“The best rock ‘n’ roll is never preconceived,” says Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith. “It’s almost a country mentality: ‘This is what we do. We write songs.’ That’s how it is for Dawes.”
A self-described “American rock ‘n’ roll band,” Dawes represent everything pure and true about that fundamental delineation, four talented friends making music together, fueled by a shared belief in the power of their songs. With Nothing Is Wrong, the Los Angeles-based band – singer/guitarist Goldsmith, his brother Griffin on drums, keyboardist Tay Strathairn, and bassist Wylie Gelber – continue to master their blend of singer/songwriter reflection with folk, country, and AOR-inspired arrangements, all ringing guitars, soaring harmonies, and heartfelt melodies. After spending much of the past two years on tour, songs like “Coming Back To A Man” and “Time Spent In Los Angeles” have a restless, unsettled quality evocative of life lived on the road. A collection of songs that expertly builds upon the template laid by 2009’s extraordinary debut, North Hills, Nothing Is Wrong sees Dawes displaying staggering growth and evolution while still manifesting their distinctive, unforgettable voice.
“We didn’t change up our approach too much and yet we were able to create something that I feel has a new identity from our first record,” Goldsmith says. “It’s definitely taking a step in a direction and at the same time, it’s maintaining what it needs to maintain.”
In 2009, Dawes emerged from the ashes of California combo Simon Dawes with North Hills, which drew instant acclaim for its rootsy revitalization of classic El Lay rock. And like any American rock ‘n’ roll band worth its salt, Dawes followed up by touring nearly non-stop. As a result, Goldsmith was only able to write during rare free moments, in the course of brief visits home or while crashing at a friend’s for a few days. No surprise then that songs like “My Way Back Home” and “How Far We’ve Come” (featuring Griffin on lead vocals) are redolent of van fumes and road dust, rich with weariness and longing and restive reflection.
“Both of these Dawes records have been written in a one-to-two year span of time,” Goldsmith says. “With North Hills, there was an ‘I just want to go somewhere and experience things’ quality. And then with this record, we’re in the thick of going out and playing shows and being on tour.”
Dawes took advantage of their situation by using the stage as a way to focus and arrange the new material. Songs got to live and breathe in front of an audience rather than in the hermetic confines of a rehearsal space.
“That helped the songs grow so much,” Goldsmith says. “The songs became tighter, more aggressive even. The first record was written for a band that wanted to be a band, the second record was written by a band that was able to get on stage and explore things that we hadn’t explored yet.”
Goldsmith took a brief break from the band to record with friends and tourmates John McCauley of Deer Tick and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit as the collaborative supergroup Middle Brother, and in September 2010, Dawes reunited with producer Jonathan Wilson at his new Echo Park studio. A gifted singer/songwriter/musician in his own right, Wilson has proven a true kindred spirit whose vision and tastes are in perfect sync with the band.
“We’re so lucky to know him,” Goldsmith says. “It’s really crazy how good he is at everything.”
As with North Hills, Dawes opted to record Nothing Is Wrong live to 2” analog tape. Far from just an exercise in nostalgic authenticity, the band sees the more traditional technique as a way of focusing their energies and affirming their dedication to the creative process.
“If you’re writing on a typewriter,” Goldsmith says, “you have to commit to whatever you’re writing. Typewriters don’t make it easy for you to go back and rethink things. Same thing with recording analog. We don’t do it because that’s what the people we admire did. We do it because it demands something out of us. It doesn’t allow us to show up lazy or not on our game. We cut every track knowing that this stuff isn’t easy to edit.”
Nothing Is Wrong captures both Dawes’ studio and stage approaches, matching the loose extemporaneity and crunchy dynamism of the band’s live sets with finely honed arrangements and deft musicianship. The album evinces the band’s self-assured strength right from the start by bursting off the blocks with the impossibly infectious “Time Spent In Los Angeles.” Throughout the record, Goldsmith’s lyrics evoke a powerful feeling of constant movement and endless fleeting moments. Songs like “The Way You Laugh” or the choogling “If I Wanted Someone” are wistful and melancholic, while the ruminative, piano-driven closing track “Little Bit Of Everything” (featuring lap steel guitarist Ben Peeler) is peopled with indelible characters encountered on his travels.
