Dawes Brings Successful Folk Rock Sound to Three Rivers Arts Festival

In advance of Friday's concert, Wylie Gelber speaks on the band's creative process and bass guitars.

Dawes (l. to r.): Wylie Gelber, Griffin Goldsmith, Taylor Goldsmith, and Lee Pardini. photo: Dawes.

Dawes (l. to r.): Wylie Gelber, Griffin Goldsmith, Taylor Goldsmith, and Lee Pardini. photo: Dawes.

Popular folk rock band Dawes is the musical headliner this Friday night at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. Composed of brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Wylie Gelber (bass), and Lee Pardini (keyboards), the band is based in their hometown of Los Angeles, California.

They originally started out as the rock band Simon Dawes, deriving their name from the middle names of Taylor Goldsmith and then-member and co-songwriter Blake Mills. When Mills left in 2006, they dropped the Simon part and just went with Dawes. The group occupies a sweet spot between folk and rock, and that spot has been good to them. Dawes sound is based upon strong melodic lead and backing vocals built upon a foundation of solid musicianship. The group is just as comfortable doing a slow ballad as they are a fast rock song. Their latest album, 2016’s We’re All Gonna Die, sees them expanding their sound a little wider. I recently had the opportunity to speak by phone with Wylie Gelber, who was in Los Angles between legs of a Dawes tour.

Gelber first started playing guitar in the third grade and has been in bands for most of his life. When he was 16 years old, he met Taylor Goldsmith, who went to a different high school, and joined his group, Simon Dawes.

I remarked that Dawes’ last two albums, We’re All Gonna Die and All Your Favorite Bands, have reached number one on the Billboard U.S. Folk chart and cracked the top 10 on the U.S. Rock Chart and asked him how they achieved and maintained that level of success. Gelber replied, “We record the records and put on a great show. We have great teams and work hard to create a good product.”

Dawes’ Creative Process 

Gelber said of the group’s creative process, “It starts with Taylor writing the songs on acoustic guitar or piano, sometimes during that period ballads turn into rock songs and the other way around too.” I was interested in hearing more about the overall concept for their latest album, We’re All Gonna Die. “We’ve done four records in the same vein, and we wanted to explore some new sounds. The album is a result of Taylor writing new songs and testing them at shows. Then recording the best testing arrangements while continuing to tweak them. Then we would record them again,” Gelber relayed. 

Asked if Dawes is going in a little harder direction with We’re All Gonna Die. He said it was more about the band coming out of its comfort zone. Not everything went in a harder direction. He adds, “The song ‘One of Us’ was a heavier song originally than what it is now.” Grammy nominated producer and former bandmate Blake Mills returned to work with Dawes’ on their latest release.

I asked Gelber if everything is OK with the band because if one looks at their album titles, the second one was titled Nothing Is Wrong while their latest is We’re All Gonna Die. He laughed and said “everything is alright. Taylor tells people the song is about if you haven’t had a conversation with people you love, you should.” Mentioning that Dawes came more fully onto my radar screen after the song “Things Happen” (from their 2015 album, All Your Favorite Bands), I asked him if the song had a big impact on their success. “Yes, it’s our most played song, especially on digital.”

When asked if the song “When the Tequila Runs Out” has become a party song he replied, “Yes, it depends on the audience, especially in college towns. It’s actually a satirical song about people in our hometown of L.A.”

A Strong Foundation

In talking about how he describes his style of play, Gelber replied, “I’m a big fan of the heyday of bass players in the ’70s with melodic groove and rhythm. I hate it when the bass is too subtle, but don’t like nothing over the top either.” He mentioned he has a big bass guitar collection, favoring Gibsons, but in recent years has preferred to build his own. “I like building a bass to my own specs, I currently have two basses that I’ve built and am in the process of building two more, one of which I’m going to use mainly for recording.”

He responded to a question I had about the prominent bass line in the title song of the band’s latest album, We’re All Gonna Die, and if he had a lot of input into that by saying, “Yes, it just kind of happened that way. Some songs come together in 20 minutes and some songs take longer. I started playing the song in rehearsal and liked the way my bass part was sounding, so we just kept it that way.”

Gelber says that what’s next for the band is that “we’re always trying to get into the studio, we’re working on some new songs.” I asked him if he has any special recollections about playing Pittsburgh over the years and he replied, “Pittsburgh’s a cool town, and I always loved that crazy drive into Pittsburgh through the tunnel when we were touring in a van. Pittsburgh’s a hidden gem. When I meet people in L.A., many say, ‘I’m from a small town you haven’t heard of,’ but a lot of times, I have because of our touring.”

Friday is your opportunity to enjoy what promises to be a great concert at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival and help Dawes make an extra special new memory of Pittsburgh. Opening is The Accidentals, Billboard’s Breakout Band at SXSW 2015. The Accidentals start at 6 p.m. and Dawes takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Dollar Bank Main Stage, Point State Park, Downtown.


Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and enjoys good music.