If you've never heard a note played by either Simon Dawes or Dawes, it's understandably very easy to get the two bands mixed up. After all, their names are very similar and lineup-wise, both are almost the same thing. But to Taylor Goldsmith, Simon Dawes (his defunct group) and Dawes (his current group) are the products of considerably different approaches—an idea evidenced by how he responds to the same question on both groups. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times, the act's hometown newspaper, asked Goldsmith what the indie/alt-rock-leaning Simon Dawes would be like if it were an actual person and not a band. “He would probably be very neurotic,” the vocalist/guitarist said. “And probably the center of the universe."
In 2011, his answer to the same question on Dawes, a quartet interested in exploring folk-influenced rock'n'roll indelibly connected to the mid-to-late '60s and early '70s, presents a more restrained character. “Dawes would be a little more observant and a little [less] concerned with the outcome of something and therefore not as neurotic and worried,” says Goldsmith. “[He'd be] a little more curious as to how it all got there.”
Still, no matter which band things would materialize in, Goldsmith was headed in the same sonic direction. Simon Dawes went the way of the dodo once guitarist Blake Mills, an integral part in the band, decided to leave, but Goldsmith and company had already been tinkering with a rootsier sound that materialized with 2009's North Hills, Dawes' first full-length. As Simon Dawes dissolved in the late '00s, Goldsmith moved from reeling in the ideas and influences of “five bands at once” into something simpler. He became fascinated with Will Oldham and Leonard Cohen—songwriters who've relied more on traditional songwriting tactics (ie, having an uncluttered sound and a focus on lyrics and straightforward melody) than experimental ones. Nowhere was Goldsmith's commitment to these ideas more apparent than in a 2010 interview with Spinner. “I'm not the kind of guy that's going to make wild crazy soundscape stuff like Radiohead or other bands in that vein,” he said. “Sometimes I'm like, 'Man, I hope it's not too cut and dry,' but what I've always responded to is just the strength of a good song, you know?”
In short, you could get away with calling Dawes Americana—the band's certainly got enough slow-burn twanginess to fall under the category—but Goldsmith bristles a bit at the association because he wants people to not have preconceived notions of the sound he's going for. When it comes to that front, Goldsmith's got an uphill battle ahead of him, as Dawes play with ideas from a sound so linked to material from the '60s or '70s that an invocation of Neil Young is practically unavoidable when discussing them. (Look, we just slipped one in right there.) Moreover, the company Dawes' keeps has done little to dissuade these ties: they've done an enthusiastic cover of Joe Cocker's “With a Little Help from My Friends,” backed Robbie Robertson of The Band on a recent tour and had Jackson Browne lend vocals to “Fire Away” on Nothing is Wrong, their latest record. Goldsmith does feel some measure of frustration from all these links, though, as he mentions that some people think “Fire Away” was written specifically as some kind of tribute to Browne when in actuality, Goldsmith was really into Lucinda Williams when he put it together.
As it stands, Dawes might be far mature than Simon Dawes, but they're still in the process of cultivating their own voice and personality. “There's not a crazy glaring oddity about us, and at the same time, we're not trying to get to get too preconceived. A big deal to us is making sure that people are experiencing us as real people,” he says. “We're just trying to do whatever comes naturally.”
Dawes with Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas
$30-$120, July 27, Ives Concert Park, 1 University Boulevard, Danbury, 866-55-TICKETS, ivesconcertpark.com.
$45-$65, Aug. 6, MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort Casino, 350 Trolley Line Blvd, Mashantucket, 1-800-369-9663, foxwoods.com.