Dawes — Keeping Things Fresh: Interview with Wylie Gelber

The band Dawes keeps drawing listeners in from every corner of the world, and I am quite certain it’s because of their passion, their ability to maintain their creative status, and the fact that they never let themselves, their music, or their live shows get repetitive. Dawes is a very unique group. Their classic folk-rock sound with subtle pop undertones is solely theirs to run with, and they experiment with their style and delivery proudly. They’ve been the opening act for Bob Dylan, and they’ve had their music featured on television shows such as Parenthood and American Dad! They are on tour now putting on their signature two to three hour sets to fans across the country who are ecstatic to hear their latest album, Passwords—and much more—live.


How has touring been so far? What has the reception from fans been like since playing the songs off Passwords live?


It seems like it’s going good…. It’s been nice to have more and more songs to kind of mix in to the long sets that we have been doing. It’s kind of good to mix up the whole setlist a little more.


Of course! I just read that in Nashville in a few weeks you’ll be changing up your setlist even more by performing your fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, front to back as the first set. Why did you guys decide to do this now, and will you be doing something similar for your debut album, North Hills, this year for its 10th anniversary?


I’m not really sure what we are going to do for the ten-year anniversary of (North Hills), but I know that in Nashville we are doing this because we are just trying to think of ways to make that show cool, being as it’s two nights in the venue and because we did that record in Nashville. We just thought it would be nice to just mix it up as opposed to just four completely different sets over the course of two nights. That one will just be a cool, little Nashville exclusive experience.


Let’s talk a bit about your latest album, Passwords. What was the process of creating that album like? Coming off of We’re All Going To Die, it seemed to hold a bit more of an idealistic concept and a softer, more mellow and piano driven sound.


We pretty much just went back into the studio for this one with our original producer who we worked with on the first two records, Jonathan Wilson, and we kind of jumped back into the style that we used to record with him, which is this kind of fast pace and just getting in and doing as much of the initial record as we could live. Taylor [Goldsmith] would be singing and playing the guitar and Griffin [Goldsmith] would be playing and Lee [Pardini] and I would be playing just something on top of that. It’s just a nice way to do it and we did our first record almost 10 years ago with Jonathan, and that’s kind of exactly how we did it then. We piled into his living room and just recorded it and let it happen. It was kind of like an experiment to see if that kind of exact setup worked years and years later.


Did you go into the recording process having a lot of the songs written and arranged, or did you build off of it during the actual process of recording the songs for the album?


I’d say that all of the songs were probably written before we went in and maybe like half or less of them were properly arranged, so we kind of just knocked out the ones that were arranged early on—just to kind of get into the groove of things. After that, we kind of just pulled out the songs we wanted to record and walked upstairs and just arranged as we went… we would listen back, hear something that we thought to change, and would kind of go from there. So basically, we would be like, “Ok, we heard that version, let’s change the drum feel and the bass feel so it sounds more like this.” We would kind of go from there.


I think it turned out pretty well, so congrats on that!


Cool, thanks.


When it comes to actually creating something new and working on different styles of music, where do you draw inspiration and influence from? Because while your songs are personal and have a relevant edge, they don’t dwell on anything and leave some things up to the interpretation of listeners.


We don’t really try to, like, overthink that process. I mean, that’s kind of part of it, but not too much. We would just go in when it was time to record a record and would just kind of try to keep everything new and inspiring for ourselves, and so I don’t know if we ever break it down in order to feel and pinpoint what is pushing the record in a different direction depending on what we are working on at that time. We are just trying to expand ourselves as musicians and as who we are, so we are just trying to push ourselves forward and stay excited about it ourselves. You know, if we did the same thing every time that wouldn’t really work for us, so we are just doing whatever has to be done to make us interested in the songs and wanting to keep playing them live and keeping them different than anything we have done before.


As a band that is out of California and is very much associated with the West Coast, how do you think that music scene has shaped you guys?


I mean, we obviously love being from where we are from and every music scene in every city has its flaws and perks, obviously. Some cities don’t have any music scene at all and that can be hard! Some cities, like LA, where the music scene is still big, it can be hard, as well. It can almost swallow you up among thousands of other bands that are trying to play everything all the time. So for us, it has always been a kind of indie, collaborative environment that has been the Los Angeles music scene—as far as the part of it that we’re in. We’ve been playing shows around LA since we were kids. We’ve played all the venues and have grown up around other bands, which are still around, and we have been around bands that aren’t around anymore, yet we played with them, too. It’s always been a good scene for us, and we’ve always enjoyed the kind of competitive nature of it, which is always nice if you don’t get too caught up in the composition and more caught up in the many, great musicians out there that you can always play shows or record with. There are always a million different people doing a million different things at all times, you know?


Definitely! Expanding on California and its own music scene, what are some of your own favorite aspects of putting on these shows across the country and all around the world?


For me, personally, I don’t really overthink that aspect. It’s more like any other band, we just do what we do best and we just try to stay playing to our strong suit, which—for us—is kind of like these longer shows and these extended versions of songs, and we try not to play the exact same things every night so we can leave stuff open for interpretation and kind of just feed off what the room is feeling that night. It’s nice to just go to a new place and just see how that feels and what bounces off the people that are there in that specific town that we are in.


That’s awesome. Now, I know that you and Taylor are the only two left of the original band, Simon Dawes. What is the dynamic between you two now as compared to, say, 10 years ago? Do you still have a similar approach to making music together or combining your individual musical talents?


Yeah, I mean if me and Taylor didn’t have a good thing going, then we wouldn’t still be in a band together today. I don’t think much has really changed either, we have always had a really nice working dynamic between the two of us…. The way that I have always worked with Taylor is kind of like that we rely on each other for what we do. For Taylor, he brings songs, and for me, I have grown up playing Taylor’s songs since I was 15 years old, so it’s very easy for me to hear one of his songs and know what I should play on it, and if what I play on it ends up making his songs sound the way they do. That part hasn’t really changed. We do it the same way and we still have the same work relationship that we have always had.


Once this tour comes to a close, what can we expect from the band? Is there anything coming up in 2019 that you can let us in on?


I mean, we’re always working on new songs and new records or whatever, so whenever we have time off we try to get into the studio. That’s definitely going to happen sooner than later. Taylor has already been writing a bunch of songs and we have been trying to work through them whenever we have a moment in soundcheck or whatever, but we will be back in the studio as soon as we can.


Dawes will be performing at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on Feb. 6.