“There are so many bands we all love where it seems like they make their definitive work in a window of three or four records,” Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith tells SPIN. “And now they’re just making cool records, but it’s after the rise. Our fan base isn’t the biggest, but [they’ve] made us feel our entire catalog is, relatively, part of our definitive era.”
That era began with the band’s 2009 debut, North Hills, which conjured the classic Laurel Canyon sound. Dawes have released six more albums, including the recent, Dave Cobb-produced Good Luck With Whatever — and Goldsmith says they feel an urgency to never “let up on the gas.”
“This window of opportunity to make music, make art, is a smaller one than we all think, and we want to be able to look back and have a lot of work to show for it,” he says. “So yeah, we really love working as well as we can, as hard as we can, but also as fast as we can — as long as it never threatens the quality in our eyes.”
Goldsmith, now 35, still carries a childlike wonder into Dawes, the band he started in his early 20s with his drummer brother Griffin. “It just all feels like I don’t know what to expect,” he says. “With every record we make, we all feel tighter and closer and better.”
Offstage, he married actress/songwriter Mandy Moore in 2018 and recently became an expectant father. It’s a far cry from the fearless 17-year-old who set off to make music, though elements of his younger self remain. Recent life changes have made him reflect on his journey. On Good Luck, Goldsmith takes stock and tries to make sense of adulthood and its expectations.
“As I’m entering into this next phase of how I live my life and how meaningful that is for me, I also have to put that up against the fact that I still, for a living, travel and play these rock shows where I’m acting like an idiot on stage and playing guitar solos and singing about my feelings, and it’s very much of a 17-year-old attitude,” says Goldsmith.
It opened Pandora’s box of existential questions: “Am I comfortable with this?” “Is this okay?” “Should I be proud of this?” Eventually, he came to an inevitable “yes.”
“Because I don’t have to do anything else, sometimes when I’m around what I perceive as ‘real adults,’ I think to myself, ‘Man, I’m still just some kid that doesn’t know anything about growing up.’ And I don’t necessarily think that’s true, but that’s sometimes my impression,” he says. “I landed on the feeling of, ‘If doing what I do for a living means that I’m keeping an aspect of my 17-year-old self alive, then sign me up.’ Because I think as long as you’re being a reasonably responsible adult to the people that need to be responsible to then that’s only a good thing.”
On album opener “Still Feels Like a Kid,” he initially questions indulging childish things. But by the end, he wears this youthful attitude as a badge of pride. As he puts it, “I’m a singer in a rock and roll band because I still feel like a kid.”
That song was co-written with My Morning Jacket singer Jim James and originated from their time in the supergroup the New Basement Tapes, which set Dylan unreleased lyrics to music. While Goldsmith’s version of “Florida Key” was included on that band’s album, there was an unreleased version by Jim James for which Goldsmith had come up with a riff — one that now appears at the beginning of the Dawes song.
“That was a trippy co-write — it happened without him really knowing it,” Goldsmith says. “I thought I’ll just try writing a different song over that same initial progression with that guitar riff.”
Goldsmith also co-wrote “Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?” with Blake Mills and Matt Sweeney. They originally penned the track during sessions for the band’s album We’re All Gonna Die but put it on the backburner as he wasn’t sure about the bridge. Goldsmith combined that section with a newer one he wrote afterward with Cobb’s encouragement.
“I think Dave had the right idea of doing both things as it just made it feel fuller and more fleshed out,” Goldsmith says. “It was really fun because we [didn’t] have a song that goes from first verse to first chorus to bridge, immediately, like this one now does.”
Recording with Cobb at his “breakneck speed” in Nashville heavily influenced the songs. Sometimes they recorded three to four songs a day, tracking all their parts at once.
“Dave is the kind of guy where, once you get that first or second take and you really nail it, we’re done,” Goldsmith says. “Even if it’s not absolutely perfect, he’s very aware of when the spirit of a song is dead. So he doesn’t let us spend too much time refining, which I think is a real strength of his. I think he keeps a band on their toes.
“I think if you listen to any of the records that he produces, you always get this sense that there’s a lot of energy, even on ballads,” he continues. “He forces you to step up. And when he feels like you’ve gotten a take, he’s like, ‘All right, moving on,’ and he doesn’t slow down for you. And that can be scary but it’s also why our record sounds the way it does.”
Goldsmith hopes fans can relate to the record’s themes of seeking identity, which may ring true in our current times. Surveying the state of his band, he sees it as a perfect metaphor for life.
“I feel like bands, they’re living, breathing organisms in the same way that you and I are not going to figure out what pair of pants we like to wear and then just wear those literally every day for the rest of our lives. It just doesn’t work that way,” Goldsmith says. “If you find a meal you like, you don’t just eat it every meal for the rest of your life. You incorporate it; you remember that you like it and then you figure out other ways to push the parameters of what else you’re willing to eat.”