Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith on the "L.A. Sound," Warren Zevon, and The Big Pink
Nothing is Wrong, the sophomore album from Los Angeles rock 'n' roll band Dawes, is an earnest effort. There are times you wonder if it's too earnest, to forthcoming about its mellow, sun-drenched intentions.
But the album works, charming right past your cynicism, with golden-hued tracks like the Band-recalling "Million Dollar Bill" and the propulsive "The Way You Laugh" (which recalls prime sides by The Traveling Wilburys). On opening track, "Time Spent in Los Angeles," singer/songwriter sings "You've caught that special kind of sadness/you've got that tragic set of charms/that only comes from time spent in Los Angeles," and the lyric sounds an awful lot like the album's mission statement.
Goldsmith and I spoke about the classic "L.A. sound," Jackson Browne's advice regarding Warren Zevon inspiration, and demystifying the legend of Big Pink studios.
Dawes are scheduled to open for Blitzen Trapper on Monday, October 10, at the Crescent Ballroom.
Up on the Sun: I've been spending time listening to Nothing is Wrong and Blitzen Trapper's American Goldwing, and I think you guys make a pretty natural pairing.
Taylor Goldsmith: Right on.
Do you get sick of hearing your records referred to as retro or "looking back"? Does that bother you?
It doesn't bother us, but that's definitely not the goal. It's not like, 'Let's play things that used to be cool and isn't really relevant anymore.' To us it's relevant. To us it's...if you have a good song, and expressive playing, it doesn't really matter what era it's from. It doesn't matter if you're inventing a new genre. I feel like when Ryan Adams and Alison Krauss got started, or something, I'm doubt there was anyone [saying] 'Oh my God, I've never heard this before.' But at the same time, it was compelling, you know? So who cares.
A good song is a good song, that's as simple as it is. That said, the record does have the feel of a lot of my favorite records. I like the warmth and I hear the L.A. Laurel Canyon stuff. For me, those records have a sound that really resonates. I feel like your record has some of that sound.
You guys are from Los Angeles, so...
We're from L.A. We love those L.A. records, [but] it's not like would put a Joni Mitchell song on and were like, 'Let's match that snare tone.' It was more like, 'Let's get the past sounds we can.' There was no conscious harkening to other things. We just wanted to make it sound as could as we could. We record on two-inch tape, so I'm sure that has to do with it. But otherwise, we would set up, the producer would mic it up, and we would just try and make it sound nice to us.
Did you guys record a lot of the record together live?
Yeah. All the bass and drums, and in some cases the guitar and lead vocal and piano. We definitely all played together.
Jackson Browne appears on the record. You guys have done some work with him, correct?
I heard the Warren Zevon cover you guys did ["Play it All Night"] with Browne.
He's a big hero.
I feel a little bad bringing up all these other names in regards to what you guys do, but your take on that Zevon song really sounded like it was coming from a place of love and admiration?
Yeah, totally. I remember, there was a song I had written, and I told Jackson, 'I don't know if this is too Zevon influenced, and he was like, You can't have too much Zevon influence. The more Zevon the better, it's cool.
Right. I feel like he's one of those guys who managed to say things in a very plain way, but your record has that immediacy. It feels to me like the lyrics aren't obscured behind layers of metaphors; they are very direct.
That's something that I love. I like hearing a song and, I mean, not knowing exactly what it's about, but I like having a sense that like, sometimes it's hard for me when I don't know what a song is about.
You want to mean something to a listener the same way it means something to you.
That's important for me.
When we last spoke with you, you guys had done a performance at The Big Pink.
We did that for this TV pilot they were trying to get off the ground, of bands coming in and recording there, and we were the band chosen for the pilot episode. It's fun. Eventually, we worked with Robbie [Robertson, The Band] and he was like, 'Why did you guys go there? That place sounds terrible. We only worked there because it was the only place we could afford, it wasn't like it was some magical place.' I was like, that's real funny, because all us young guys romanticized about how cool that place is, and he was like, 'Yeah, we just couldn't get any better.'