Although he may write songs inspired by the modern times, Taylor Goldsmith certainly knows where he stands on the social justice totem pole.
“I’m not going to pretend that I’m doing remotely enough,” says the Dawes lead singer and songwriter. “I feel like my job is to just share my thoughts and how I’m getting to them. But by no means am I over here thinking that I’m actually harboring change in the way that I want to see it. It’s my small part and the way that I know how.”
Out on the road in support of their 2018 album Passwords, Dawes will visit the Vogue on Tuesday, Sept. 11, performing two full headlining sets back to back. Ahead of the show, our Seth Johnson caught up with Goldsmith, who even had some kind things to say about an Indiana Pacers star.
NUVO: Your musical output prior to Dawes has been described as punk-leaning at times. Can you tell me more about that part of your career?
TAYLOR GOLDSMITH: It’s funny. I don’t know where the word punk came from really. I think it’s maybe because it was kind of clear that I loved Elvis Costello, and I still do. But I never listened to those early records, like This Year’s Model or Armed Forces, and thought, “This guy is post-punk.” Maybe he occupied a space along those lines culturally. But musically, I listened to Elvis Costello for the same reasons I listened to David Bowie and Bob Dylan. To me, it all was part of the same thing. I didn’t really compartmentalize it in different ways.
Anyway, I think someone along the way decided, “Oh, there’s some Elvis Costello influence. Simon Dawes [his band before Dawes] is post-punk.” And we all kind of laughed to our 16-year-old selves because we had never identified with anything remotely punk. I’m even the nerd that…when I listen to the Replacements, it’s all the later records that the real diehards all hate.
NUVO: How long have you been playing music with your brother Griffin (now the drummer of Dawes)? Was he in any of your previous bands?
GOLDSMITH: He was not because he’s just so young. He’s five years younger than me. When we were doing Simon Dawes, I was 18. It was when I was 18 to 22 basically. So he was really a kid. By the time that Dawes started, I was 22 turning 23, and he was 17 turning 18.
NUVO: Was your family pretty musical growing up?
GOLDSMITH: Yeah, my dad is extremely musical. He’s the reason why my brother and I play. He’s an incredible singer, an incredible keyboardist, and also an incredible songwriter. He came from a different school of thought. Like, he was in Tower of Power for a few years. He came up on James Brown, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett.
James Brown to him was what Bob Dylan ended up being for me. But he’s such an openhearted guy so he loved getting into Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead through us, even though when he was a kid, he swore he would never enjoy it. And because of his taste, our education through folk music and R&B was definitely an interesting way into our relationship with music.
NUVO; Dawes performed at an Occupy Wall Street protest back in December 2011. Is social justice something that’s always been important to you?
GOLDSMITH: Yes. I feel like it would be weird for anybody to say no to that question, but I’m also mindful of what music is and what music’s not. Music is a way that you set the tone of a conversation, but I don’t necessarily think it’s an opportunity to lay out your policies and the exact changes that you want to see.
I want to say yes, that I do care about social justice. But I’m not sitting over here patting myself on the back because I sang over at Occupy Wall Street or I wrote a couple of songs about social justice. I think to really be someone that is making an impact in those ways, you’ve gotta go way beyond that.
NUVO: Related to that, your latest album Passwords is described as being for and about the modern age. Can you elaborate on this theme and how it relates to what you just shared with me in regards to social justice?
GOLDSMITH: The album started with the song “Crack the Case.” That was the first song that was completed, which I felt opened the door to the rest of the record. That song is about what we’re talking about. It’s about examples of empathy. It’s about examples of patience. It’s about examples of how to communicate rather than simply reduce someone to some outlook or opinion. To recognize that we’re all in this world just trying to look out for ourselves and others, and some people might do it in ways that others find irresponsible. God knows that I do sometimes.
But I think that the first step towards healing any of that is to recognize that nothing gets done when we’re screaming over each other, whether that’s a fight you’re having with your parents, your husband, or just a stranger. But when you can get to it to a point where you’re listening rather than just yelling to be heard, then those moments [of healing] can happen.
NUVO: I am particularly intrigued by the message of self-reflection in the Passwords song “Feed the Fire.” Tell me more about what inspired that tune.
GOLDSMITH: I guess I find that a lot of artists that I admire, whether they’re making movies, writing songs or books, acting, or whatever…the ones that are doing really well really suffer from this extreme ambition. And in some cases, that can be beautiful, and that can be worked through. Other times, it can seem really harmful and really dangerous. I look at someone like Kanye West, whose music I’ve always really liked. And then, there’s a point in his career where it seems like he’s flailing because his identity is so wrapped up in his success.
I struggle with this inner dialog of wanting to take it further, to push myself harder, to say more, to be more successful, and to get more people at the show. And at the same time, I try to recognize those spiritual mantras that are trying to guide me to not needing any of that and to remind me that none of that is important. That it doesn’t make me who I am. That it isn’t a reason to love myself. I need to recognize that those voices inside my head are true and fair, but I need to recognize them for what they are and what they’re not.
NUVO: Does Indianapolis hold any special significance to you? I know Dawes has played Indy quite a bit over the years.
GOLDSMITH: Yeah, we’ve played there a lot. The Vogue has especially been a very special spot for us because it’s where we always come through town. We did a bunch of opening shows there first. I remember we opened for Edward Sharpe in that same room.
I really like Oladipo on the Pacers too. He’s a very exciting guy to be paying attention to. I think he’s going to become more and more of a huge impact on the league.