Indie rock band Dawes played a free concert for students at Royce Hall on Feb. 17 as a part of the UCLA Arts Party. For those that attended and want to know more about the band, Arts and Entertainment contributor Shannon Cosgrove spoke with Taylor Goldsmith, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, and Tay Strathairn, vocalist and keyboardist.

Daily Bruin: What motivated you to pursue a career in music?

Taylor Goldsmith: I don’t really know how to do anything else ““ I know that’s sort of a cliche, but I remember singing with my dad at 4 years old and before that I really don’t remember much at all. There was never a point where I was like, “What do I want to do when I grow up?” I just wanted to be a musician. When you have a day when you feel like nothing is ever going to turn out right, you just think, “Well what else can I do?” When you devote all these formative years to getting good at this one thing there’s really no turning back unless you’re willing to start all over. We all wanted to be musicians from day one.

DB: Why did you name the band after the Goldsmiths’ fiddle-playing grandfather?
 
TG: He had a big hand in shaping us musically ““ what were big influences to him meant a lot to us and the way he played music ended up being the way we played music. It’s this full circle feeling that we weren’t even fully aware of until he passed away. Calling the band Dawes, we were able to involve him in some way.

DB: Your first record, released in 2009, is called “North Hills” ““ what inspired you to write an ode to your hometown of Los Angeles?
 
TG: We all moved to North Hills because it was the only place we could all afford; this house we could all rehearse in ““ the whole album was rehearsed, written and arranged there. The patch we were in wasn’t the coolest place in the world, so to call the album a pretty name like North Hills when we had some memories there that were not very pretty was, to us, ironic or at least interesting.
 
DB: What made you decide to record it in a live setting to analog tape?
 
TG: We did the whole Pro Tools digital thing where we were all in different rooms looking at each other through glass. It sounded really bad and I lost a lot of faith in us .We were overthinking things and not locked in the way we are in a live setting ““ let’s do this again live to tape and immediately it was like, “Ah, this is the band we are.” The analog tape will force any musician to step up and be able to perform ““ you really have to think on your feet. Sometimes you can hear the laziness of thinking, “Oh we can fix this later with digital recording.” I feel that when people listen to North Hills, they can hear us playing together and being aware of each other ““ that comes through on some level. We don’t stick to anything too much because it’s folk music, not ironed out pop.

DB: Where else do you draw inspiration from for your rooted music and rather mature lyrics?
 
TG: We listen to a lot of music, watch a lot of movies, read a lot of books and talk a lot of bullshit. People often say to me, “Wow you must really have your head wrapped around all these things you sing about,” but I actually feel the opposite ““ a lot of these songs are about how little I understand the stuff people think I understand well. I’m just willing to admit that, I guess. The lyrics are about not being able to come to terms with a relationship, the idea of getting older and other things ““ they’re not about having a full understanding of love. I write about my relationship with this city and being on the road, having hazy relationships with everyone in your life, even your best friend and your family, who might be 200,000 miles away.
 
Tay Strathairn: There’s a wandering, unfinished feeling to it ““ it’s hard to be rooted.

DB: What was is it like jamming with musicians new and old, like Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench and The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson in Laurel Canyon?
 
TG: It’s been an honor. Recently we played a show at The Troubadour and Jackson Browne got up on stage and did a song with us. I was talking to Richard Gowan who plays drums for Robert Francis, and he was saying, “The fact that you are playing with your heroes who respect and want to play music with you, who paved the road and want to share that with you, that’s it.” It’s cooler than big, old sold-out rooms, selling a million records ““ it’s the dream.

DB: Your sound has been compared to older Los Angeles-based bands such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Joni Mitchell. How would you describe your sound?
 
TG: I feel like every artist does what they do naturally, there’s nothing preconceived. For us, traditional, folk, rock ‘n’ roll is what we want to play. When someone says to us, “Oh you should put in a drum machine or some cool, crazy synthesizers,” I say to them,” Well we didn’t grow up with that, that doesn’t resonate with us, we don’t know how to do that.” I know how to play guitar solos and sing, so that’s what I do. We definitely don’t mean to bring it back to the good days, but it’s cool that people compare us to older bands.
 
TS: Just playing instruments that have been around for a while is thought of as old-timey, but that’s just what happens when you just play a traditional instrument like piano and guitar.
 
TG: A guitar string is meant to be bent and if you bend a guitar string nowadays people call you a retro band, but we’re not. I’m just playing the guitar. I feel that as long as we keep making music and records that are actually representative of what we are, that will be our sound and will set us apart, ideally.

DB: As you fit the age group yourselves, are you looking forward to playing to a college-student crowd at UCLA?
 
TG: This is our first time playing in Los Angeles in 2011 and even though our agent wants to make sure we’re not overplaying our own hometown, we always take every chance we can get to play here. There’s upsides to every kind of show and audience, dictated by the room and the age group. I mean, if you have a lot of kids, but they’re sitting in a hall like this, they’re probably going to be more quiet and listen more closely. We love playing to people our age; hopefully they’re going through the same experiences we are.

DB: You’ve been known to give CDs to fans at your shows for less-than-store prices and for being rather liberal with music sharing. What is music about to you?
 
TG: I mean being liberal with music-sharing isn’t really up for debate anymore. You hear about musicians who have to close up shop because no one’s buying their records, and they have a family and can’t go on tour for more than three months in a year. People are very misinformed about how much money a musician makes. I’ve never owned a house, I can barely pay rent. All of this costs a lot of money, we really rely on the record sales, but at the same time we want a career so if someone doesn’t want to pay for the record but listens to it and decides to come to our shows then that works out. If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it. Music for us doesn’t have a monetary value, but we still want to be able to keep doing it.

DB: How has the band changed? What’s the next step for you guys?
 
TG: We just finished our next record that will be out in early June. We’re more used to playing live now. One of the things Dawes is lucky for is getting along really well. In a lot of bands we know, there’s a lot of tension, disagreement and pressure and you have people quitting at the top, when they have everything that they wanted and now they can’t handle it because they can’t get along with the other members in the band. Young people who want to get into music should stop wishing to be rich and famous; they should work on getting along together. Dawes might not get any bigger than it is right now, but as long as we keep getting along the way we do, I’ll be the happiest guy.