Opening Dawes

31 March 2012 | 9:39 am | Staff Writer

Two high-profile support slots should ensure hyped Californians Dawes pick up plenty of new fans on their current Australian tour.

For a band with Americana leanings and a focus on old-school songcraft, playing with My Morning Jacket and Justin Townes Earle is a dream come true. But it's all in a day's work for Dawes, a Los Angeles quartet accustomed to hanging out with heroes. After all, their second album Nothing Is Wrong was mixed in Jackson Browne's studio, and Browne himself sings on the track Fire Away. And their 2009 debut North Hills was preceded by jam sessions with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes) and Benmont Tench (The Heartbreakers).

Lest they seem like the world's most connected band, the Browne hook-up and those dream jams came through Jonathan Wilson, who produced both of their albums. And it's not like Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith is now an honorary Black Crowe. “Honestly, I don't think Chris Robinson knows who I am,” he confesses. “Jonathan [just] always had get-togethers at his house where all these legendary guys would play. The level of musicianship… forced us to reevaluate ourselves as players and acknowledge how much work [lay] in front of us.”

Much has been made not just of Dawes' timeless songwriting and classic Americana sound but of the band's distinctly Californian quality. Some reviewers have latched onto Nothing Is Wrong as a continuation of the Laurel Canyon vibe of LA that once coalesced around Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Browne and other music greats. But that counterculture fantasy of Laurel Canyon is long gone.

“The reality is we don't live in Laurel Canyon, we don't hang out in Laurel Canyon [and] there isn't a Laurel Canyon scene,” says Goldsmith. “At least not one I'm aware of. It's not a bohemian, artistic place anymore. Now it's families and people who have some money.” He points out that LA is also home to big-name bands like Foster The People and Maroon 5, so it's not some little community.

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“If someone asked what kind of band we were,” he continues, “we definitely wouldn't say a Laurel Canyon band or a Los Angeles band. If there is something associated with California [in Dawes' music], it's by chance or just something that's in the water. It's not 'Hey, we're from California: let's sound like it'.”

Dawes grew out of the band Simon Dawes, which Goldsmith started at age 15 with fellow songwriter Blake Mills. The name was a combination of the two members' partial birth names that subsequently went unused. Although Goldsmith recalls that “pretty quickly we were over the name”, he kept the Dawes bit when Mills went solo and he recruited his younger brother Griffin to play drums. Then 21, Goldsmith is now 26; Griffin is 21 and the rest of the band range in age from 23 (bassist Wylie Gelber) to 31 (keyboardist Tay Strathairn).

Dawes have already achieved more than their predecessor. Nothing Is Wrong has sparked rapturous reviews and both albums were released on the high-profile label ATO in the US. The band recently appeared on the American TV show Parenthood and covered Vince Guaraldi's classic Christmas Time Is Here for The Onion AV Club. Coming here for the first time to play Bluesfest and Boogie – not to mention those support dates with Earle and MMJ – Dawes seem destined for the kind of posh bigger rooms depicted on the cover photo of Nothing Is Wrong.

“Yeah, playing bigger rooms and having nobody show up,” Goldsmith laughs, alluding to the lack of an audience in the photo. (Makes sense: it was taken during soundcheck). But he admits the second album's road-tested songs have proven a boon: “This record has been a transitional period for the band in a great way. We didn't know what it was gonna bring. It could easily set us back a few steps or push us forward a few steps, and we're happy to say that [the latter] seems to be what it's done.”