Under the Influence

California rock quartet Dawes stays rooted with a little help from their musical heroes

Dawes singer Taylor Goldsmith, second from left, says the band draws inspiration from idols such as the Band’s Levon Helm.

Ever since California quartet Dawes released their debut album, “North Hills,” in 2009, it’s been hard for the group to shake comparisons to legendary rockers the Band, Jackson Browne and the Byrds.

Some bands might run from such comparisons, but Dawes has embraced them. And it’s paid off: In 2011, when the Band’s Robbie Robertson needed a group to back him for a series of television performances, Dawes got the call. And in December, the band teamed up with Browne for a miniconcert at Zuccotti Park as part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Then there was the time last September when Dawes took part in one of Levon Helm’s famed midnight rambles at his Woodstock, N.Y., studio.

“Griffin [Goldsmith] played drums right next to him during ‘The Weight,’” recalls Dawes singer and guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, brother of drummer Griffin. “It was an important night for us.”

Helm passed away in April, leaving behind a body of work that has made a mark on several generations of musicians. His influence — as well as that of Robertson and Browne — is inspiring to Goldsmith and his bandmates, all of whom are still in their 20s.

“It’s a testament to what it is to devote your life to work,” he says. “They’re all so accomplished, not only in careers, but musically. [With] Robbie, you can’t play a song without him being able to follow you, even if he’s never rehearsed it.”

Goldsmith says he sees in his heroes a model for what Dawes could be. “We look at the fact that we’ve been a band for almost six years, with two albums. And then we look at these other bands, with 20 albums in 40 years, and it’s unbelievable,” he says. “We really admire that. It reminds us that we’re at the beginning of all that.”

Moving forward on that trajectory, Dawes is already working on a follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2011 album “Nothing Is Wrong.” Goldsmith recently brought three new songs to the rest of the band, who fleshed them out as they practiced.

“I think with the sound of our band, whatever sounds best is whatever comes naturally,” Goldsmith says. “The less arranged, the better.”

9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; with Sara Watkins; Fri., 8 p.m., $25; 202-265-0930. (U Street)
Rudi Greenberg is Express' Weekend Pass editor and comedy columnist.
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