Of all the things that Taylor Goldsmith learned from spending the year on the road, the most surprising lesson might be how the music business really hasn't changed as dramatically as people think. At least for some bands.
"Considering all the talk of the Internet and being in the information age, it's been kind of eye-opening the way our audiences still vary from city to city," said Goldsmith, frontman for Los Angeles' sweetest little buzz band, Dawes. "You would think the Internet would do more for a band than word-of-mouth or radio, but it really doesn't. Those things still matter the most."
Case in point: The Twin Cities, which Goldsmith said is "easily our best market."
An old-fashioned band in more ways than one -- its folky harmonies and soulful Southern-flavored rock are oft-compared to CSN&Y and the Band -- Dawes built its devoted Minnesota following in a purely traditional fashion. Since an opening slot at the Triple Rock in February, the Los Angeles quintet has played to an ever-expanding audience that goes away with ever-broader smiles each time the band leaves the stage.
In June, Goldsmith & Co. rather blatantly stole the show from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros at First Avenue. A month later, they had a tent full of people at Taste of Minnesota fervently swaying their hands and singing along as if it were some sort of gospel revival. And to help matters, their warm singles "That Western Skyline" and "Love Is All I Am" were put into regular rotation on the Current (89.3 FM).
A fitting culmination to all this local love, Dawes takes over as a First Avenue headliner Thursday. Goldsmith vividly remembers their previous show there, talking about it more with aw-shucks humility than cockiness. (Dawes might be the most polite, down-to-earth band to ever call L.A. home.)
"It was kind of weird," he recalled by phone last week on his way to St. Louis. "Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros finished their set and said, 'Man, I think we had a bad night. We're kind of bummed out about it.' And we came offstage feeling like a million bucks, hearing people singing along. It could not have gone much better for us, especially as an opening band.
"After every tour, when we get home and people ask, 'So what was your favorite show?' Minneapolis is always at or near the top of the list. That's not just something I would say, either, because we aren't playing rooms the size of First Avenue in other cities, except maybe New York."
Time to record
Dawes did not exactly come out of nowhere to win over the ears and hearts of Twin Cities fans. The band -- whose members are a mere 19 to 24 in age -- earned a nod as one of Rolling Stone's breaking artists for the year, and its debut album, "North Hills," was issued to many strong accolades last year.
Goldsmith and his younger brother, Griffin (Dawes' drummer), grew up under the musical tutelage of former Tower of Power singer Lenny Goldsmith, their dad. They fell in with the communal Laurel Canyon music scene, born on the lore of '60s love-ins by CSN&Y, Joni Mitchell, the Eagles et al., but redeveloped into a new haven with participants including Jenny Lewis, Chris Robinson and Jakob Dylan.
One of the going lines about Dawes is they sound too soulful, twangy and Middle American to be Angelenos, a notion Goldsmith politely dismissed.
"If people identify our music more with someplace rural or Southern, that's flattering in a way," he said. "But a lot of the music that we've listened to and have been associated with really are acts from L.A., like Neil Young, CSN&Y, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Joni Mitchell, Little Feat. People say to us, 'You don't sound like an L.A. band,' and then they go on to list all these L.A. bands that we sound like."
Of course, Dawes didn't spend much of 2010 at home. Goldsmith said he now just sublets an apartment instead of paying rent on a full-time place. He was hardly complaining, though. "Even though we've been out for most of the year, we still wish we could keep going," he said.
The band finally spent late August and September at home, which was enough time to finish their second album, due out by the middle of 2011. They have been playing several of the new songs on the road for months now, including a harmonious gem called "Fire Away" that follows in the gospel-charged sing-along vein of two of the best tracks from their debut, "When My Time Comes" and "Peace in the Valley."
As with everything else, the new album benefited from all that time Dawes put in on the road.
"When we recorded 'North Hills,' we had never even been on tour," the singer said. "This time, we came straight off three months of touring. It's a more excited and live-sounding record than the first one. I mean, we're still the same old dogs, but the touring has definitely changed us for the better."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib