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Take one part the expert songwriting/grit of L.A.-based outfit Simon Dawes, subtract one member, add a shaker of folk, mix with several music legends (Robbie Robertson, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty, to name a few), a pinch of grueling tour schedule and garnish with the tried-and-true notion that music can save your everloving soul–voila–you’ve got Dawes, the most refreshing band in what feels like a barren landscape of overproduction, trite lyrics and cashing in.

Between 2009’s North Hills and last year’s Nothing Is Wrong, the foursome of Dawes has genuinely proven its weight in ingenuity with consistently thoughtful lyrics, savvy musicianship and their signature analogue sound, all of which will be passing through D.C. at 9:30 Club this Friday and Central Park Summer Stage on June 16 (Pro Tip: the New York show is free).

We spoke with bassist Wylie Gelber about legacy, the lessons learned from a roomful of legends and MacGyvering your way out of trouble when you’re on tour….

Hey, Wylie. How’re ya doing? Where are you calling from?

Pretty good, pretty good. My house in Venice, California.
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Nice. So you’re starting your tour again off of Nothing Is Wrong–I saw you guys once or twice last year touring off that album but you were opening. What made you take that jump into headlining on the same album you’ve been touring under as opposed to saving that headlining tour for your next album?
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Well the next album, we’re still in the middle of writing it. It’s about like eight or nine songs done so by the time we’re done recording and it comes out we’ve still got a while so it just seemed like a good time to go out and do the final city pushes on Nothing Is Wrong. And headlining tour’s the most fun anyways so it’s good to kind of save ’em ’til the end to really enjoy it to the fullest, you know?
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(Samuel Wolf Monkarsh)
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Definitely; it’s a fantastic album. Like I said, I’ve seen you guys do it live before and it’s a lot of fun. Can we expect to hear any test drives of any new songs when you’re coming through?

