Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith needed the perfect place to listen to rough mixes of songs while the band was recording its most recent album, Passwords. His choice: fiancée Mandy Moore’s Volvo. Goldsmith loved the way music sounded in the actress’ car so much, when he had to provide feedback on early tracks, he’d just sit in the driveway and crank up her stereo. “I never had any notes about the mixes,” he says. “I think part of that was because I was listening on such a good sound system.”
The day before Dawes embarks on their current tour (which extends through the end of February), Goldsmith hops behind the wheel of a 2019 Volvo XC60 T8 and steers it along the winding Angeles Crest Highway, not far from his Pasadena home. A 15-foot-long crossover, the XC60 is built for comfort, not F1 handling, so it’s not exactly carving the mountain roads. But it boasts both a turbocharged and supercharged gasoline engine and a separate electric motor that together make 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. This Volvo is sneaky-quick.
As he pilots the XC60 farther up into the San Gabriel Mountains, Goldsmith discusses Passwords, which, as the title hints at, addresses technology — its role in further isolating people in the name of connecting them, and the way it has created the endless shouting match that now passes for national discourse. “We’ve gotten so used to communicating without any accountability, our conversations are taking on aspects of a tweet,” he says. “And I don’t pretend I’m exempt from that.”
In fact, Goldsmith often turns his critical eye inward on the album. On the sitar-tinged “Feed the Fire,” he wonders, “How can I look so perfect on the screen and so awful in the mirror?” It’s a song about fame and the emptiness of its pursuit, but in a way it’s also, he says, a song about Instagram likes. “You think that if you ever get to the point where you get to 200 likes on a photo, you’ll be set, but then you see Joe Blow gets 300,” he says. “It’s so common for people to suffer from a version of that. I’ve thought, ‘Once we play this venue, I’ll be OK and be able to accept my career.’ Then it happens, and immediately it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not enough.’”
As his driving music today, Goldsmith has opted for Kate Bush, which he plays on the Volvo’s 1,400-watt, 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo — a system just like the one Moore has in her car, and, he admits, pretty much the sole reason he bought his own Volvo (an S90) last year. That purchase, however, necessitated saying a bittersweet goodbye to the car he’d owned for nearly a decade. “I had a Ford Focus named Hocus Pocus,” he says with a laugh. “I drove it till I just couldn’t drive it anymore. There was a window in back that I cracked with an amp, the whole thing just shattered. But I didn’t care.”
Though Goldsmith isn’t a car guy per se, he appreciates driving. Back in Dawes’ early days, the band drove themselves around the country in an Econoline van. Sometimes they’d need to be on the road all night to get from one show to the next, but Goldsmith swears it was often far less miserable than it sounds. “I miss those drives,” he says. “Once, my shift was 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. and everyone else was asleep. I listened to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, and it was just me by myself with the sun coming up in the desert, listening to that record. It was downright spiritual.”