Photo courtesy of COLDSMOKE APPAREL
BY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER In their nearly ten years as a band, Dawes has earned a reputation for old timey, scuffed denim sonics and sepia-toned Americana narratives that sound like this 21st Century version of the Laurel Canyon Sound. But on “Living In The Future,” the lead-off track from their latest album Passwords, Dawes plumbs the darker premonitions of America circa now with a colder, harsher sound that conjures the paranoia and darkness of the Age of Trump. Currently on tour with the Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Dawes play the Wells Fargo Center on Friday August 24th. We got bassist Wylie Gelber on the phone to talk about the new album, the strange days we find ourselves in, and what it’s like to finally meet Jeff Lynne.
PHAWKER: So the lyrics to “Living in the Future,” the first single off of Passwords, really seem to capture the awful zeitgeist of the moment, and I’d like to go through the second verse of it line by line, if you don’t mind, or at least as far as we go, and talk a little bit about what you guys are saying and why you’re trying to say it, or at the very least, what your interpretation of the lyrics that Taylor wrote are. So the first line of that verse is “It’s the battle of the passwords.” So is that a reference to the fact that everything in the digital age is password-protected and that there’s a constant struggle to remember all of these passwords and come up with new passwords that hackers and criminals can’t crack? Is that where you think that comes from?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I think in the broadest sense, for sure. I’m not necessarily sure what the exact scenario that inspired that lyric is, but I’d say that sounds accurate enough.
PHAWKER: Okay, and so then, the next line after that goes, “It’s the trumpets on the hill.” The Book of Revelation in the Bible talks about seven trumpets blown by seven angels that will cue the start of the apocalypse. Do you think that’s what that’s referring to?
WYLIE GELBER: No, I doubt it.
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I would doubt any biblical reference, if I was to say.
PHAWKER: Why would you say that?
WYLIE GELBER: Just because I don’t think that anyone in the band is that well-versed in the Bible to even know that.
PHAWKER: Oh really? What’s your interpretation of it then?
WYLIE GELBER: Of that lyric? I couldn’t really say. I honestly have no idea. I just know that it’s 99.9% non-biblical related just because I know the members of the band.
Phakwer: Okay, okay. So it keeps going into “It’s that constant paranoia / It’s the final fire drill.” So why is that paranoia and sense of impending doom or disaster – why do you think that seems to be the prevailing mood of the times, and do you think that dystopia is actually right around the corner? William Burroughs once said that “a paranoid is someone who knows a little bit about what’s going on.” Do you think that’s true or false?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I mean I guess I’d agree with that quote enough. It’s a slightly paranoid thing to say, but that’s alright with me. I’m all about getting a little paranoid. But yeah, I mean otherwise, I couldn’t really, to me, I don’t really know how to answer the rest of that question, just because I didn’t write those lyrics. I don’t necessarily have that same connection with them that Taylor necessarily does.
PHAWKER: But how would you interpret them in your own way? I mean it’s kind of obvious to me that he’s giving apocalyptic messages at times, and it might be a little exagerrated at times, but there’s definitely a sense that something negative is going on in politics and different social climates in the world right now, so I guess what’s your take on that, and how does it relate to this song in general?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I think the whole song is obviously about this disaster and new world that we’re living in. Just too much technology, and not knowing what to believe or what not to believe. Having technology almost moved to fast for people to intelligently stay abreast with news.
PHAWKER: Okay, so I’ll finish up with the lyrics on this one, and then we can talk about the music behind it. So the last part of that verse is “And if you won’t sing the anthem / They’ll find someone who will / They’re cracking down,” which to me seems like an ominous reference to the whole #TakeaKnee/national anthem controversy going on right now.
WYLIE GELBER: Sure.
PHAWKER: And also the ICE immigration crackdown. I’m not sure exactly how recently the lyrics were written, so I’m not sure if that immigration crackdown had applied yet or not, but what are your thoughts?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I’m sure it did. I think that line is pretty resonant. There’s always enough people to do whatever anyone political wants them to do or whatever, and it’s kind of even if you step back or go against it, they’ll always see a bazillion people that’ll just go for it because they’re told to.
PHAWKER: With all of that, how do you think that kind of relates to the title “Living in the Future”? I know you said Taylor wrote the lyrics, but being in a band together, you all kind of stand for the same message, so with this song in particular, after going through that verse, what do you think is the message of all of that? And what is “the future”?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I mean I think again, it’s just kind of like this future of this strange and weird political climate that we’re all in. And all of the technology shit that goes along with it, and the fact that everyone just lives on their cell phones now, and just kind of all of that wrapped up into it.