Oh yeah, definitely. There’ll probably be about three or four new ones that’ll be in rotation in the set. Finally we had some time off so we could get into rehearsals again and start arranging all the songs, which is what takes the longest. So we got about four of ’em ready to go that sound probably the way they’re going to on the record and we’ll definitely be playing those. I mean, that’s a fun time–we get to break in the songs and see what works and what doesn’t so when we go in to record it’ll be nice and tight, you know?
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Mhmm. Also regarding touring, Dawes is a band that never seems to stop and you all seem pretty close. I know Taylor [Goldsmith] and Griffin [Goldsmith] are brothers and you’ve been with the band since Simon Dawes–I’m just wondering, is it hard for you to be around the same people for most of the year, every year?
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No, I mean at this point it’s just like a bunch of brothers and because we are just always around each other all the time, we get along super well. There’s never any tension or anything like that. It’s just nice. When you live life on the road all the time and stuff is so sporadic and it’s kind of hard to explain the different places you’ve seen in a short time, it’s nice to have, like, six guys around you that all do the exact same thing, you know what I mean? It’s like someone else understands.
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No, definitely. And you all seem like you have a lot of fun onstage. What’s it like being in a van with all of you three months into a tour?
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Well me and Taylor were in a van for like, over six years straight like all the time. It was the same van for Simon Dawes we took over with Dawes and we put over 300,000 miles on it and we bought it new. It was insane, I mean that’s like some of the biggest blur of my entire life, just like, the van for 17 hours a day just driving, getting to a show, playing, getting back in the van, going at it again. But it was good. We just started touring with a bus for the first time so it’s going to be like, very cool. I’m stoked to be in it but only because we were in the van for so long.
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Well you guys had humble beginnings but, I mean, I really liked Simon Dawes.
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Thank you.
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It’s definitely a very different feel. Do you ever miss that harder influence in your music?
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No, I mean I don’t miss it. It was interesting to play when we were all younger and kind of forming the musicians we were going to end up being so we all kind of ended up naturally straying away from that and having no desire to play it again but it’s definitely good. I’m sure it still definitely influences the way we play our songs even if they’re mellow or anything like that; that’s what we grew up playing.
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When people describe Dawes they usually throw around terms like “L.A. band” or “Laurel Canyon scene” and I remember Simon Dawes and think it sounded I guess a lot more “L.A.” than the current Dawes feel but even then it doesn’t seem like either classification does your music justice.
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Yeah I mean all those classifications are always so hard, I mean people used to always call Simon Dawes a post-punk band and we would always be like, “We don’t even know what post-punk music is” and now everyone’s like, “Dawes, man, it’s super like Laurel Canyon.” We’ve never lived in Laurel Canyon so far. (Laughs) People ask me what kind of music we play all the time and I’m just like, “Rock and roll music I guess?” I don’t know…
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So I guess if you had this opportunity to set the record straight on how you prefer to be described, do you have any preferences or are you fine to just kind of let people continue on with just trying to sum it up?
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Yeah, kind of. I kind of just like to let people just figure it out. I’ll say rock and roll but not like, hard rock and roll and with heavy harmonies and all that stuff because none of those are really genres. Or soft rock with harmonies but not soft rock. (Laughs) Yeah, it’s tough.
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I was actually kind of hoping to talk to you about Duck Dunn [legendary bassist who worked with Eric Clapton, CCR, Neil Young, The Blues Brothers, Levon Helm & many more]—-he was an idol of yours, right?
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Yeah, definitely. He actually passed away on my birthday.
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Oh my god, I’m so sorry.
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Yeah. It was a big bummer. It was a really sad, sad day. Two of my really close friends–I’m never on the Internet or anything so I never hear things like that–and two of them texted me. He was 70 and apparently passed in his sleep so it really couldn’t go any better. Yeah, it was definitely sad. He was one of the last–in my opinion there’s only a few, like three other living bass players of that stature and that era…
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What kind of an impact did he have on you and your bass playing specifically?
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For many, many years you could easily say–and I probably still would–that he was one of my favorites, if not my favorite bass player ever. So I grew up listening to all of his jazz records and all the records he played on and he was always just so good at making sure that the bass stayed super soulful but not getting like, cheesy and not getting out of place; wasn’t like, too funky of a bass line. There was always a balance. He was really good at playing for a song but still making the bass parts so amazing every time, you know what I mean?
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No, completely. I mean, it really makes you think a lot about legacy.
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Yeah, totally.
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Do you ever think about what you want people to take from your music or the legacy you want Dawes to leave?
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Not too specifically. More that it would obviously be the dream to have people still looking back on your band 30, 40 years afterward and being like, “They played their fucking hearts out and they went until they died” or whatever. And just made a bunch of records and just kept putting out material that was quality and that’s all that matters. The rest will all just happen, you know?
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Mhmm. Completely… Switching tones, as far as recording goes you’ve recorded your last two albums straight to analogue tape but as you said, there’s a third record in the works and I know a lot of people are really looking forward to it. Are you planning on sticking with that similar tape aesthetic or are you going to be deviating from the band’s norm?
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We’re definitely trying to deviate from the norm; that’s the conversation we’ve been having a lot recently. We just want to make sure that what we’re putting out records that keep people on their toes in a good way and aren’t too far-fetched from what they’re expecting but we don’t want to make another record that just sounds like our last two but just a batch of different songs. But the tape thing we’ll continue with. In my opinion, they used to make every kind of music on tape; you record classical, you record heavy metal on tape. The tape just happens to sound better with millions and millions of routes. So it’ll be on tape but hopefully it’ll be like a breath of fresh air into the sound that’ll expand the catalogue of the band.
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Is there any talk of when it’ll be released?
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We don’t take that long to record. If we can get, like, a month in the studio we could make it happen for sure. But that’ll probably happen hopefully in the next five or six months or something, maybe even less, and then however long it takes for them to put a record out after that. I mean it’ll probably happen hopefully less than a year from now, it’ll be out.
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(Samuel Wolf Monkarsh)
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Nice. How do you keep up that momentum? I know that Taylor seems to be writing almost constantly, even on tour, and when you did Nothing is Wrong you only took around a month off to record it…
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I mean, it’s kind of like the easiest way to make sure you don’t get bored with the material. Not bored with the material but for it not to get stale and to keep doing new stuff. And I mean recording is one of our favorite things to do; we like to do it really fast so as soon as we’re done we like to go out and play. We just really love to play music as much as possible. It’s our only job any of us have ever had, really. We really enjoy it. And that’s why we end up being so busy all the time I guess. We told all the people we work with when we first met ’em, like, “Bring it at us.” But I think it’s going to mellow out a little bit on touring. But we’ve been touring outside of the states a bit more so even when we think we’re gonna be home we just end up going to Australia or England or Europe.
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According to an old Spinner article, you’re like the MacGyver of the band, I hear…? What are some of the more recent techniques you’ve used on tour? Has it ever backfired?
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A few things have backfired. Generally I feel like I’m fixing or repairing something on tour every single day. Most of the time it works out pretty good. Occasionally it has backfired but then I just fix it again or something like that. I’ve been building Griff a lot of percussion recently and I’m in the middle of building a bass for myself. I mean, every piece of our gear onstage I’ve done something to, I guarantee it. (Laughs)
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(Samuel Wolf Monkarsh)
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Well I’ve heard that you use, like, safety pins and paper clips and bic pens….
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(Laughs) Yeah.
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If you were stuck on a desert island, what do you think you could get off that island with? Which would be your three things you use to repair your gear that no one thinks will work but do?
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The whole thing is, back when we first started going on tour, I’d bring a super small toolkit with just a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Anything else I would just have to use pens and stuff like that to make it work and now I go on tour and I bring three really giant toolkits–my days of super janky repairs are arguably done but I still have to do it occasionally. I mean I’d probably bring a dremel–that’s a great tool that I use a lot–and then probably a couple screwdrivers and a knife, I guess. That’d be about it.
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You think you could get off a desert island with those?
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I think I’d have a good shot. I don’t know if I’d get off but I’d do all right, I think. After a while.
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(Samuel Wolf Monkarsh)
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You’ve played a ton with so many legends and you guys played Dylanfest before you’re stopping in D.C.; you played with Robbie Robertson, Jackson Browne, Pete Seger,  and then more recent classics like M. Ward and Conor Oberst, you’ve been covered by the Counting Crows…. do you have any favorite advice from the legends you’ve worked with?

