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"And may all your favorite bands stay together," sings Taylor Goldsmith on the title track to Dawes' fourth album, All Your Favorite Bands, on their own HUB Records, harking back to a time when that very special rock group helped define who you were, expressing the joy and passion the foursome put into the release.
"Your favorite band can identify you, express how you see yourself," explains Goldsmith, who co-wrote the song with Jonny Fritz and is the sole author of the album's other eight tracks. "They enable you to articulate your feelings through the way they play their instruments and the lyrics."
On All Your Favorite Bands, Dawes manage to transcend their well-documented Southern California influences to establish their own sound and themes, which range from the glass half full optimism of the first single, "Things Happen" and the minor-chord tension of "I Can't Think About It Now" (featuring background vocals from Gillian Welch and the McCrary Sisters) to the soulful gospel of "Waiting for Your Call," the rocking tongue-in-cheek lyrics of "Right On Time" and the epic, Dylan-esque set piece, "Now That It's Too Late, Maria."
Produced by David Rawlings (Dave Rawlings Machine, Gillian Welch, Robyn Hitchcock, Old Crow Medicine Show, Willie Watson) at Woodland Sound Studios in Nashville, Dawes recorded these new songs after they had already been road-tested in front of live audiences in intimate venues from Sonoma to Santa Barbara, with Rawlings in tow. The producer even played guitar solos on two of the tracks (including that jangling noir Epiphone acoustic on "Somewhere Along the Way"), with Richard Bennett on acoustic guitar and Paul Franklin on pedal steel, also contributing.
"We played and recorded the songs as a band, with very few overdubs," explains Taylor. "It was a real joy to work with Dave, who is such an incredible musician with a deep understanding of what goes into a song. We found ourselves immediately speaking a language we both understood."
Rawlings originally jammed with the band when they were Simon Dawes in their North Hills, CA, rehearsal space around seven years ago, then joined the group on one memorable occasion at the tiny Crepe Place in Santa Cruz for a raucous encore after one of his own shows down the street. Dave threw his hat in the ring to produce them, mutually agreeing on the goal of making their recordings sound more like they do live.
"I was always a big supporter of the way they went about things, and how hard they worked," said Rawlings. "I was also impressed with their growth as musicians."
The pairing of Dawes with Rawlings couldn't have been a more perfect match of band and producer.
"Playing these songs with them in a live setting in front of an audience before we ever set foot in the studio was a lot of fun," enthused Rawlings. "I was really pleased to see the new material not just holding its own with the older stuff, but in some cases sound even better and fresher."
Fresh from his game-changing experience working on the New Basement Tapes with producer T Bone Burnett and bandmates Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens, Taylor took the spontaneity and organic interaction of those sessions – along with a newfound self-confidence – into recording the new album.
"We didn't get super-precious about it," he said. "The rest of the band were able to react and respond in the moment, so even during the guitar solos, you can hear everyone else expressing themselves as well."
The first single, "Things Happen," is accompanied by a video that expresses Dawes' joie de vivre, a bittersweet tale of a Beatles busker (played by their actor friend Nate Michaux) who works Hollywood Blvd., where he meets fellow street performers Charlie Chaplin (Taylor), Elvis Presley (Gelber) and Marilyn Monroe (Strathairn in drag).
"In a literal way, I'm singing to a friend, but I'm also giving myself a pep talk," said Taylor. "Things might be bad, but the only thing you can do is shift your perspective to deal with it. Hoping it will go away by itself is a little unreasonable."
There are also glimpses of past relationships in "Somewhere Along the Way" and "Waiting for Your Call," while "I Can't Think About It Now" offers a disquieting view of how repressing your problems ends up making things worse, and "Right on Time" describes the serendipity that makes up a long-lasting romance, posing a dichotomy between the dramatic music and the blatantly over-the-top lyrics. The sprawling, nine-minute-plus "Now That It's Too Late Maria" was the first song the band recorded in the studio, and set the template for the album's loose-limbed, yet deliberate approach.
"Griffin played a relaxed, mid-tempo beat and I just started singing it that way," recalls Taylor. "Dave just told us not to think about what we were doing, just do it, and that's what we did. It was a very special moment for us as a band. It really set the mood and made us confident and comfortable in our own skin, helped us embrace ourselves as a band. We realized nobody could do what the four of us do together."
Making the new album helped Dawes realize just how special – and unique – they were as a unit. It's a worthy addition – and a noticeable advance – on their three previous albums, 2009's debut North Hills, 2011's Nothing Is Wrong and 2013's Stories Don't End.
"They are a tremendously talented group of guys focused solely on the music as part of their lives," offered Rawlings. "I remember sitting in the control room with Taylor and Griff as they went through their iPods and pulled out pieces of songs, swapping ideas back and forth over a great breadth of different styles from all different eras. There's a good level of passion and friction, and there was a healthy give-and-take, of questioning things, then coming to an informed decision in the studio. I certainly learned a great deal working on this album."
Taylor suggested the energy of All Your Favorite Bands matches that of their very first album, though this time the spontaneity was part of a concerted plan rather than the necessity of budgetary limitations.
"There is so much joy in these songs, they make me smile when I hear them," he concluded. "We woke up every day looking forward to the fact we would be playing together in the studio. That's all we ever care about doing."
All Your Favorite Bands is the kind of album that could well make Dawes your favorite band.