How Taylor Goldsmith and Dawes Learned to Quit Worrying and Embrace Epic Jams
There’s a reason why Taylor Goldsmith felt a deep, restless urge to release a brand new live recording of his band Dawes’ 2022 album, Misadventures of Doomscroller. And it all had to do with identity.
“I just felt like so much of what our band is — so much of our identity — takes place onstage,” the Dawes frontman tells Rolling Stone. “For the people that have been with us the last 10 years or whatever, the ones coming to the shows, they’re probably hearing this record and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, this is what they do.’”
As a live band, Dawes conjure a vast, sonic landscape, one that careens across the musical spectrum, making additional stops in the realms of indie, folk, and improvisational curiosity.
“It might not be true for every band, but for the kind of people that come to our shows, the [stretched-out melodies] are the best songs of the night,” Goldsmith says. “With Misadventures of Doomscroller, we can do any song from it anywhere in the set, and that’s fun for us. No two shows are ever the same.”
Recorded and filmed over the course of one day at EastWest Studios in Los Angeles, the live offering of Misadventures of Doomscroller showcases Dawes in real time — where the outfit currently stands, but more so where it’s going in the coming years.
“Change is hard, whether you’re in a band or not, whether you’re just a person,” Goldsmith says. “And oftentimes, we find that it’s not hard, it’s actually essential in order to survive. I feel like once you stop changing, as a person or a professional, that’s when you start to die.”
It’s that moving target of inspiration and creativity, of performance and showmanship, within Goldsmith and his bandmates that’s fueling this next bountiful, unknown chapter for the L.A. ensemble.
“For us, we’re making sure this feels like a natural growth,” Goldsmith says. “There’s no conscious decision of, ‘OK, let’s close our eyes, point to something on the map, and do that.’ This feels like a very natural progression. It was exiting a comfort zone. It was thrilling, but it was also just new.”
Over the past few years — whether it was the pandemic, having children, or simply getting older (or all three) — Goldsmith felt the shedding of one creative layer and the emergence of another.
“Our first four albums or so are mostly about longing and heartbreak — I hope she likes me, I hope for whatever,” Goldsmith says. “I love when other people write those songs. But then, I also like when a songwriter gets to a place where that’s no longer what they’re talking about.”
Leaning back into a booth before a gig in the arcade room at the Burl in Lexington, Kentucky, Goldsmith is pondering what it means to be a singer-songwriter in uncertain times — where it’s simply not about “love lost, love found” anymore, but about asking yourself deeper, existential questions.
“You get past a certain Joni [Mitchell] record, [Elvis] Costello record or Bob Dylan record, and they’re talking about broader concepts of the culture they live in, in the time that they live in,” Goldsmith says. “I know that’s probably a high bar [of songwriting]. But whatever, those are my heroes. For me, it’s how do I point at how I’m feeling? How do I ask questions, but how do I also make sure I’m not answering them?”
On Misadventures of Doomscroller, Dawes expanded its musical footprint and lyrical aptitude with sprawling ballads and soaring numbers. Two of the seven melodies on the record clock in at over nine minutes, with the average song length hovering around seven minutes.
“We’ve gotten to this point over the course of the last seven albums, where if I wrote another four-minute tune, I just feel like it wouldn’t make it into the setlist,” Goldsmith say. “If we’re going to get anybody to keep paying attention, it’s not going to be by doing the same thing — how do we make something that’s exciting enough to where we want to bring it onstage?”
“There’s a code within the symptom, a morbid sort of sign/The ominous reminder of the body’s slow decline/As constant as a heartbeat, but stronger over time/While the rest of us decays/Listening to a sound that no one made,” Goldsmith howls on “Sound that No One Made/Doomscroller Sunrise.”
“That song is about entropy, about how we all shouldn’t be pointing fingers — this is something we all contributed to,” Goldsmith says. “This isn’t just Covid, the internet, or Donald Trump — it’s where humans are at [right now]. We’re all one big snowball, and maybe acknowledging your place or role can be a relief rather than a condemnation.”
Lyrically, Goldsmith doesn’t aim to be controversial or pandering. Where other peers in the industry may become culturally polarizing or political lightning rods, the 37-year-old wants to find common ground with the listener, to sit and immerse oneself in an ongoing societal conversation — where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re headed.
“Within a song, when it’s done right, you can give people something that everyone can relate to, no matter how they’re feeling about it,” Goldsmith says. “I think the most beautiful thing is when you can get to that place, because there’s a difference between saying your piece and actually having someone hear it.”
Whether consciously or subconsciously, Misadventures of Doomscroller is Goldsmith, or at least it represents those in his age bracket — millennials. Those who were the last of the “outdoor kids,” who remember the world before the internet and social media, and who perpetuated the explosion of both with their fingertips thereafter.
“So let’s enjoy each other’s company/On the brink of our despair/Does someone have a song to sing/Or a joke that they could share?” Goldsmith’s voice bounces through “Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax.”
“The lines in that song were very much in line with the mood that we were in,” Goldsmith says. “We were all looking at graphs of daily [Covid] deaths, and yet people were laughing at the Tiger King.”
Millennials now find themselves in their late 30s and early 40s, looking at the current state of affairs and abruptly realizing they’re closer to age 50 than 21 — where did the time go?
“A lot of the songs that I would want to write, or have been writing since this record, are about age and aging,” says Goldsmith, who has two sons with actress-singer Mandy Moore. “There’s a lot of cliches about how [time] gets taken for granted while you have your youth. I think we’re getting to that place of like, ‘We’re not old, but we’re not in our twenties.’ That’s a whole different mindset, a whole different experience.”
Getting up from the booth at the Burl, Goldsmith has to make his way to soundcheck at the outdoor stage across the parking lot. Kentucky is leaps and bounds from Dawes’ native California, but they’ve got a loud and passionate crowd tonight — perhaps some of them asking the same existential questions Goldsmith does on Doomscroller.
“[When I think of songwriters], I think of Leonard Cohen, who taught me how to be a gentler human. He just had to speak in his language for me to realize, ‘Oh, there’s something here for me to learn from,’” Goldsmith says. “Sometimes it’s not even the way someone writes a song, it’s how they conduct their career. But if you’re giving as much as you can of yourself, as a songwriter to your songs, then the rest of it is to just see another human being — to help someone pause and reflect on how they’re behaving.”