Yeah, I mean the main thing we get whenever we play stuff with Jackson–or we played with John Fogerty recently, we recorded a song with him–and the best thing I’ve learned from all those guys, they don’t even have to say it, the ones that are still here that are still present and are just as in love with making music and recording and listening to music and talking about music–those are the ones that are the most alert and thrive and still sound amazing and that’s the most inspiring thing. Don’t fuck it up. Just don’t, you know what I mean? It just sounds like the greatest lifestyle of all time; you’re just playing music and you’re surrounded by music and you’re successful and that’s all you ever had to do is play music and listen to it. That’s the main thing seeing all those guys, and they choose bands like us to play with and it’s so sweet. These people have an eye for another group of people that share the similar interest of music on the brain all the time.
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So lastly I’m going to ask you just a couple rapidfires… Just off the top of your head–and I know it depends on mood and everthing else but–you’re playing Dylanfest. What’s your personal favorite Dylan song?

“Most of the Time” is one of my favorites off of Oh Mercy during the ’90s. It’s a great song. I like the ’90s Dylan where it starts getting kind of out there. I mean obviously I love the classic Dylan as well but anything off New Morning, one of my favorites, and Nashville Skyline is obviously amazing.
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And as far as people you’ve played with, what’s your favorite song by The Band?

Oh, The Band… maybe “Whispering Pines”…?
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…And your favorite Jackson Browne song?

Mine might be “The Pretender” or “Your Bright Baby Blues,” I might say.
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Awesome. Well we’re really excited for this show and I know it’s going to be a good one. Thanks so much for calling and have a great tour!

Yeah, no problem! Thanks a lot.
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