sounding than they were on the previous three albums.
It’s likely no surprise that Goldsmith writes about the fallacy of “charms and riches” lasting (“Waiting for Your Call”) and spends almost 10 minutes reflecting on heartache (“Now That It’s Too Late, Maria”). He prides himself on writing songs that find him at his most “comfortable and confident” but stretching the boundaries—or in his words, hitting those pesky bumpers—to better express his innermost thoughts. The trick, he says, is not to overthink the process.
“For all the inventiveness and innovation of Neil Young, he won’t tell you to go join a jazz band,” Goldsmith says of the legend’s advice on how to stretch creatively. “This is a process that never stops and I’ll be happy never to be done with it. I hope to be honing my craft for my entire career [because it] involves a lot of searching to understand who I am. But somewhere along the line, you also have to remember this is super simple.”
Goldsmith is well-schooled in such lessons. His dad, Lenny Goldsmith, is a former member of Tower of Power and Sweat Hogs. In a way, Goldsmith received a graduate education in music when he was just a child not just from his father but also from the family’s musical pals, including Miles Joseph, one of the best-known members of Bob Dylan’s famous gigging bands, who gave him his first electric guitar.
Talking to Goldsmith, it’s clear he still immerses himself in learning from others. He speaks of Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who often approaches albums with a stash of 40 or 50 songs. “That was so interesting. I’ve never been one to go into the studio with a shitload of songs,” he says, reveling in various artists’ processes. “For me, I pretty consistently have the same amount of music. It’s never a matter of if a song isn’t working, it’s more a matter of us not nailing a performance.”
Some who hear the bands’ latest record might turn their heads at that last statement because Goldsmith and his bandmates have a well-earned reputation of nailing each song. That’s certainly true on All Your Favorite Bands, which was recorded as close to live as possible.
Goldsmith credits producer Dave Rawlings with helping him bring his often sardonic yet always-thoughtful words, chords and melodies to fruition.
“Dave is a genius,” Goldsmith says. “When he wanted to talk about a subdivision or a beat or an added note…he really got into specifics because he knew how this band operates. It felt like he was a fifth member of our band.”
And an especially creative one at that. Goldsmith credits Rawlings with strengthening the songs overall but seems especially pleased with Rawlings’ influence on “Things Happen,” which originally clocked in at over six minutes long.
“It had this bridge, pre-chords, a chorus and these lengthy sections. There was so much there—it was overinflated,” he says. “It was really fun to write, and I like writing more rather than looking at a page and saying ‘This needs more.’ I’m a stubborn songwriter, though, it hurts to cut…and he was fighting my stubbornness as we stripped it down…Now I’m so glad it underwent the changes. It makes more sense than it ever did now that all the fat has been trimmed.”