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Affable California folk-rockers Dawes draw from old sounds with fresh-faced guile

Easy Riding

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Taylor Goldsmith, singer-songwriter and frontman for 21st century, next-gen, Laurel Canyon-style folk-rockers Dawes, doesn't mind reflecting on the peculiar space that his band has operated in over the past decade.

Dawes burst onto the scene in 2009 with an album loaded with elegant harmonies and warm, bucolic folk rock that takes obvious cues from Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and the Eagles — and was literally recorded in Laurel Canyon to analog tape. The band has both been buoyed by and tugged against the California archetype that casts a shadow over them.

"I feel like it's a convenient tagline, but I don't feel like it really sums up what our music sounds like at all," Goldsmith contends. "Maybe it did for strictly our first record or something. But I feel like we were kids then and listening to Creedence Clearwater and the Band and like Crosby, Stills & Nash, almost strictly ... we weren't very open to a lot of things. We were learning how to be a band and what our identity was and how we could grow from there. But our inspirations have definitely run the gamut, from rock music to jazz and hip-hop. And not that we want to consciously convey [all] that in our music, we just want to do what feels truthful to us."

And reading between the lines, what he's saying about Dawes is true. While the core identity of the group seems built upon the vocal stylings and those sturdy, open road folk-rock templates, their albums — there have been six in 10 years — can often feel a real kinship with indie-minded contemporaries like Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket, but can also pull from more genre-elastic classic rock groups like Dire Straits and Steely Dan, particularly on more recent efforts like 2016's We're All Going to Die and last year's Passwords.

From a commercial standpoint, Dawes benefits from that festival lineup-ready approach while also finding itself caught between two worlds. The group is a bit staid and traditional for the indie-rock crowd, and a bit too adventurous and offbeat for the Americana world, Goldsmith points out.

"I am proud of the fact that we're always true to her impulses, true to our tastes and just kind of trust whatever comes down," he says. "But it also gets frustrating in that sense. I sort of feel like the signals get crossed with our band sometimes. Maybe we shoot ourselves in the foot just because of our own idiosyncratic personalities, for better or worse, in the true sense of that phrase. I mean, I'm proud of everything we've done, but I sometimes feel like, man, if I could just stick to the fucking acoustic guitar, like this open G shape and three-part harmonies, maybe the venue would be bigger tonight."

But for the most part, Goldsmith is content with the idea that the band is developing the kind of identity that will withstand the test of time. He's intrigued by the idea that there's something identifiably Los Angeles in his songwriting — he talks about Warren Zevon's relationship with the city, as well as Lou Reed and New York and Bruce Springsteen and New Jersey, as natural touchpoints for him.

"Many artists that I love continue to mine their relationship with their city for material," he admits. "L.A. is a complicated, mysterious, multidimensional place. My relationship with it is always evolving, and I feel like songs are a great place to do that. So in that sense, I'm very proud of the fact that people feel L.A. in our music."

It's that sense of clear connection that is most important to Goldsmith. He writes from a place of clarity and earnestness, crafting specific characters and stories rather than leaning on enigmatic poetics.

"I'm not going to go on stage and intimidate or confound," he offers. "I'd see guys who weren't afraid to be their normal selves, that weren't trying to convince you they were living some impossible life that you have no concept of, and I gravitated towards that. Bruce Springsteen is key. He seems desperate to connect with you, desperate to have his intentions understood. He's not afraid to be someone that cares a lot about his music. I feel like it's very in vogue to want to, you know, pull your hat down and be a cool guy that doesn't really care about the fact that you're onstage. And I love those bands too — it's just not who I am. I feel like I've been able to embrace that, the [pretense] that I do want to be here, I do want to sing my song for you, I do care what you think — it's really helped me."

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