5 Questions With Dawes & Matisyahu

Krista Connor

Dawes

The folk-rockers bring their Southern California sound to the Grand on Dec. 6

The three-piece, lyrically-minded folk rock band Dawes has been busy this year touring and sharing music from their newest album, All Your Favorite Bands.

Made up of guitarist and vocalist Taylor Goldsmith, his brother Griffin Goldsmith on drums, and bassist Wylie Gelber, Dawes was formed in 2009, and with three additional albums under their belts between then and All Your Favorite Bands (released in June), the band has been described as having a Southern California/Laurel Canyon sound reminiscent of artists like Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Neil Young.

Taylor Goldsmith recently chatted with O&A by phone about the new album. He was taking a rare, short break in his Los Angeles home between the band’s European fall tour and their current winter East Coast tour, which will bring them to the Grand on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. Goldsmith seemed eager to get back on the road.

1. You approached your newest album, All Your Favorite Bands, by performing brand new songs live to test them out, and recorded them after that. What made you choose this route, and would you do it again for another record?

We wanted to make sure they all functioned on stage and stood up on their own two feet when we played them as a live set, rather than recording an entire album first in the studio only to find out they wouldn’t work live. I think we’ve always had that mindset about recording albums, but we were really committed to the concept this time. At the same time we don’t want to limit ourselves to anything for the future. I’m up for whatever on the next record. We’ll do what we do best, whatever that may mean, and always try to challenge ourselves on new approaches and ways of recording.

2. Dawes often focuses on nostalgic topics but in a relatively upbeat manner, and as the band’s songwriter you seem to keep the lyrics balanced between sentimental and edgy. What’s the inspiration behind the band’s style?

I never really set out to say, “I want to be this kind of songwriter,” or “this kind of band.” For us, it really is all about the moment we put our instruments in our hands, about what I want to write, about what comes out naturally. Over the years, it’s become this thing where people will say, “Dawes, you’re kind of this rock band but with a singer-songwriter focus,” but it was never something we set out to do in the first place. We always just say, “Let’s see what this sounds like,” and go from there.

3. Most musicians spend years trying to record and get a following, but your band released its first album, North Hills, in 2009, the same year you guys started playing together as Dawes. This album includes your arguably most well-known single, “When My Time Comes.” Did fame affect your friendships with each other, and to what do you owe your rise to international fame over the past few years?

We came from a band called Simon Dawes and didn’t get anywhere with it, but we loved touring around and doing music. What we wanted with Dawes was to get to that same place of touring again, so we had to ask ourselves, “How do we make a record to get back into the life of a touring musician?” There’s always this dream of “I want to play to 10,000 people and be held in high esteem.” Obviously that’s a dream for everybody no matter what they do. We definitely didn’t see it as an immediate success, though. When I looked at a lot of friends’ bands, like Mumford and Sons, who went from being little-known at Bonnaroo playing a set in the middle of the day to super huge within a few months, it puts it into perspective for us to show it’s been a slow burn. But thankfully for us, it’s been an easy thing where our fans are so open to us making the records we want to make, and with each one we feel like more people are noticing. But it was never instantaneous. As far as friendship with each other, we always just wanted to go on tour with our best friends – and that’s all we thought about or cared about.

4. What’s next for Dawes?

After this tour is over at the end of the month, we’re heading right into the studio. We want to be recording by early 2016 and hopefully have a record out by next year.

5. Any ideas for the next record?

As of now, not really. With us, writing and recording is always the same sort of zone – I write songs and we work them out as a band, like how close we want a song to sound to other songs or records. And all of that is part of the process that reveals itself later on in the journey. The material has always dictated it, and we’re just not quite there yet to know what direction it’ll go in.

Tickets range from $32-$39. Purchase at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org.

Matisyahu

Jewish reggae star Matisyahu takes to the road, arriving at the Grand on Dec. 12

Matthew Miller, better known by his Hebrew and stage name, Matisyahu, has been through quite a transformation over the past few years.

Born 36 years ago in West Chester, Pa., Miller grew up in White Plains, N.Y., where he honed his musical skills and became a Jewish reggae-meets-alternative-hip-hop artist. He burst onto the music scene and Top 40 charts in 2005 with his single, “King Without a Crown.”

As Matisyahu, he skyrocketed to fame that year, and Esquire dubbed him “the most intriguing reggae artist in the world” in 2006. He embraced his heritage and Hasidic Jewish traditions; he grew a long beard, wore a yamaka, and observed the Sabbath as a day of rest, which meant not performing shows on Fridays.

