We're still a small band," Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith insists. "We've still got a long way to go before we're like, 'This is a secure position for us.'" Perhaps so, but Dawes has certainly been making big moves lately. The quartet played fourteen showcases at South by Southwest this year, then toured with Bob Dylan. Jacquire King (Norah Jones, Kings of Leon) recorded Dawes's third album, Stories Don't End, which the band issued on its own label, Hub Records, and the outfit is signed with Q Prime, the powerhouse management company whose clients include the Black Keys and Metallica.
Goldsmith, Dawes's singer and guitarist, is an unlikely standard bearer for a 21st-century classic-rock revival; he's the Malibu-raised son of a former funk-rock singer (remember Tower of Power?) who got his start playing angsty post-punk with Dawes predecessor Simon Dawes, a band that once opened for Incubus.
In person, he's earnest, slightly awkward and almost compulsively humble. "I wrote 'Just My Luck' in, like, an hour," he mentions almost sheepishly, referring to the prettiest ballad on Stories Don't End. "I've never done that with a song; I've always taken at least a week. I really just powered through it for the sake of being able to tell myself, 'Okay, you can write faster sometimes.'"
Most of Goldsmith's tunes feel like they were meticulously labored over; in the digital age, a good Dawes song is a handcrafted objet d'art. Harmonies rise out of the choruses with the precision of a vintage watch. Goldsmith's lyrics feature the wit and economy of a great short-story writer. "You can put 'em on the counter there with all the other flowers/And help me figure out how to turn off this TV," begins "Bear Witness," about an old man who has just lost his wife.
Goldsmith takes his songwriting cues from the greats: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Warren Zevon. "I feel like what they're best at is taking some mundane, small experience and trying to carve out the human condition within it." Early on, Dawes name-checked Laurel Canyon in its press materials and played alongside Jackson Browne, but now the bandmembers seem determined to recast themselves as a more modern group.
"It turns out it's 2013, and we're from now," says keyboardist Tay Strathairn, munching on a roasted beet. He's leading-man handsome under his Yankees cap, with the same angular jawline as his actor father, David. "It's not like we're dealing in antiquities and reenactment." Still, not all retro comparisons are unwelcome. "I got a couple of Steely Dans," Goldsmith notes, referring to early press reactions to "From a Window Seat," the band's latest single. "I was really happy about that."