When the United Nations Foundation approached Dawes to go to Rwanda to help raise awareness for malaria prevention, frontman Taylor Goldsmith was surprised. "I was like, 'I really appreciate that and we would be honored, but we're not U2, really. We're Dawes. Our reach is pretty limited,'" he tells Rolling Stone.
Last week, the band went anyway to promote Nothing but Nets, a non-profit campaign to provide affordable mosquito bed nets to Africans to prevent malaria. The disease caused 660,000 deaths in 2010. "It was a life-changing experience, to say the least," says Goldsmith. "Witnessing injustice on that level is really difficult to comprehend."
During their three-day stay, the L.A. band stayed in Kigali, the country's capital, and went on a gorilla-watching hike, but the majority of their time was spent at two refugee camps. "There's eight members of a family sleeping on the same bed in a little eight-by-10 hut," he said. "I know that everybody can agree the world is fucked up on certain levels but, when you witness it and you see how awful it is to see people who are so kind, dynamic and smart get dealt such a bad hand that they truly can't get themselves out of, it's heartbreaking on a level of nothing I've ever experienced."
Now the band is preparing to head out on a spring U.S. college tour supporting Bob Dylan, which kicks off April 5th at the SUNY Buffalo Alumni Arena in Buffalo, New York. The band isn't quite sure how they scored the gig, but Goldsmith guesses their friend, Dylan's guitarist Charlie Sexton, recommended them. (A source close to Dylan's band tells Rolling Stone that Sexton will not join Dylan on this tour; Duke Robillard will be handling guitar duties.) "We've crossed paths with so many heroes of ours – Jackson Browne, John Fogerty, Conor Oberst – but we never thought Bob Dylan would be in the cards," says Goldsmith. "We might not even get to meet him, but that's OK. I'm just honored to share the stage with him."
"I hope he's heard our stuff," Goldsmith says of Dylan. "He's very involved with all the decisions that get made on every level, down to the shows that he's playing. He definitely had to give his okay, so that makes me think that even if it's just a song or two, he's at least heard a little bit."
Give, the chance, though, Goldsmith already knows which song he'd like to play with Dylan. "I'd probably pick 'Blind Willie McTell,'" he says. "I've been listening to that one a lot lately."