An Interview With Wylie Gelber of Dawes
The Folk Rock group Dawes has shared the stage with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams, Chris Robinson, Conor Oberst, and Glen Campbell, just to name a few. Hailing from Los Angeles, the group formerly known as Simon Dawes has released five studio albums, as well as two live albums, including one released in February entitled We’re All Going to Live, and continues to be one of the most prolific touring groups around today. Dawes will be coming to the historic Cox Capitol Theatre on Saturday, November 11. The 11th Hour was able to catch up with the band’s bassist Wylie Gelber and pick his brain on their musical influences and process for creating their sounds. For tickets, go to www.coxcapitoltheatre.com and don’t miss this awesome show!
You were a member of the group when y’all went by Simon Dawes before, take me through the journey you’ve had from then to now.
That band was started when me and Taylor [Goldsmith] were still in high school, and I ended up dropping out of high school to go on tour with them, and we toured for maybe a few years, until a couple of our members didn’t want to tour anymore, so we broke up. Me and Taylor were still living in the band house that we had got in the Valley at the time, where we thought we would be for years and years until everybody left, so we were sitting out there wondering if we were going to have to go get jobs or go back to school and do whatever. Instead we called Taylor’s little brother Griffin [Goldsmith] and we just started the band out of the ashes of our last band. Stayed in the same house, Griffin moved in, we would rehearse in the living room. The house was in North Hills and that’s what we named our first record after.
You and Taylor are the only two remaining members of Simon Dawes, what’s the process for the two of to keep that original sound authentic to Dawes?
I think the reason we’ve been able to be in the band together for so long is just because it’s so natural for the two of us. Taylor writes all the songs, and we all arrange them, and I think that we’ve just had a good co-habitation going on for years and years where his songs make a lot of sense to me as a bass player, and same with Griffin, and it’s this weird, natural nice existence between songwriter and bandmates where everyone knows who to relieve control to when you should and we just trust on each other’s ideas. It just ends up working nicely.
You’ve released five albums and worked with two labels, first ATO and now HUB, what direction do you see Dawes taking with its music in the future?
I think we’re one of those bands that just hopes we get to keep putting out records for years and years to come. We’re hoping that the style of the records, or the theme of them definitely change over the years and evolve, ebb and flow and get weirder and then get back to more basics, and then get weirder again. Whatever path we have to take to try and put out 20, maybe 30 records one day.
Y’all are about to play a couple of shows in Mexico City, how did that part of your tour come to fruition?
We just finished the US and Canada leg of the tour with Kings of Leon, I just got home a couple days ago. I leave tomorrow for Mexico City, and it was a bit of a last second thing. We had our US and Canada shows and they told us there was two open dates in Mexico City if you guys want to go. We went there once, maybe about two years ago or something, with Conor Oberst, and that was the only time we’d been there so, we took them up on the offer. It’s a cool city and we don’t get a chance to get down there often.
You guys started out in Los Angeles, what were the influences you drew from in that music scene?
When we were young we all really loved The Band, Neil Young, and all those kind of classic, 70’s LA sounding musicians, we loved the recording style that those bands had back in the day, very live and embracing the mistakes. You can hear the personality of each person on the record, but there’s nothing like when Neil Young misses a note on a record but it still sounds so good even though its completely wrong. We just fell in love with that idea of not being too crazy precious with it and just being more devoted to the band unit as a sound and whether or not that has a mistake in it, as long as it just sounds like four dudes in a room doing only what they can do together, that’s what drew us to that kind of music. We’re all very avid music listeners and we all listen to every type of music under the sun. Everyone in the band listens to completely different music and similar stuff, and that’s always changing. That’s kind of a hard question to think about, I don’t even remember what I listened to back then, a lot of the stuff is the same as what I’m listening to now and a lot is different but, we’ve always been the kind of guys that listen to music for forever and ever, I just love listening to music.
You recently played a show there at the historic Hollywood Bowl where a lot of the greats have played. The Beach Boys played there, Phish played there, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, The Beatles, just to name a few. What was that experience like?
Unbelievable, that place is one of the most unbelievable venues in the world. We played there maybe four years ago, playing a tribute show for Glen Campbell where we opened up for we opened up for him, but we got to be the house band for Lucinda Williams and Kris Kristofferson, and we were just on stage doing all Glen Campbell songs and Monkees songs and all these other songs he used to play and people were just coming up and fronting and that was the only time we had played there. We just did the show with Kings there a couple weeks ago and, yeah, that place is insane. The view, we’ve all been to shows there since we’re all born and raised in LA, and being on that stage is the only view where you can understand just how gigantic that place is, and you’re just up there like, ‘Holy shit, this is the coolest venue I’ve ever been to.” It’s definitely the coolest venue in Los Angeles, you just get dumbfounded by the view from the stage.
One of the first major tours you went on was with Bob Dylan. How much does a legend like that mean to you and your music, and how do you ever top getting to work with someone like Bob Fucking Dylan?!
We were so stoked to go on tour with Bob Dylan, and we’re all, as you can imagine, are huge Dylan fans, across every era of his career, from his weirdest records to his Christian records to his early records, we love them all. That tour was just insane, it’s not like we got to hang out with Bob Dylan at all on that tour, but to be able to watch a Dylan set from the side of the stage 30 times in a month, it was pretty unbelievable. Just the way that he, being one of those guys that we were talking about earlier where it’s just like, it’s not about right or wrong notes or whatever, you’re just watching his band live in front of you, recreate all these amazing songs, we’d hear the same song three nights in a row and it would be three entirely different versions of that same song. The interplay between the musicians and Dylan was just so magical to watch, everyone is just so in sync with everyone else, one guy starts taking it in one strange direction and every single member of the band catches on to that immediately and goes there with him, it’s just wild to watch that happen every night.
I love this new album We’re All Going to Die that was released last year. Tell me about the work and stories and influences that went into this record.
It was our fifth record, and we were feeling like it was time to branch out in terms of how we record our records, up until that point it’s always been ‘Let’s just plug in our amps, plug in our vocal mic and just try to get this entire thing,’ essentially live, a lot of lead vocals will be live. We would record six versions of one song and go back and listen and be like, “Oh, number one sounds cool” and put out the tracks that way. This record was the first one where we decided to go about it in the other way, very deconstructive, start out with maybe one acoustic guitar track, or a bass track, or a drum track, and just build the recording from the ground up. It allowed us to get a little weirder and stumble around parts and play with different arrangements that you would never be able to come up with otherwise, we would be like “Okay, let’s mute everything and just focus on this drum track, now let’s add this acoustic guitar track and take out that acoustic guitar track and take out the drums and just add a bass part.’ There’s a lot of bizarre ways you can go about arranging the songs, it was fun to do it that way. It was very different for us, there were definitely parts that weren’t as easy for us instead of just going in and slamming out a bunch of live recordings, but we all learned a lot and had a good time doing it.
You’re playing Macon on November 11 at the Cox Capitol Theatre. Have you ever played Macon before? Does the music history of Macon make this a special stop for you?
We know all about Macon and are so excited to go there, but I don’t think we ever have played there. We seem to have played everywhere else in this country but, we’re very stoked to come to Macon, and we’re very aware of the history, but never been before.