He had always been known for incorporating religious and spiritual themes into his music, but in 2011 Matisyahu stepped back from Hasidism, and his most recent studio album, Akeda, released last year, reflects his personal transformation. Meanwhile, Live at Stubb’s III – A 10-Year Journey, a live recording released this past October, celebrates 10 years of fan favorites written throughout his career.

O&A caught up with Matisyahu by phone before his tour to chat about his new recordings, his personal journey, and his love for social media.

Look for him Saturday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m. at the Grand, in his show, Festival of Light: An Intimate Evening with Matisyahu.

1. What made you return to Stubb’s—the Austin, Texas, BBQ spot and the venue where you made two other live recordings in 2005 and 2010—for a third, Live at Stubb’s III? What makes this one special?

Basically, this year is a 10-year-anniversary of performing. I’ve been touring pretty constantly for the past decade or so, and my music has gone through different stages, evolutions and phases, but I’m still playing old songs. I still try to find nostalgia within songs that people feel the connection to, along with where I’m headed and what I’m feeling currently. The songs are always kind of morphing and changing, but I want to keep their original charm. For Live at Stubb’s III, I wanted to put together a band of musicians I’ve played with over the past 10 years—like the Dub Trio I’ve been touring with for five years—so each member is there for a reason to add to the sound in a very specific way. Also, at 10 years, it made sense to do another live record, and to keep the cycle going with recording at Stubb’s. Whether recording live or performing, I always want to focus on improvisation, not replaying the same exact sound from shows the night before. So we should be in a pretty good place when we get to you in Delaware.

2. Much to fan surprise, in 2011 you shaved your beard and since then stopped wearing a yamaka and dyed your hair blond, saying you felt trapped by Hasidism, which had played an important role in your image and music. Can you describe your journey from then to now? Is there ever a time you wish religion didn’t play such a large role in your public image?

Basically, I went through a big transition over the years. I started out as a Hassidic reggae artist, and that was what I became known as, with it being such a specific, unique thing. The image is connected very strongly to the music. It’s all a journey, it’s all a life, it’s my life, not a record or a tour. So, changing the way I dress, for example, wasn’t in line with my original idea. Ultimately what happened is I got to a point where I felt I didn’t need to be dictated to anymore about what my facial hair should look like, or about all the rules of Orthodox Judaism. I felt it was time to change. That’s what happened. I don’t really wish things were any different, because that just falls under the category of spending time thinking about things that don’t matter. Things are what they are. You can only affect the future and where you are presently, and can’t spend too much time thinking, “I wish it was this way or that way.”

3. How do you think your personal changes are reflected in your music and your most recent studio album, Akeda?

The change that went on was documented by the music, and each phase is representative of new segments. This is the segment of me taking ownership of my life in a lot of different ways, like breaking out of a lot of things, whether it’s relationships that weren’t good for me, divorce or religion. I’m getting away from anyone or anything that is trying to mold me. This record is about freedom, ups and downs and what happens when you make a big decision. There’s hope, redemption and freedom, matched with sadness.

4. The idea of exploring self-identity—and being true to it—seems to play a large role in your songs and how you present yourself, despite how followers and critics may react to your decisions. What’s the driving factor that allows you to base your decisions on what’s best for you personally, not what would make other people most happy?

I think at the end of the day, a person has to be happy himself. I spent a lot of periods of time in my life ruminating on what people would like, what would make people feel good. I always had this struggle, battle, between doing what others want me to do and doing what my intuitive nature knows it needs. If you’re kind of different from most, a unique person or artist, you struggle with that a lot because it takes a certain amount of strength and wisdom to trust yourself. But I’m a 36-year-old man, a father of four, and I’ve been doing this music thing for a little bit of time now. I’ve come to this place where the thing that matters the most to me is not the fame or the money or making people feel good, it’s what’s creating the most authentic, truest art that I can make. That to me in the end is what will really help people. And help me, as well.

5. What’s next for you?

I have a couple things coming up. I’m touring in South America in January, and in March I go back in the studio with the band, where we’ll start working on stuff for a new record. I also have a fan club (dreampatron.com/matisyahu) for people to subscribe to and hear exclusive songs, win VIP tickets, be a part of meet-and-greets, and view backstage footage and photos from tours. I livestream all the time, and have Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and a blog. Some artists like to make a real distinction between music and their lives, but I think it’s fun to let people into the quirky or normal aspects of life. I love art and taking pictures, so I’m also on Instagram.

Tickets for Festival of Light: An Intimate Evening with Matisyahu range from $32-$38, and they can be purchased at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.