FIFTY years after Bob Dylan went electric, Dawes paid tribute with a cover set. But the Los Angeles band has taken a different path itself, moving from a post-punk edge to steady-jamming folk.
Dawes headed to the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island last month to mark the 50th anniversary of one of rock history’s most iconic moments — when Dylan, dubbed the voice of his generation, stunned the audience by turning on the amps.
With frontman Taylor Goldsmith playing Dylan’s original Fender Stratocaster, which was later bought by a collector for nearly US$1 million, Dawes put on the terse but historic 1965 set that went electric with the song Maggie’s Farm.
The Dylan connection was not random. Dawes was chosen in 2013 to open for Dylan on a tour, giving the band a chance to see the legend up close. But that’s not to say the band bonded with him.
“It was an epic learning experience just watching Dylan’s set every night,” bassist Wylie Gelber told AFP before a recent show in New York’s Central Park.
“We never, ever hung out with Dylan. We hung out with the band — his band is all super sweet — but Dylan, he’s like a mystical creature. He’s never around.
“He just appears all of a sudden when he goes on stage and then he disappears. I bumped into him by accident one time in the hallway, but that was the closest I got,” he said.
Retro folk sound
After dabbling in a darker post-punk sound, Dawes emerged in its current form with the 2009 album North Hills, renewing the weighty yet down-home feel of folk rockers from the 1960s and 1970s.
With the band’s Los Angeles roots, Dawes has often been viewed as reviving the scene associated with the Laurel Canyon neighborhood known for legends such as Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Jackson Browne and Neil Young.
Dawes’ latest album, All Your Favorite Bands, marks a renewal of the folk rock era’s narrative tradition, with songs heavy in references to car travel and the personal nostalgia it engenders.
While not rejecting the folk label, Gelber said the category was not always fitting for a band that often plays loud and electric.
Instead, he said, the folk association most likely comes to mind as songs tell stories.
Things Happen, the first track, is a genial ode to keeping life’s setbacks in perspective, with the chorus: “Let’s make a list of all the things the world has put you through / Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to.”
A live feel
In a style reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, Dawes essentially made All Your Favorite Bands as a live studio concert, jamming at a studio in Nashville and not caring about minor mistakes.
The band tried a different approach with its previous album, 2013’s Stories Don’t End, heading to an Asheville, North Carolina, studio to record more intricately with Jacquire King, known for his work with Tom Waits and Kings of Leon.
But Gelber said the band realized after feedback from fans that Dawes was essentially a live band.
“When you go track by track often, with us, people get so caught up in trying to do the cool stuff… When you play it all at the same time, your only concern is to make sure that the whole thing sounds good,” he said.
The album’s title track is a wistful take on the impermanence of the good things in life — “late-night drives and hot french fries” — and offers the wish, “May all your favorite bands stay together.”
The tongue-in-cheek line was not a premonition for Dawes. Gelber said that a number of new songs are ready to record once the incessantly touring band has time.