Along with critical approbation and an ever-growing fan following, Dawes has earned admiration from many of their greatest heroes. Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers joined the band on organ on both North Hills and Nothing Is Wrong, while the new album’s “Fire Away” sees guest vocals from Jackson Browne, who has since invited the band to both support and back him on a European tour. In addition, after Goldsmith contributed vocals to Robbie Robertson’s star-studded new How To Become Clairvoyant, the legendary guitarist/songwriter asked Dawes to serve as his backing combo for a number of promotional performances, sensing in them the character of a true band, a tight knit unit who know how to work together and instinctively play off each other’s individual gifts.
“It’s hard to accept and believe,” Goldsmith says. “It doesn’t seem like it should possibly happen. Experiences like these are why we do it. Before playing in front of huge audiences and before selling a lot of records, before all those things that people are looking for when they decide to play music, for me, sharing these experiences with the people I grew up listening to, getting their acknowledgement or respect, that’s right at the top, the number one reason and the most rewarding thing that could happen.”
While Nothing Is Wrong marks a new milestone on this remarkable band’s musical journey, it remains but a single step on all involved see as a long-term trip. For Dawes, the aim is always about turning it up and taking their music even further.
“Our attitude is always, what can we do to take it to the next place?” Goldsmith says. “To share our music with more people, make better music, and be happier people through our music.”
The album Tiny Prayers is being released from Community Music this September 18th!
Simone Felice is a celebrated songwriter, author, and poet. He was born on 4 October 1976 in Palenville, New York, a small working-class hamlet in the Catskill Mountains.
At the age of 12 Simone suffered a brain aneurysm and was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes. Recovering from emergency brain surgery in a local hospital, he spent two months in intensive care, relearning basic motor skills, including reading and writing.
When he was 15 he formed a punk band with friends, making weird noise-rock in his grandpa’s barn. Their emphasis was on head-banging and freaky storytelling. By 18, he had quit school and was fronting the band (by this time calling themselves Eight Body Trunk, in homage to the 1950’s Lincoln Continental an aging mafioso drove up and down the streets of their shabby town) as they played barns, bars, and low down clubs, including New York City’s fabled CBGB’s.
Eventually the young rockers went their separate ways and Felice began writing poetry and vignettes, leading to the publication of his first collection, The Picture Show, when he was 22 years old. He began performing these bizarre monologues regularly at the historic Nuyorican Poets Café in New York's lower east side, garnering the young poet invitations to read in London, Harvard University, San Francisco and Berlin.
In 2004 and then 2005, Simone published his first short works of fiction, Goodbye Amelia, a coming of age story about a small-town girl with secrets to keep and a hunger to see the world, and Hail Mary Full of Holes, a fable noir about a prostitute struggling to survive at the dawn of the Reagan era.
In the Fall of 2001, just after the attacks on New York City, Simone began writing songs with his brother Ian. Together they retreated to the woods they grew up in, where jobless with a cheap guitar they wrote and made recordings (two archived collections know as The Big Empty and Mexico) with their friend Doc Brown. In this manner the two brothers clocked four years in complete obscurity, sewing the seeds of what would become (with the edition of younger brother James in the Winter of 2006) The Felice Brothers, whose subsequent albums Tonight at the Arizona, The Felice Brothers, and Yonder is the Clock have garnered international praise, earning these Upstate New York natives an inarguable place in the Great American Songbook. Over the group’s history, from starting out playing New York's subways and streets, to Radio City Music Hall and beyond, brother Simone has been one of it’s key lyricists and arrangers, co-writing some of the boys' most beloved songs, including Don’t Wake The Scarecrow, Frankie’s Gun, Run Chicken Run, Ruby Mae, Whiskey in My Whiskey, Love Me Tenderly, Hey Hey Revolver, Mercy, Wonderful Life, Ponzi, Your Belly In My Arms, The Devil Is Real, and Radio Song to name a few.
