Honesty in music—is that where Dawes pick up the slack in a sea of wannabes? From visiting refugee camps in Rwanda to playing concerts at indie record stores to opening arenas for Bob Dylan, Dawes are traveling the world and taking names, all the while being generally nice dudes about it. Rolling Stone once called their sound as “authentically vintage,” but Dawes seeks to break the mold with their new LP, Stories Don’t End, due April 9.
Stories is their much-anticipated third album, the first single from which—the catchy yet mature “From A Window Seat”—heralds a record that is reverent to their past while setting the tone for their future. Dawes also just announced a summer solo headlining tour—after dates with Bob Dylan this spring—that begins on May 24 and stops in practically every Midwestern American city along the way (plus New York, DC, Ottawa, and Ontario along with UK festival dates).
When we chatted with bass guitarist Wylie Gelber, the band was in the middle of a ten-hour drive from Dallas to Nashville for their next in-store concert at Grimey’s. Wylie talked about Dawes’ reverence for independent record stores, the new direction the band is taking their music to and, of course, why vinyl is so important to them.
Dawes recently returned from visiting refugee camps in Rwanda, supporting Nothing But Nets to help raise awareness and fight malaria. What were the most memorable experiences you had?
It was definitely an eye-opening experience. We went to a bunch of refugee camps there; we visited a bunch of medical clinics and stuff like that. It is a horrifying way of life and quality of life of there, and it was intense to see it first-hand, but it was good to go.
What made you guys decide to team up with Nothing But Nets in particular?
The guy who runs it contacted us—he’s a fan of our band. It’s always good to align yourself with some charities, and it seemed like a good idea. He was super into it and after reading about it, we decided to go for it.
What was the most rewarding part of the trip for you?
I don’t know if I’d necessarily say it was rewarding… “rewarding” is a strong word. I don’t think I did that much great stuff by going over there, but I think the idea was mainly to go over there and see how it really is and come back and bring awareness about [Nothing But Nets] to people over here.
You guys are in the middle of playing half-a-dozen in-stores from Texas to Vermont. Why is it important to the band to support independent record stores in this way?
When we make records, ideally we want people to buy them on vinyl or CD and listen to them [that way] as opposed to downloading them. We started the in-stores yesterday [at Good Records in Dallas], and it was awesome. About 200 people came out and bought the record. It was cool to see the people who still frequent record stores—like all of us do—and still care about buying vinyl or CD and going home and listening to it in the order it’s supposed to be played. It’s cool—it’s good to show those people the love they deserve.
There’s a film of the LPs of Stories Don’t End being pressed that was recently posted to your website. What fascinates you personally about that process or the format of vinyl?
I just love… it’s just the ritual of vinyl that’s so awesome for me. I like being in my house, putting on some vinyl, and letting it play. Then there’s an end to the [musical] cycle, so you go over there and flip it. It just sounds so good when you get your whole vinyl stereo system set up really well. There’s the constant maintenance on it that I really enjoy.
Your last two albums were recorded on analog tape. Did you do the same for Stories Don’t End?
Yeah. We did the first two records entirely analog, and then the most recent one—the majority of it was done on analog. We did it on a tape machine with less tracks than we normally do, so as soon as we filled them up we went onto the computer towards the end of it. But the basis of it all is all analog again.
So, you’re going from these in-store concerts to playing huge venues with Bob Dylan. What is that like for you guys to go from the small stage to arenas?
We’ve been doing crazy tours and gigs forever—playing with Jackson Browne, then going back to our own tours playing small clubs. We enjoy all of them for different reasons. I mean, we’re out here playing these in-stores, so we got a whole new set of gear that’s slightly stripped-down and smaller-scale. It’s fun to play these songs and recreate them in a way when you can’t blast your guitar to “10” and play crazy-loud. At the same time we go out with Dylan…
Pretty much every tour, and every opening or headlining thing we do, we try to slightly adjust the set and the gear and the performance to suit that thing. That’s what keeps it interesting for us; we’re on tour so much, and we can’t just like go around playing the same set at the same volume all the time, really. It would become boring, you know? We haven’t gotten bored yet!
I feel like I’m still hearing “Time Spent in Los Angeles” everywhere since Nothing Is Wrong was released two years ago. Do you feel that “From A Window Seat” will do that for Stories Don’t End? Or is there another song you’d pick?
