Taylor Goldsmith has never been shy about saying exactly what he’s thinking—or putting it into song. When we meet at Brooklyn’s Tørst, owned by Evil Twin Brewing founder Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, his terms before engaging me in any conversation about his band, his life, and what they’re drinking were made abundantly clear.
“I’m not answering shit until I have a beer,” says Goldsmith with a laugh.
When I join Taylor, Griffin Goldsmith—his brother and the band’s drummer— bassist Wylie Gelber, and keyboardist Lee Pardini, they’re enjoying the second day of a two-day break in the middle of their nationwide tour opening for Jeff Lynne’s ELO.
Breaks have been few and far between for the California-based folk rock band, which is known for its throwback Laurel Canyon sound. As their musical output has increased, their songs and songwriting have progressed, too. Goldsmith has left his lovelorn 20s behind and recently married actress and singer Mandy Moore. That, paired with the band’s quest to evolve musically, has given way to a new iteration of Dawes on the their sixth album, Passwords.
As Taylor sips a Mean Old Tom from Maine Beer Company, Griffin a Shacksbury Arlo cider, Lee a Qualified Pils from Suarez Brewing, and Wylie a glass of NYC’s finest tap water, we discuss their evolution as songwriters, how they embrace their past while looking toward the future, and why Ken Kesey would make an excellent drinking buddy.
What’s it been like getting to watch Jeff Lynne’s ELO live each night?
Griffin: The show is so refined and dialed-in that it’s not that dissimilar at all from night to night. But really what stands out is just the body of work of their 20 to 30 hits. The amount of quality tunes, and recognizable tunes he has is remarkable.
Taylor: Yeah, he can play “Evil Woman” second because that’s how many hits he has.
Lee: There’s at least 15 to 20 more songs that people are walking away wishing he played.
Taylor: Them constructing a setlist is more like deciding which hits not to play, which is a good problem to have.
From a setlist perspective, how did you guys approach creating a set for your run of shows with them?
Taylor: On one hand we have a new record, so we try to showcase that to a certain extent. In this case that means only playing two songs off of it because there’s only eight songs in the set and we have six albums. If there’s a chance for someone to recognize a Dawes song, we want to play that.
Clearly you guys aren’t a band that wants to stray away from what they’ve done in the past, when many bands try to focus strictly on who they are now and that identity.
Taylor: Yeah because there’s a difference between evolution and growth and just downright abandonment. Because it is reactionary. [For some bands] their new music is a fuck you to their old music. And with Dawes, while things might change and we might be coming from a different place, it’s never a refutation of the music that came before. It’s never negating it. I’m really proud of the fact that we still like all of our music.
If you guys could have a beer with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Taylor: Thomas Pynchon. Just to finally get eyes on that guy. He’s a great writer but also, like, he disappeared after his first novel in the 60s and yet he lives on the Upper West Side, supposedly—nobody knows for sure.
So you’re using this more as a “find your friend” opportunity than anything?
Taylor: Yes! But in the meantime he’s written all these epic novels that people want to have all these ideas about and they interpret in their own ways but he’s never done an interview. The only recording of his voice ever is on a recording of The Simpsons because he played himself because he was a fan of The Simpsons. [Editor’s note: That’s not entirely accurate.]
Griffin: Maybe Ken Kesey. Seems like he’d like you to get drunk or we’d have more than one.
Lee: I mean, yeah, if we’re talking writers just recently deceased, I’d have loved to have a beer with Philip Roth.
Griffin: Or David Foster Wallace.
Taylor: That would’ve been a good one. Wouldn’t have gotten a word in but that would have been fun.
Griffin: Carl Jung would have been a good one. I feel like he’d have a lot to say about me…or anyone for that matter.
Lee: Someone like John Lennon I would have loved to have a beer with.
Lee: He was a singer…a songster. Early 60s…he was in the Plastic Ono Band.
So how do you guys interact with beer or other types of alcohol while you’re on tour?
