For many successful acts, finding a way out of the genre box their fans and critics and have crammed them into can be a big challenge. Consider Los Angeles' Dawes. After repeatedly being compared to the band's Laurel Canyon and L.A. country-rock forebears (e.g. the Eagles, the Byrds, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash), the guys in Dawes knew it was time to switch gears for their third outing, Stories Don't End. Of course, this wasn't a full-on genre jump. The band's folky side remains, but it's juiced by a rock backbeat and more sonic touches.
"Tempos were one of the few things that we were adamant about," says drummer Griffin Goldsmith. "It wasn't something where we said, 'We have to arrange the song so it feels faster.' It was more like, 'How fast can we play this without messing up the phrasing of words and it sounding strange.' So that is something we took into account."
Today, Dawes' country-folk flavors conjure up smooth 1970s-style piano-pop, like the smoky slow-burn ballad "Something in Common," the grand Billy Joel-ish opener "Just Beneath the Surface," and the spare "Just My Luck," one of frontman Taylor Goldsmith's finest creations.
"[Taylor] sat down and wrote that song really quick, and that was the first take," Griffin says. "I think it was during the first day, like the second or third song we recorded, and that was one of the few tracks that not only was the first take, but was perfect for all four of us."
Dawes came together five years ago from out of the ashes of Simon Dawes, a promising alt-pop band from Malibu. Simon Dawes sounded like the Shins, and after its 2006 full-length debut, Carnivore, Simon toured with Band of Horses. But the group wasn't big enough for both Taylor and fellow songwriter/producer Blake Mills.
"They just naturally, I think, went their separate ways for the better. I wouldn't say that they were hindering each other's ability to write, but they felt like they needed to develop on their own," Griffin says. "They're both such singular voices as songwriters, so they just felt like they needed to suss that out."
It's probably inevitable that Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith became musicians. In doing so they pick up the baton from their father, Lenny Goldsmith, a singer and keyboardist in the influential Bay Area funk band Sweathog, which released a couple albums on CBS Records and scored a Top 40 hit (the title track from 1971's Hallelujah). Goldsmith would go on to play with other funk acts like Black Heat and Tower of Power in the mid '70s.
"He kind of retired from touring and recording by the time that Taylor and I were kids, but he definitely had a lot to do with what we came up with and are into," says Griffin. "Most of that stuff just stuck with us and is still something I listen to."
The two brothers keep busy when they're not knee-deep in Dawes. Taylor joined fellow songwriters John McCauley (Deer Tick, Diamond Rugs) and Matt Vasquez (Delta Spirit) in the supergroup Middle Brother, which released their eponymous debut in 2011, while the Goldsmith brothers backed Jonny Fritz on his fine album, 2012's Dad Country. Taylor met Fritz during those Middle Brother sessions, and later the Dawes bunch backed Fritz on an album they recorded over four days at Jackson Browne's studio. They met an impressed Browne after a show, and he offered them the use of his studio, but only until Bob Dylan arrived to record his new album.
"We just played the songs live and kind of came up with an arrangement and cut it immediately," Griffin says. "In the end the time constraint was actually really awesome. It did a lot for the vibe of the record."
The encounter with Dylan was actually Dawes' second in less than a year. Earlier, the legend invited them to join him on a series of tour dates. Needless to say, the Goldsmiths and company were blown away. Though Griffin never met him, just watching him play every night was a thrill.
"That was a dream come true," Griffin says. "That was one phone call we never even dreamed of getting. That's more than we could ever ask for."
By April, Stories We Tell will be a year old, and the hope is to take some time next year to work on the follow-up.
"If we don't go back to Europe in January," he says, "we'll wind up taking a few months off so that Taylor can write and we can arrange."