At the request of iconic record producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Beastie Boys, Adele, et al), Simone flew to California in the late summer of 2008 to play drums on the Columbia Records release I and Love and You by The Avett Brothers. Lending his signature Catskill Mountain funk to the Avett’s riveting songwriting and Rubin’s thoughtful production, Felice appears on some of the albums stand-out songs, including the title-track and lead single I and Love and You, which helped send the album to #1 in the Billboard folk charts
In the winter of 2009 personal tragedy reared its head when Simone and his long-time love lost their first child in a late-term miscarriage. It was then that he retreated to a cabin in the Catskill’s with old friend Bird and began writing and recording the songs that would (unknown to them at the time) become The Duke & The King’s album debut. Taking their name from the itinerant Shakespeare theatre grifters in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the project released its gripping Nothing Gold Can Stay in the Summer of 2009 to critical acclaim, being hailed as one of the most haunting and honest albums of the year. 2010's followup Long Live The Duke & The King has been similarly praised.
Felice's first novel, Black Jesus, was recently bought by award-wining publisher Allen & Unwin (Atlantic Books/Faber&Faber) and Random House, which will release a German translation in spring 2012. It tells the story of a young Marine shipped home to his nowhere town after being blinded in action by a homemade bomb, and the unexpected friendship he finds with a mysterious dancer who arrives there fleeing darkness and violence of a different kind. Part love story, part protest of the broken promises lying at the heart of the American dream, Black Jesus is a passionate, twisted hymn to the marginalized and forgotten.
On 2 June 2010, after a series of fainting spells, Simone underwent emergency open-heart surgery at Albany Medical Center when doctors discovered that a childhood congenital disorder had left the 33 year old with an irreversible calcification of the aortic valve, leaving only 8% blood-flow to the body and brain. Just two weeks after the surgery he joined his brothers on stage at Pete Seeger's annual Clearwater Festival to help rid their beloved Hudson River of industrial waste. The following month Pearl Felice was born, a healthy blue-eyed girl who came in a summer thunderstorm.
In the year following his heart operation and Pearl's birth, Felice did what he's always done: He wrote songs. With a renewed clarity and sense of purpose, Simone bent to his new work, leaving behind any past monikers, or preconceptions they might hold, in search of something pure, something truly his own.
Players on these new recordings include friends from Mumford & Sons and The Felice Brothers. The album was written and produced over a year's time, at five unique locations: Felice’s barn-attic at home in the Catskills-New York, an abandoned High School in Beacon-New York, The Old Church in North London, a Manhattan apartment, Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, and was ultimately woven together with mastering guru Greg Calbi (Patti Smith, John Lennon, Dylan, Springsteen, et al) in New York City.
As one listens, this seems the album Felice has been laboring towards since he first began writing and making music, as it truly showcases Simone's extraordinary storytelling and lyrical style; a unusually rich balance of the sacred and the obscene, heartache and hope in the same breath. A self-revelatory work uncommon in it's purity and depth, 'Simone Felice' is set for worldwide release in early April 2012, and is certain to cement Felice’s place as one of the great songwriter-poets of his generation.
In autumn 2011 England's esteemed Guardian newspaper commissioned Felice to write a personal memoir on the subject of his near-death experiences, first as a young boy, then as a grown artist, and how these two odd brushes with 'the other side' have influenced his work. The piece ran in September and begins with a lyric from The Wizard Of Oz:
I would not be just a nuffin’, My head all full of stuffin’,
My heart all full of pain.
I would dance and be merry,
Life would be a ding-a-derry,
If I only had a brain...
Simone lives less than a mile from the creek-house he was born in, and travels his own country and abroad sharing his songs and stories.