I’m generally a pretty bad choice for singles. We thought [“From A Window Seat”] was a good choice, it was a good combination of the differences of the new record with the similarities of the old one. We’ve never been a band to get a HUGE smash single, but it seems like any songs that bring people into the new record—which that one seems to do pretty well—are a good choice, and I agreed.
The sound of “From A Window Seat” seems a bit more polished and diverse for you. It feels like you are moving away from being pigeon-holed as a “vintage rock” band and coming into your own. Do you feel that’s accurate?
Yeah, definitely. We never intended that—even from the beginning. Our old records probably do sound more like “vintage” than our new one. That was never our goal or what we were trying to accomplish. So, on the first two [albums] we were going along with it, and the producer we were using—my buddy Jonathan Wilson—he has that kind of sound that sounds so good and real, because it is.
And then on the third one, we made an effort so it couldn’t be called “vintage” and “throwback” and stuff like that. Since we never were trying to do that in the first place, it was getting a little bit tiring when everyone was like, [radio announcer voice] “The Laurel Canyon sound!” You know what I mean? We don’t live there; we were just trying to make our records with our current songs, living in the year we’re living in now. So, we finally attempted to actually fulfill that.
I get that. I kept seeing that phrase, “The Laurel Canyon sound,” being used to describe you guys and I was thinking… if I were in a band being described that way, it would feel very limiting to me.
Yeah, exactly. We didn’t want people to keep saying, like, “Wow! This sounds just like CSN or The Band!” That’s great, and we love that music more than anything. It’s pretty much all I listen to, but at the same time when I go to record my own records, it’s not like I go in there being like, “I want this track to sound like CSN or The Band!” We’re doing our own new, original things just like anyone else.
As a bass guitarist, do you have certain influences or people who you love listening to?
I definitely listen almost exclusively to old soul music and New Orleans kind of music. In my mind, those were the golden years of the bass, when the instrument led the song—to me, at least. So, I listen to a lot of bands like The Meters, Stax stuff, Motown—all that kind of stuff that has that super-driving, great bass players who were also melodic.
I listen to all these new bands on the radio, and they could be the greatest band of our time, but you never really hear one where you think, “Wow, that’s a great bass line.” You can’t even hear the bass tone on any of those records. Then you put on one of these old records and it’s like… this fucking amazing, clear tone that’s so low and warm, and yet you can decipher every single note. It’s not just playing as the chords change; it has its own full life to it in every song.
It definitely adds another dimension to songs when you’re playing bass that way.
Yeah, exactly. That’s the whole thing. It opens up a whole other realm, ideally, if you’re doing it right. It takes it out of the flat, only-hearing-low-end, following the chord changes thing. It’s a whole other thing you can concentrate on when you’re listening to the song for whatever number of listens you’re on, after you’ve fallen in love with it.
Of all the indie record stores you’re going to be playing, do you have any favorites? Are there any stores that you’re not hitting this time that you’d like to play?
Most of the ones we’re doing on this tour are ones that we’ve been to and like. The one last night, Good Records, was great. Grimey’s is a good one. Obviously, I’m down to do Amoeba in LA because we live there and are from there and have seen a bunch of in-stores there before and it seems cool. I think pretty much now it’s getting to the point, unfortunately, that most of the record stores that are around are generally going to be pretty rad because the bad ones have been weeded out at this point.
I used to go CD shopping at any CD store I’d see. I’d pull over and some of them would be complete shitholes and I’d be like, “Wow, this is a weird fuckin’ CD store—how do they stay in business?” Now, [record stores] are like destination spots, now, as opposed to driving down the street and seeing all these record stores like you used to. Especially the ones that still have stages and in-stores; people that still come to them are, like, members of the record store. So, the ones that we’re doing on this tour are really cool.
A year from now, when you look back on what you did in 2013, what do you think you’ll be most proud of?
I think this Bob Dylan tour might be pretty up there. Besides that, I don’t know—it’s hard to tell. We go on tour all the time for years. Some years move faster than other years, but getting tours like that… As great as it is to open up for your heroes, I’m more a fan of going out and playing as many shows as I can of my own and seeing what that does for the band. I’m just most excited to go out and do headlining tours. That’s my favorite.
Dawes Independent Record Shop In-Stores
March 20 — Grimey’s, Nashville, TN
March 21 — The Sound Garden, Baltimore, MD
March 27 — Bull Moose, Portland, ME
March 28 — Pure Pop, Burlington, VT
April 2 — The Electric Fetus, Minneapolis, MN