TIM HUGHES discovers the future of Californian rock ‘n’ roll courtesy  of
Taylor Goldsmith of LA band Dawes

HAILING from the City of Angels, Dawes have quietly and without fanfare, acquired near cult status, revitalizing their home city’s rock and roll scene.

To frontman Taylor Goldsmith, the message is plain: they are here to play – and don’t care all that much what anybody thinks because they are going to be doing it anyway.

“We are an American rock ‘n’ roll band,” he says, talking from Los Angeles. “It’s as simple as that.

“Some people say we are a folk-rock band, an Americana band or an alternative-country band, but we are just four friends making music together – and that is rock & roll.”

Dawes emerged three years ago, an offshoot of Simon Dawes, the California post-punk outfit formed by Taylor and former bandmate Blake Mills.

There was no actual ‘Simon Dawes’, the name was an obscure composite of the two men’s unused middle names.

Reclaiming half the band’s name, (he was born Taylor Dawes Goldsmith), Taylor signed up his drummer brother Griffin, former bandmate and bass player Wylie Gelber, and keyboardist Tay Strathairn. The four-piece made waves with swaggering debut North Wave, taking it to another level with rootsy follow up Nothing Is Wrong.

And throughout almost all that time, they have been on the road. A lot. In fact there are few harder-working bands and, for the second time this year, they are playing Oxford.

The headline show at the Bullingdon, follows an appearance on Later... with Jools Holland; sets at Latitude Festival, T In The Park and Hard Rock Calling; and comes in the midst of a support slot with Mumford & Sons which culminates with a performance at London’s O2 Arena.

“Being on the road is what we want to do,” says Taylor, who, as we speak, is preparing for this, his latest tour. “And this is our next step. Because of the way albums are made, now, so many are coming out – and you can buy them within 10 seconds. It’s an industry choc-full of artists and material, and the only way to help your chances of sticking around is by always working and remaining in people’s peripheral vision.

“We want to keep adding to the conversation.

“A lot of bands wait a long time between putting out their albums and touring, but that can build expectation which is hard to achieve. We prefer artists who have a lot of character. After all, it should be the artist you subscribe to not their last album.”

The secret to Dawes’ appeal lies in their combination of heartfelt songwriting which combines elements of vintage rock, folk and country. It’s a classic LA sound – all chiming guitars and warm West Coast harmonies, and has been likened to early Jackson Browne with whom they have played alongside (at an Occupy Wall Street demo, of all places), and who even appears on their latest record.

“Our music is very song-based,” says Taylor. “But it also rocks. And you can get a perspective on our different personalities just by how we play our instruments.”

They come across as a serious bunch, with a strong work ethic and little truck for the more frivolous side of the industry. Indeed, even small talk seems a bit of an effort.

“We are just trying to take care of ourselves,” says Taylor. “It’s incredible to wake up in a different country and get to know friendly people. When we get to a new city we will explore and take it in, but we always have to think about our next show, which means not using our voices too much.

“Some artists go out, party and sleep in the middle of the street, but that’s not a life I have any concept of.”

Feted as the future sound of Los Angeles, the understated Taylor admits his band are a product of the sprawling metropolis, without glamourising it.

“I’m from here and love it,” he says. “There are a lot of creative people here trying to prove themselves so it’s a competitive and inspiring place. But at the same time I know people need to spend time in different kinds of environments.

“I also know a very different kind of LA to most people who come here. I don’t go to Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Strip, which is a part of the city I don’t want to have anything to do with ever again. It can be a sad and scary place.”

As if affirming their links with their Californian country-rock forerunners, they recorded their debut album in Laurel Canyon, once the hang-out of Frank Zappa; The Byrds; Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash and Jim Morrison of The Doors. However, plain-speaking Taylor is not one to talk-up the experience.

“It used to be a really cool place for bands to hang out but it hasn’t been since the 70s,” he says dismissively. “Now it’s just a place for richer families to live so bohemian artists types don’t hang out there any more.

“People think we have a ‘Laurel Canyon’ sound, and we did record our first album there, but that was the last time.”

Given their hometown, comparisons are inevitable with their near-namesakes The Doors. Is there any confusion, I wonder? “Only in the UK,” he says. “It is confusing, so I always have to spell it. But I’m not even really familiar with that band, and while they were cool, they were never really an influence.

“Our sound is so different.”

  • Dawes play the Bullingdon Arms, Cowley Road, Oxford, on Wednesday. Tickets are £12 from wegottickets.com