Hometown: Los Angeles CA
Simon Dawes is a band… named after no one. Though they're mostly just creaking into being twenty-one (bassist Wiley Gelber is barely 18), you could play their new record Carnivore for anyone and tell the most insane lies about it: reissue of some lost psych-folk-rock artifact, unknown bootleg side project with one Beatle, Kink, Floyd and Who member that never came out for legal reasons… and they would all be believed. A Malibu zip code might fool you into thinking they basically bought their band pre-made off the Internet, but they're scholars and diggers and hard workers, taking a dinosaur-rock diet and making it alive and relevant in ways it hasn't been for millions of years.
Guitarist Blake Mills and singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith are a viciously precocious songwriting combo — Davies brothers from different mothers – while Wiley Gelber and Stuart Johnson form a rhythm section as unlikely and unheard of as Rick Danko and Keith Moon. For Carnivore, they took forty-some songs they'd demoed on one mic in Johnson's house and tenderly bled them down to a tight fifteen. Five days of studio sessions couldn't match the energy of what were originally intended as practice tracks recorded at producer Tony Berg's house, so most of Carnivore is actually a happily haphazard set of wild live rehearsals. "For most of the record, we didn't realize we were making a record," says Mills. But it turned out to be the perfect circumstance for a debut full-length that not only doesn't lose the early fuzzy lo-fi lovability that got Simon Dawes the infamous "Black-Flag-plays-the-Beatles" comparison but amplifies it into an album that says as much for that beautiful stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway as The Kinks did for Waterloo Station.
It's a record that matches the ramshackle power of Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers (an album Mills admires for its deliberately fucked-up feel: "I think every band should exercise that right," he says.) to ambitiously sophisticated indie-pop warhorses like Spoon or Pavement. Goldsmith has generations of musical heroes in his head (Dylan, Bowie, Reed and Lennon, he says, each as much a storyteller as a musician) alongside writers like Henry Miller, whose uncompromising self-analysis inspires some of Simon Dawes' above-their-age lyricism on songs like "All Her Crooked Ways" or "Salute The Institution". "There's a bravado that can be found in every song, but at the same time, it's underlined with this sort of self-effacement," he says. "You can't tell if we're making fun of ourselves or if we actually mean it – which is kind of cool."
It's all in the details with these guys; songs put together so carefully that new pieces keep swimming to the top with every listen. There's an anything-goes feel and a dedication to the unexpected that puts dots of harmonica or fuzz guitar or handclaps or chant-along choruses or everything you'd never think to include on just about every single song. "If it works, don't argue with it," says Mills.
They're doing a million things at once and they aren't falling down on any one of them. And they're still tiny babies in the dinosaur scheme of things too – the boy geniuses of a new LA pop scene including bands like The Like, Rooney and Phantom Planet. Live, they are a machine beyond their years – the kind of heartfelt professionalism that almost died out when rock bands started demanding deli trays. Whether it's to 500 kids at the Echo or 15,000 kids in an arena (opening for Maroon 5) Simon Dawes gives the same wild-and-riled set.
You'd think every band around them would just surrender and quit in shame, but you know how dinosaurs are… they don't get out of the way until they go extinct.
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