The L.A.-based band Dawes has built their singular near-decade-long legacy on integrating a strong indie-rock influence with a Laurel Canyon harmonic folk-rock. The mix has given them a strong following among millennials and aging baby boomers alike, counting Jackson Browne and Alabama Shakes’ Brittney Howard among their fans and collaborators. Their is a formula that has served them well since brothers Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith first formed the band in 2009 after the break-up of Taylor’s former band, Simon Dawes, a collaboration with Blake Mills.
But, with the release of their newest album, We’re All Going to Die, things have changed.
Call it a growth spurt, a transition, or a breakaway from the constant labeling as a “throwback band,” which Rolling Stone called them not so long ago. The album catapults them into new territory, one where the sign posts could have been created by Van Morrison, Brian Wilson, Prince, and even, dare I say, The Beatles. Indeed, We’re All Gonna Die is a landmark work similar to the kind of leap that found The Beatles moving from their established trademark sound toward Rubber Soul and into Sgt. Pepper-land.
Not that this album comes close to having the same kind of cultural impact as Sgt. Pepper, but this is a very personal triumph for a band that many thought had found their niche and would remain there. Instead, they have created a breakout album that is this band’s bid for greatness. And shouldn’t every band go for such greatness? Especially once they have learned their lessons so well.
Dawes’ recent appearance at the Grammy Museum allowed for a behind-the-scenes peek at the way the band has grown from their roots as they have found new avenues of artistic development without betraying their base.
During an interview with Scott Goldman, Taylor Goldsmith said the challenge of this album was to create a work of intricate, fresh, original songwriting and studio production that allows for re-creation in concert halls. “We wanted this album to have the same sound in the studio that we create onstage,” he said. “We tour 250 plus days a year and we haven’t recorded that many albums. We developed as a band playing live. Fans wondered why our albums didn’t sound the same as our concerts.”
For this kind of authentic sound, the band and their producer, Blake Mills, decided to create as much live-in-the-studio music as possible without vocal tracking and keeping overdubs to a minimum. It is a very Americana approach to studio work. “We would play [every] song straight through like a live performance with all of us in the same room,” said Goldsmith.
As an example, the band played a short set of songs from the new album, to near perfection.
The title track, “We’re All Gonna Die,” a stirring valentine to a fan as well as to mortality, was beautifully rendered with a Prince-like falsetto voice from Taylor Goldsmith that colored the evening with blue-eyed soul, a stylistic centerpiece to the album.
The album delivers a one-two punch to the earlier trademark sound the band has been pigeon-holed into while keeping most of their strengths, such as layered harmonies and soaring guitar work. Not that the place they cultivated as a folk-rock band was a bad place to be. To be championed by the likes of Jackson Browne can be a heady thing. However, as their first two albums show, at times they leaned so far into that sound, they were in danger of being labeled as Browne’s band. But their live show was always another story.
As of last year, Dawes began touring with Duane Betts (Allman Brother Dickie Betts’ son), whose guitar interplay with Taylor Goldsmith was stunning. Still, their albums remained focused on the band’s strength as songwriters, giving them a strong foundation.
We’re All Gonna Die, meanwhile, is a break-out and break-away album that allows the band to explore and expand in ways that, in the long run, will not lose them any fans. In fact the album enlarges their world and places them among L.A.’s great bands, alongside groups like The Byrds, Love, and the Beach Boys. Their songwriting remains their strength with some of the most imaginative instrumentation and arrangements they have created thus far. This includes strings, horns, and integrated styles.
Unlike the title’s prophecy of mortality, this new album finds Dawes far away from any kind of artistic demise.