PHAWKER: Okay, so let’s take a break from the lyrics. I noticed a change in the style of music on this album. Part of it is probably having Lee Pardini in the band now, so there’s a lot more of that keyboard present. But people always compare you guys to the Laurel Canyon sound, because you know, you’re from that area. But to me it sounds a lot more Steely Dan at some points, so maybe you can talk about how the tone of this album is a little bit more dark, and the music isn’t darker, but it’s definitely a different sound from what you guys have usually gone for, am I right? Does that make sense?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, totally. Obviously every record that we do, we try to become better musicians, and to push ourselves to new areas musically, just to keep it interesting for ourselves and the listener. We’re definitely all huge Steely Dan fans, so no one would be mad at that comparison. Definitely having Lee in the band for the last couple of records has helped take it to the next level, just because he’s such an accomplished musician. And I mean we didn’t necessarily do this record in a different style than we normally do. It was actually recorded more like our old records, which is pretty live and in the room. We did it with our old producer. But we definitely branched out to new sounds tonally and new keyboards that Lee would use and some weird pedals that would get it out there tonally a little more than some of our other ones have been.
PHAWKER: Yeah, I definitely think, you know, your last ones weren’t necessarily acoustic. But I’ve seen you guys live a couple of times, and the guitars are really a lot more present, especially in your more famous songs. But this one sounds a lot more electronic in its sound, even though it still has that acoustic vibe to it, which I think is really interesting beause your messages, at least in your more popular songs like “When My Time Comes” are a little more upbeat in the rhythms, whereas this one definitely has a darker message, so it was very interesting to hear you guys pair that more electronic sound with that.
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, sure. I mean we started out doing our records, like you’re saying, very acoustic driven. The more we play live and go out on tour, which we didn’t used to do as much when we were a younger band, we realized you can’t really use the acoustic guitars as much when you’re out doing a big live set. So we’ve kind of been making that transition live, and then we’ll get into the studio for the next record, and it’ll be slightly more electric than the one before it, and the same thing just keeps happening. And we’re all into all sorts of vintage instruments and gear, and finding out all the craziest old shit and all the weird new stuff, so I think by the time we go into it, it’s kind of like what gear can we get on this record to make it new and fresh, in terms of the confines of our catalog.
PHAWKER: What do you guys make of the Americana/Laurel Canyon Sound tag? Accurate? Annoying? Was once accurate but is now annoying?
WYLIE GELBER: I think that every band needs to be put into certain boxes so that people can quickly start sorting them in their head in terms of what they might like or might not like, but we’ve never had a particularly important, or we’ve never really cared about Americana or the Laurel Canyon sound, we’ve just kind of been doing what we like to do and what comes naturally to us. And over the years people have tried to pin it down saying it’s like this or like that or in this genre or whatever, but in terms of how we think about it, we’re just a rock and roll band. And we just kind of do our thing, and people have visceral reactions to different records, or that we’ve abandoned the Laurel Canyon sound or that we’re exactly what the Laurel Canyon sound is or Americana or whatever, but I don’t think we care to keep up with the changing sound that is Americana music for example. We just kind of do what we do and hope it comes off as original as possible.
PHAWKER: My last question is about ELO, who you’re currently on your with. Have you met Jeff Lynne yet, and are you a fan of him?
WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, we’re all massive, massive ELO fans forever, so we couldn’t be more stoked to be on this tour. I did get to meet Jeff the first day. It couldn’t have been sweeter, and everyone in the band we’ve met so far has been great. The show sounds fucking awesome, and it’s just pretty sick. Like these dudes haven’t been on a real US tour in over 35 years or something, so it’s some pretty legendary shit.
PHAWKER: Yeah, so how did you get into them? And what’s your favorite ELO song and why?
WYLIE GELBER: I’m not exactly sure who initially turned me onto them, but I’ve been listening to ELO since I was a kid. Just obviously all the hits are great. Everyone who thinks they don’t know an ELO song ends up knowing about ten ELO songs when you really break it down for them. I think my favorite song is “Wishing,” but unfortunately, I haven’t heard it on the setlist and I don’t know if I will, but it is my favorite.
PHAWKER: Why is it your favorite?
WYLIE GELBER: It’s just got kind of an amazing groove and bassline. It’s one of those deeper Jeff Lynne songs that wasn’t a huge hit, but is just so perfectly arranged and all the parts are amazing and orchestrated incredibly. I don’t know, it’s just a great all-around song.