Featured, International Drummers Month, Music History

A Conversation with Dawes Drummer Griffin Goldsmith

As part of our monthlong International Drummer’s Month celebration, we sat down to talk with Dawes drummer Griffin Goldsmith about tone, influences, and the making of their current album The Misadventures of Doomscroller.

Based in Los Angeles, Dawes features brothers Taylor (vocals and guitars) and Griffin Goldsmith with Lee Pardini (keyboards) and bassist and original member Wylie Gerber, who was on his last tour with the band when we spoke in April.

Legitimate torch-bearers of the Laurel Canyon Sound introduced to the world through artists such as Crosby, Stills and Nash and Neil Young with Tom Petty embracing the sound and ethos in the 1980s, Dawes is a lot harder to cubby-hole into just one type of music. Electrified folk might suffice as an introduction but that description only tells half the story. A top draw touring act, their latest album Misadventures of Doomscroller is a rollicking display of the band’s live prowess.

KEF’s Jack Sharkey sat down to talk with Griffin during a break in the band’s latest tour.
JS: Are you at home or are you on the road right now?
Griffin Goldsmith: We played last night in Lawrence [Kansas]. Today is one of our final days off so I’m really soaking it in. We play in Wichita tomorrow which is the beginning of a stretch where we’re doing 10 shows in 11 days.

JS: How’s the tour going?
GG: Going really well. It’s our bass player’s final tour. He’s been with us since day one so it’s been really emotionally charged for sure. The fans are incredible. Tours like this you kind of mix in some of the tertiary markets with some of the bigger markets, so it’s been awesome. You go from Austin to Little Rock and it’s great – it’s balanced and it’s humbling.
JS: I saw you at the Ryman [Nashville TN] in 2019 and it was great – great band, great theater and a full crowd. It’s the perfect way to spend a night.
GG: [The Ryman] is reliably one of our best shows, and the Beacon Theater in New York City is really great for us. I don’t know if it’s like a Red Rock (Boulder CO) type of thing where it’s just built in, but every time we go it just sells out. It’s just much energy and love in the room. I’m from LA and it’s funny to see how different people and their microcultures respond to music. People in New York are very rad and have always been very, very good to us. Nashville is a big music city – it’s like you can’t lose, the audiences are so hyped where they’re a little bit more reserved at the Beacon. And in LA we’re like ‘do they even like us here?’
JS: How much do the sound of your drums and what you’re doing rhythmically play a role when you’re arranging new material?
GG: I’ve always kind of leaned on tone in the studio to inspire the parts and the performance. There are two ways to come into making a record. I do a lot of session stuff on the side as well and I’ve always felt like if the artist wants to send a demo I’ll give it a listen just to make sure there’s not anything crazy difficult, and then beyond that, I don’t’ ever want to dig in too deep and learn the material too well because I feel like every single aspect sonically in the studio – the cue, the vibe, the everything – is going to play into what creates an inspiring performance. I bring a laughable amount of gear to the studio – like my session rig is way too much! But if something’s not working or hitting me in the right way, it’s usually the sound. It’s usually like ‘this isn’t working, what if I get a deeper snare or what if instead of this hi-hat I find another transient sound? Instead of this punchy kick maybe I’ll get [a kick] with goat skins on it for some more low-end to try to resonate more with what the bass player is doing.’ That’s kind of like the whole ball game, at least in the way I do things.

For me, it’s not like ‘how do I lay it back’ or ‘how do I pay the feel correctly,’ it’s usually like, what’s the sound? If you can find the sound maybe that’s going to act as the backbeat, that’s much more inspiring to me than like an insanely rad performance. The best players have both [sound and technique] obviously and that’s what we’re all trying to do, but if the thing is not working, I’ll just continue to grab different things until something clicks. I know players who are so gifted they just go in and play and make it sound great and all the other options are secondary, but for me I’ve always leaned on [the sound]. At the end of the day, I’m put off by a record that doesn’t sound good. There are certain records where I just don’t like the way the drums are recorded so I can’t get into it.

