Dawes Goes Its Own Way With New Self-Released Album 'Stories Don't End' (Q&A)
After a two-album deal with ATO, Los Angeles' favorite folk-rock band looked at its audience, crunched the numbers and decided management company Q Prime had resources as good as any label.
A band's third album has historically been shown to be a monumental one. Think: Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Tom Petty's Damn the Torpedoes, Radiohead's OK Computer -- when it comes to an artist's musical canon, these albums signified a time of of risk-taking and evolution and a reaffirmation that making music would be their life's work.
Los Angeles folk-rockers Dawes seem to be at a similar crossroads with their third album, Stories Don't End (out April 9), as the band that broke out of the Laurel Canyon scene four years ago pushes beyond its sturdy retro-roots sound. Sonics aside, the foursome is making changes to its business too, having departed from former label ATO. With the support of its management company Q Prime, home to Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dawes is stepping out and self-releasing on HUB Records.
Bandleader Taylor Goldsmith says that, thanks to Q Prime's established infrastructure, it's a natural progression that could yield higher gains and become a self-sustainable model. They hope to show other bands that having a successful record on their own terms isn't unachievable.
"There's definitely a fear of when you meet with certain labels they could look at a band like, 'Oh, Dawes, they have an up-and-running touring business, why don't we just attach ourselves to that and try to maintain the status quo?' And that's just unfortunate," says Goldsmith. "We want to hear someone come and say, 'We're going to take you from X amount of records sold to 500,000 records sold.' That's the way we're thinking, that's the way our managers are thinking, and when the arrangement is better, when the finances are there and when the crew is there, you can rival any label and get great results."
As proof, Goldsmith pointed to the first single off Stories Don't End, the driving "From a Window Seat," which has already charted higher radio play than any track off the bands first two releases, cracking the Top 20 on both the BDS and Mediabase Triple A.
But rather than going the big band route and playing endless radio-sponsored festivals, where a bevy of bands perform truncated sets, to promote Stories Don't End, Dawes hit the road on a tour of American independent record stores. Tickets to these intimate shows doubled as album pre-orders. Starting at Austin's Waterloo Records during South By Southwest, the band traveled up to The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis on April 2 before beginning a month-long stint supporting Bob Dylan a few days later.
Performing at these independent record stores, Goldsmith said, appeals to the band's liberated ethos on this album and nurtures the value of music as a physical product, beyond MP3s -- a point to which Dawes' fans already seem well attuned.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Goldsmith about Dawes making its own way with this release:
The Hollywood Reporter: Why the decision to release it yourselves?
Taylor Goldsmith: Mainly because it seemed like the natural next step. We were fortunate enough to have a really great go with ATO Records and our deal with them only lasted two albums. So once we got to the end of Nothing's Wrong, we were able to really look at the situation and see where we we're at. And I feel like our work with them positioned us to have a good, steady fan base and a way to maybe carry on on our own. Especially with our management -- we're really fortunate to have Q Prime Management. When a management company represents bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, they definitely have pretty considerable resources.
They have an incredible system up and running: They have their main office in New York, and then their promotions office that handles all the radio promotions out in L.A., and there are a lot of people out in the field. It's a pretty sizable operation when it comes to what it means to be a management company. So in a lot of ways, what you need out of a label is stuff they already kind of have in place. And so they were able to finance the recording process and also put together a budget for what it's going to take to release the record. We were sort of, like, at this point, what do we need a label for?
THR: Your management company is big enough to act as a label, but most band's aren't ...
Goldsmith: Obviously we're very lucky to be in that position, but we wanted to illustrate to other bands that this is possible now more than ever. And it's only going to continue to only get more possible if you have the resources and you're paying attention and you're invested enough, you can really make this kind of one-stop shop. For us it took us two albums on another label and it took being with the right management company, but I feel like that kind of recipe for whatever band it is can be any number of combinations. Again, we realize how lucky we are to be in this spot, but there's also a point we're trying to make, like, this is possible now.
THR: What are the biggest benefits of self-releasing?
Goldsmith: True artistic freedom, mainly. ATO was never up in our shit about any of that; they were always very accepting of who we are and they always embraced it, so I'm not really speaking about them. I'm speaking more about the fear of labels in general that's sort of this universally held fear by bands of like, “Oh man I'm signing with a label, I hope they don't take over and make me into an artist I don't want to be.” So this definitely put that to rest. But also, financially it's really great too. We couldn't afford all of the initial investments that need to be made but once that gets paid back and we're acting as the label, it's going to be much more lucrative experience.
None of us are anything close to rich, and I feel like, in this day and age, being in a traditional rock 'n' roll band doesn't really afford that very often. Our expectations aren't particularly high in terms of how much money there is to be made in the business that we're in, but within that, we feel like owning our label could at the very least potentially make for a steady living.
THR: How does the independent record store tour fit into the ethos of self-releasing the album?
Goldsmith: I don't know how or why, but it's been so cool that more than half of Dawes' record sales have been physical copies. And that's a pretty rare thing now; I think most bands have digital being a pretty sizable majority of their sales at this point. But for some reason the folks who like Dawes albums want to have their physical copies, be it on vinyl or CD, with the lyrics and artwork. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons for that and it's not just one thing more than any else, but that's something that we're really grateful for and indebted to.
So we thought it'd be kind of cool to pay our respects by touring these records stores. It's a cool feeling for us that people want hard copies of this stuff and appreciate the work the goes into something as simple as a back cover, the stuff that digital buyers don't ever see. And that's something that feeds into your composite impression of the whole record, like anything else does -- like any picture you see, any song you hear, it's all part of the experience. So when you do have a physical copy, it's a bit of a ritual.