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Interview: Dawes Brings It All Back Home

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Fri, Jun 17, 2011 at 2:46 PM
click to enlarge Dawes: The boys are back in town
  • Dawes: The boys are back in town

Most bands might take pains to avoid having their new record described as "something my dad would like." But when it comes to L.A.'s own Dawes, who play a homecoming show Saturday at the Orpheum, they totally dig it.

"I guess we do draw kind of an older crowd," drummer Griffin Goldsmith told us en route to a gig in Portland. "We had a dude tell us that this was the kind of record he could listen to with his dad. I thought that was cool because not only was this young dude enjoying it, but so could a generation or two above him. It's cool to realize that a lot of people listening to our band are the same people who are listening to Robbie."

That's Robbie, as in legendary guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson of The Band, for whom Dawes served as the backing combo during several gigs this year.

"That was pretty surreal. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. It couldn't be more important to us, not just as an experience playing with a legendary artist, but one who happens to be a hugely influential musician on us as a band," Goldsmith said.

The quartet--comprised of Goldsmith, his brother, singer/songwriter Taylor, bassist Wylie Gelber and keyboardist Tay Strathairn--have been rubbing musical elbows with rock n' roll greats (Jackson Browne and Benmont Trench of The Heartbreakers, to name a few) for a couple years now, and it shows on their sophomore effort "Nothing Is Wrong," which dropped this month on Dave Matthews' ATO Records.

Still true to the Laurel Canyon-folk roots that drew comparisons to C.C.R. and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on their aptly-titled 2009 debut "North Hills," "Nothing Is Wrong" has the tightness, maturity and confidence of both a tour-seasoned band and of the young men who've grown wiser from the travel.

In contrast to "North Hills," the new record was written and arranged on tour and recorded with producer Jonathan Wilson in between stings of heavy touring.

"[That made] going into record easier and more about capturing our live energy. Jonathan's a really organic, hands-off dude--I would play something, he would layer it. There was a focus on getting the purest sound possible," Goldsmith said.

So how did a record born from the road impact the band's revered "classic El Lay" sound? "I think being an L.A. band is something that was tagged onto the band, it's not something we've been conscious of," Goldsmith admitted. "L.A. in its own way has affected us as musicians, and Taylor as a songwriter, but if that community of musicians existed elsewhere I think we'd still be in the spot we're at now."

Interesting, then, that that distinctly L.A. brand of weary sunset melancholy is clearer in Dawes' sound than ever. Maybe that's because you only really feel Los Angeles once you've left it:

On the standout "Time Spent in Los Angeles," Taylor croons about a love-struck encounter with a fellow Angeleno in Tennessee: "You got that special kind of sadness/You got that tragic set of charms/That only comes from time spent in Los Angeles/Makes me wanna wrap you in my arms."

But this ain't another cliché about another oh-so-sad-and-jaded L.A. girl; it's a song about a struggle to define what it means to come from a city with an ever-changing face--a song that's as much a love letter to L.A. as it as a lament, and that refreshingly just gets that relationship right: "I used to think someone would love me/For the places I have been/But now I know what I've been missing/And I'm going home to make it mine."

Dawes comes home with Brett Dennen this Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater.

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