JS: I wanted to ask about the song “Most People” on Stories Don’t End. There’s a part you do in the breakdown where you do the background vocals in a sort of a round and you play a groove under the guitar solo that is just so sublime. It tells the emotional story really well. Was that pre-meditated or did it just come out in rehearsal one time?
GG: Well, thank you man, I really appreciate that. I don’t totally remember but if history is any indication, my guess is that’s just kind of how it came out. I know with those songs we had played them [a lot]. We had sound checked them before we tracked them. I can’t say for sure, but I’d be very surprised if there was a nuanced conversation or concerted effort to find that thing. It wasn’t like the new record for instance [The Misadventures of Doomscroller] which we arranged in the studio, [after] hearing the songs for like the second time.
JS: Let’s talk about The Misadventures of Doomscroller. I’m thinking it was recorded during your time off the road during COVID.
GG: November 2020, so the height of the pandemic.

JS: It’s got a groove to it like it’s a live album, and the songs stretch a bit. Was that your way of lamenting being off the road and missing the audience?
GG: I think that’s part of it. I don’t know if it was obvious to us [at the time] but I do think that in retrospect. As musicians, everyone was under so much stress. We were wondering if we were ever going to tour again; it seemed less and less likely with every passing day. Seeing our world of live music crumble while the other side of the business – pop music – continued to thrive and get bigger, because a lot of [pop music] is recorded with one person in one room, I think made us subconsciously lean into what we’re good at. I think it was reactive in that sense. There was a lot of suppressed energy. We usually play 150 shows a year, and I think going into the studio not having played together, it all just exploded. We were told [over the summer] we might not ever make a record again, and here we are in the studio, so grateful to be in this room together and share this experience, and I feel like that really comes though.

JS: Who were the drummers that influenced your playing style?
GG: Stax/Volt was a big thing for me as a kid. Listening to Al Jackson just play and having that revelation of like oh my God this is really next-level pocket. Obviously Bonham. The Who. But then Dylan records like Desire [1976] really informed the way I look at playing. Steely Dan was a big one for me, because of my dad. I joke with people when they ask why I like Steely Dan so much, I tell them I honestly didn’t have much of a choice. Steve Gadd, Bernie Purdy and Jeff Porcaro were all big influences. Jim Keltner {is a drummer] who really speaks to me. Going back to the first question, it’s something I picked up from him. It’s so much about the sound with him and that’s so often why [his playing] is so insane. Keltner is the apotheosis of tone and taste meets technique and skill.

JS: Who are you listening to now?
GG: Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz. I don’t listen to as much music on the road as I wish I could, but we play for almost three hours a night. I’ll listen to some music earlier in the day to try to color my mood. The power of persuasion is pretty real and if I’m listening to some Jim Gordon I’m probably going to slip some Gordon in a little bit. Lately I’ve been on a Billy Kilson kick. I just got to hang with one of my heroes a few nights ago when Dave King came to our show in Saint Paul. His band Bad Plus was really important in the Nineties and early 2000’s. He is a bad dude, it’s unbelievable what he does. So, getting to hang with him I definitely went down that rabbit hole a bit.

JS: Thanks so much for spending time on your day off with me. It’s been a blast. What’s on tap for the rest of your day off?
GG: I’m just going to continue to sit here and watch some basketball. Thanks!

Dawes will be back out on the road this summer throughout the US, and the band’s current album is a highly recommended sonic and musical journey – JS for KEF.


Photos copyright Michael Weintrob, courtesy of Dawes.

By Jack Sharkey for KEF
Welcome to myKEF

Join Our myKEF Community

Become a member and unlock exclusive offers and benefits.

Create Your Account
You have no items in your cart
All discounted price will be show on cart page
You haven’t sign in yet. Sign in or create account to enjoy the most of your KEF experience.
Visa Mastercard American Express Apple Pay Google Pay Discover Meta Pay
Cart (0 item)
Visa Mastercard American Express Apple Pay Google Pay Discover Meta Pay