Griffin: Not before shows for me but it’s ubiquitous in the music world. It’s pretty ubiquitous backstage and on the bus whether we all partake. There are nights where it’s happening.
Taylor: I don’t really drink at all on tour. Like a little bit today or last night because we had two days off in a row. Yesterday was like my first drink in two weeks or something. I mean when we were younger I could drink eight beers, play a show, drink more beers, go to bed, wake up, and do it all again and it wouldn’t really occur to me what’s going on. And now that would destroy me. I would really let down an audience if I did that. (Laughs)
Rock and roll also has this certain identity crisis right now, which I think is awesome, where it used to be associated with a certain level of arrogance and a certain party attitude that’s just embarrassing to think about now. Like, as cool as Van Halen is, those David Lee Roth videos now are just cringe-worthy. Whereas at the time it was the epitome of cool. Like Lee and I just read the Bruce Springsteen book and when he talks about, like, “Yeah I wanted to play four hours each night so I worked out every day and didn’t drink and wrote songs every night. It’s like, this isn’t as tragic-romantic of a story as the David Lee Roths and stuff. But it’s why he’s 68 and he’s still the boss.
Lee: But you know, a lot of famously excessive bands are getting older and they have to change their consumption levels. People are getting fired from those bands.
Griffin: And the other night we were watching that show Tales from the Tour Bus, and it’s so incredible. When Waylon [Jennings], despite having force-fed the crew and the band and everyone around him insane amounts of pills and cocaine, when he got sober he told everyone, “Tell people if you’re wired you’re fired.” So his whole crew was put on notice overnight.
Taylor: I think also with social networks that mystique of “how can this person possibly be living whatever life they’re living?” doesn’t enter your head anymore as a listener. I listened to Neil Young’s A Night at the Roxy and he’s disheveled and filthy and his clothes are torn up and coming off, and he’s up there saying funny shit like, ”This one’s for all the cops out there, keep doing what you do,” and then he plays “Rolling on Their Number.” And it’s hilarious and the whole thing makes you feel like he stepped out of a trash bag in the woods to play the show and he’s going back there when it’s over. And that’s what our impression of musicians was. When you don’t know that behind-the-scenes world, and you don’t always have phones in people’s faces, you did assume the party must be never-ending and they must never have slept.
So what do you guys drink typically? Anything special on the rider?
Griffin: Yeah on the rider we get usually a bottle of Patrón, which I’d be happy to never lay eyes on again. (Laughs)
Lee: Beer-wise, we keep it pretty light in general. If we’re gonna get a 24-pack, in general it’s going to be Tecate or something like that that’s more drinkable one after the other. If you’re going to be hanging out for four hours and you’re going to be drinking beer it definitely enables a bit longer of an evening.
How do you guys spend your down time on tour?
Taylor: When we play our headlining shows, I really—and I’m not always able to do this—but I like to read a lot, maybe watch a movie, and just do as little as possible so by the time we do hit the stage I feel particularly restless and bored almost. Because sometimes if we’re in a city where we have a lot of friends and a lot to do I’ve talked all day and I’m kind of tired. So a conservation of energy is actually a huge consideration.
Lee: I listen to way more music on tour than at home. Like at home I have to carve out time to actually check out something new or finally dig into some of the records I bought on tour, and it’s kind of a scheduled moment of a day. Whereas on the road it’s such an easy thing to go through a band’s entire catalogue in like three days. You can listen to two to three albums a day and it’s a great way to spark some ideas.
Taylor: Oh, it’s so helpful for me to listen to records before a show.
Lee: I put on any Bruce [Springsteen] record and I’m legit amped and excited to play.
Taylor: Yeah any time I listen to [The Grateful Dead’s] Live/Dead that does such favors for me when I start playing guitar at the show. Noticeable difference for me.
Lee: Listening to the Dead on tour kind of brings me back to center as far as what’s important when playing the show. It’s about the community on stage, all just being on the same wavelength musically and trying to shoot that out into the crowd.
Dawes will begin a 22-date U.S. tour on January 18, 2019 in support of Passwords.