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Why the new album from Dawes is an exercise in not checking boxes

Dawes group shot against a curtain
(Image credit: Rounder Records)

“I’d probably be a better lead singer of a rock band if I could stop smiling so much on stage,” jokes Taylor Goldsmith. 

This summer, you can’t blame the affable Dawes frontman for smiling. He and his wife Mandy Moore are expecting their second child, and he’ll be touring behind Dawes’s eighth album, Misadventures Of Doomscroller

While more adventurously proggy than their previous records, it still carries what Goldsmith calls the “Dawes DNA” – a guitar-driven California breeze threaded through philosophical lyrics. We caught up with him to chat about everything from progressive jazz to fatherhood.

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What was your vision for the new record? 

On our last album the songs were three minutes long. Tight, clear and concise – all the usual boxes checked. This time I thought I’m done checking those boxes. I don’t really care about short attention spans or how long a song is. 

Were there inspirations behind this new approach? 

I got obsessed with Speak No Evil by [jazz saxophonist] Wayne Shorter. While we were recording these rock songs, I was immersed in jazzier things – Miles [Davis] and Herbie [Hancock]. All these records that really take their time. Pink Floyd too. When Shine On You Crazy Diamond goes around to the third solo before the vocal even starts, you know these guys are doing it on their terms. We thought: “Let’s make that our guiding principle.” 

Did having your first child affect your outlook in some ways? 

A friend who’s a new dad said: “It doesn’t change what’s important, it changes why it’s important.” I still plan on making records and performing, but before, I was hung up on some sixteen-year-old’s sense of legacy. To some extent, if you believe you have something to say in front of ten thousand people, you have a certain amount of narcissism [laughs]. But now, with my son in the world, it’s paramount that he grows up seeing that his dad did what he wanted on his terms.

When Dawes toured with Bob Dylan did you and he ever talk shop? 

He doesn’t hang with openers, but I met him on the last day. He said: “Hey, great having you guys. What’s the name of that last ballad you played?” I told him, and he said: “Great song.” I freaked out and tried to shake his hand. He said: “Why don’t we just fist bump?” Later, he did an interview and was asked about the Basement Tapes project with covers [of Dylan songs] by Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor Goldsmith… and he said: “Oh, Taylor Swift played my songs?” [laughs]. 

You were born and raised in LA. Do you still get starstruck? 

I think people here can have this attitude of: “I’ve seen too much and I’m not impressed.” But I’ve never been able to shake the fanboy thing. When Mandy takes me to the Emmys, I’m like: “Look, it’s so and so!” [laughs]. 

What’s next for you? 

We have another kid coming. I’m psyched for this summer tour. We’re co-headlining with The Head And The Heart, and hitting lots of cities where we don’t usually go. And I already have fifteen songs written for our next record. It’s a totally different sound.

Misadventures Of Doomscroller is out now. Dawes are currently on tour in The US (opens in new tab)

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.