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Dawes' bassist suggests showing up early to Cain's tonight

Matt Jacoby
Fertile Ground Compost Service
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TULSA, Okla. – If one were to look at the sphere of popular music today, it would appear that folks seem to be having a mini-comeback of sorts. Led by perpetual troubadours such as Mumford & Sons, the past few years have seen acts like The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers, and countless others who try and recapture the free-wheeling spirit of folk.

However, there’s one group in this recent trend that seems to be racing towards the top. Dawes, comprised of Taylor Goldsmith, Griffin Goldsmith, Lee Pardini, and Wylie Gelber, is an alternative folk band hailing from Los Angeles. The guys have been touring non-stop and releasing records regularly since 2009, along the way garnering critical praise and the adoration of fans across the world. 

And tonight the group is going to take the stage of Cain’s Ballroom on their ongoing “Evening With Dawes” tour supporting their latest album, last year’s We’re All Gonna Die. But before that, Dawes' bassist Wylie Gelber took a moment to talk to us about Leon Russell, the group’s creative process, and their deep appreciation for their Oklahoma fans.

For starters, I was wondering if you could maybe give me a little backstory on how Dawes came to be and the meaning behind your group name.

Taylor and I met in high school, we had band called Simon Dawes at that point with two other members. After putting out a couple EPs and one full-length record, that band broke up. Soon after we started a new band, since it was two of us from the Simon Dawes, we just figured we take half the name. It seemed easier than coming up with a new band name.

Your music has been labeled by many as indie country or some variation of folk. Do you shoot for a particular aesthetic with your music or for each particular record?

We've always just tried to make the kind of music we love. At different points in our career that umbrella has changed and become more wide or narrow. As we make more records we just try to get into the studio and let the songs/studio help figure the whole thing out during the recording process. The less predetermined the ideas the better. 

Are there musicians that you look to or specific sounds you aim for with your music, or is it just something that develops organically?

I’d say we're all just huge fans of the craft. However that may apply to any instrument or songwriter.  It's always easy to tell the real deal from fakers. As far as sounds, every record we hear, new or old, we absolutely put in the bank, sometimes to remember what to do and other times so we know what not to do

Dawes seems to get into a certain group of folk revival groups working today, such as Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, Blitzen Trapper, etc. What do you think of these comparisons? Do you think it demerits one another’s work to get grouped together, or do you welcome the comparisons?

I can't say I've ever considered Dawes a folk revival band, so in that sense, I guess I'd say it demerits the work. But that just seems to be how critics like to operate these days. Every band has to fit into a sub category. As far as I'm concerned, there's rock, jazz, classical, soul, folk, reggae and that's about as specific as I like to get. I can do without the "alternatives" and “revivals.” I've always considered Dawes a rock band. 

Where does the music stem from? Is songwriting and music composition collective or is there a primary member or process? 

We've had the same process since day one. Taylor writes the songs, either on guitar or piano. Once the lyrics and chords are primarily finalized we take it into a rehearsal, at which point we begin to arrange it and each member begins the process of writing their individual part. During this time, slow songs often turn to fast ones, or vice versa, and we just kinda tweak in that world until everyone's happy. 

With such an incredible response to your first five albums, have you felt any of fame’s affects in terms of current projects and creative control? Have expectations changed your procedure in the studio? 

 Not really, we've never had the massive hit you hear about with artists that ends up haunting them for records to come. Our method in the studio is just to make a better record than we did last time. Hopefully we do that!

That kind of leeways into the idea of what success, fame, or popularity even translates to. So in your own view, what is your definition of success? For yourself and for Dawes as a whole? 

Being able to keep putting out records and playing bigger and bigger shows. I'd say that's good enough for all of us. 

Do you have a preference when it comes to touring and performing? What’s an ideal situation for you in terms of the perfect venue? 

We've played all types of venues over the years, from opening slots in arenas to the crappiest little bars you’ve ever seen. I'd say my ideal venue is whatever the largest one we can headline is. Playing a Dawes show in a club, for me, is always better than opening someone else's show in a huge spot. 

 As your guys’ profile continues to rise, though, how important is it to you to retain that level of intimacy with your performances?

It's just a different type of experience. Of course there's nothing like hearing a song you love sung off-mic at a small club, but there's also nothing like a band putting on show on a giant stage to million people. I think you get that special experience every step of the way as a band grows, and all of them are intimate in their own way.

 Your tour kicked off fairly recently, but do you have any immediate plans for the future? Dawes seems to be pretty consistent in terms of not taking too much time between records, so are you basking in your current state or in the planning stages for anything? 

 We're always trying to get back in the studio. It's really just a matter of getting songs together. Taylor's always writing and we're always learning ‘em as we hear ‘em. I couldn't give you a timeline, but as soon as we get the songs, you get the record. 

This isn’t your first time in Oklahoma, given that you just recently performed at the ACM Performance Lab in OKC. What was your experience like last time you were here?

Oklahoma’s always been cool with us. Years ago Taylor and I were in Tulsa, but it’s been way too long. I'm a lifelong Leon Russel and JJ Cale fan, so I'm very excited to get up in their neck of the woods. 

I’ve heard many comments from musicians say that fans seem incredibly appreciative here because they can tell we don’t get as many touring acts as other areas. Is that something you’ve noticed? 

I’ll have to get back to ya after the show! 

What can the crowd at Cain’s expect from you guys when you take the stage?

It'll be a long night of music. We've left the openers at home this time around, so it'll be a two-set experience spanning our whole catalog. Show up early!

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Keaton Bell

Born in Minnesota but raised in Oklahoma, Keaton is a senior at the University of Oklahoma...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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