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Picking Up Crumbs: Dawes

12 Feb


Last year about this time, in the midst of a remorseless snap of bitter cold intent on sapping all color and joy from life, I rolled into the 7th Street Entry in a towering foul mood. I was late, I was miserable, everyone around me was blistering incompetent and you know what, I don’t want to hear about your shitty day either. I was bound and determined to be pissed off when some laid-back good-looking guys from California stepped up on stage and started singing their songs. Not brilliant, revolutionary tunes that shake the fundament, but honest, straightforward, sharply-written tunes that re-assure you that the fundament is there. Earthy tunes, resigned but defiant; whatever happens is going to happen, you’ll see it through. Country tunes and folk tunes that might have been written in decades past by some dude belly up at a bar trying to find something universal in his own shit. No way was I going to stay pissed after that.

Those good-looking laid-back guys from California were the quartet Dawes, whose frontman Taylor Goldsmith I had the pleasure of interviewing for the A.V. Club before their sold-out show with Corey Chisel & the Wandering Sons at the Triple Rock Social Club tonight. There were two parts of our conversation that I particularly liked didn’t make it into the final cut of that interview (brevity being both my enemy and friend) and so I wanted to include those here. The first came after the question of influences, where Goldsmith brought up Leonard Cohen and Will Oldham as writers he looked to, which I then followed up with a question of how Goldsmith works now, especially with the pressures of touring. Goldsmith elaborated that it was difficult, saying;

It takes me a long time to make sure I’m getting across exactly what I want to get across. I realize the songs, the bad ideas, before they even come to fruition, so by my own standards I wind up writing all the songs that I want to write. It’s not like I write five and pick one, I start five and finish one. I’ll finish a verse and a chorus and I’ll wait for up to a month even before it becomes clear where the song should go and what the other lyrics are going to be. Sometimes Ill get a line a day and feel very productive. I don’t like to use those filler lines, like “Oh, this will do for now and then I’ll come back to it,” I kind of wait for it.

Patience in writing, that the process takes time to coalesce, is one of those constant struggles and the combination of winter and deadlines can be a killer mix. Learning how to do something else for a while is one of those invaluable and incredibly difficult things to learn in any artistic process, but one that can pay enormous dividends. Leave it to the Californians to tell us to let go for awhile. The other was a question about the two big pushes that Dawes have had for their debut disc, North Hills. They have been featured twice in Rolling Stone, getting the old-media stamp of approval, and also a bunch of exposure through Daytrotter.com, the free music and review website that records intimate sessions with bands and could only exist in the Internet age. So the question is, How did those relationships come about? Goldsmith’s response is perhaps unsurprising, but also telling;

With Rolling Stone, that was a mind-blowing surprise, we couldn’t really believe that. Our publicist is an awesome guy and he has a relationship over there so he brought us and Rolling Stone together. Obviously they had to like it, so we’re grateful they like our music but he was great at making sure they gave us a listen. As for Daytrotter, we knew Daytrotter from our old days as Simon Dawes [Goldsmith’s previous band]. Sean [Moeller] from Daytrotter is probably one of the most friendly guys in the world. He deals with so much music coming through his doors and he just doesn’t forget anything. He knows every session that he did, he knows every writeup that he did for each session and he just remembers everybody. So when I e-mailed him 4 years after we did the Simon Dawes Daytrotter session, he totally remembered me, remembered my name and then we went in and did the session and he was super cool and super friendly and we just became buddies. I was just in Nashville for a month and he flew down to hang out for three days. He took me to Kris Kristofferson’s show because he had just done a Kristofferson session. He’s just the nicest guy in the world and I just love him as a dude so were lucky enough that our relationship professionally can benefit from that as well.

It’s unsurprising that Rolling Stone came through their press agent because that’s what you hire a good PR person for, to act as a broker between slower-moving and more impersonal institutions. It’s unsurprising that Daytrotter.com’s support came from a personal relationship, because the best promise of the Internet Age is quick, direct communication between individuals that circumvents those old brokers and systems. It should be also unsurprising that both those practices are still alive and well, despite reports of diminished influence and imminent demise, because they are ostensibly the same thing- people knowing people, just at increased degrees of remove. It is telling because, like Dawes’ music, this is not a revelation but a reassurance. Regardless of which side of the “death of a medium” old-/new-media scheme you may fall on (or if you dismiss it as mostly lede-grabbing, fear-mongering hyperbole) to know that if you are doing what you want to do, do it well, and talk to the right people you can fight off the sting of winter death and share with others, and that should count for something in business, life and art.

***UPDATE 12/13/2010***

Didn’t disappoint, not in the slightest, no siree. They opened up the night backing solo act Jason Boesel (and may have been the most redeeming factor of that set) and then tore into their own material. They played a lot of North Hills, but then also some brand new material, including “Time Spent in Los Angeles”, whose chorus shows that even on the road their thinking of home: “You’ve got that special kind of sadness/You’ve got a tragic set of charms/That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles/Makes me want to wrap you in my arms”. Here are some videos for your edification, and if you missed them this time, they promised to be back soon and they will be at South By Southwest in Austin in March, if you are lucky enough to be there.

Dawes- “Give Me Time” from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Dawes- “If I Wanted Someone” from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

Dawes- “When My Time Comes” from CakeIn15 on Vimeo.

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