Dawes’s Taylor Goldsmith Teaches Us How To Read Proust

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For someone who didn’t read much as a kid, Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith has certainly made his way through a lot of books — and isn’t shy about including references or lines from those books in his music, either. In fact, Goldsmith says it was his desire to be a songwriter that drove him to literature in the first place.

Goldsmith has sprinkled some subtle and not-so-subtle literary references in the music of Dawes, who released their aptly titled third album Stories Don’t End in April. Before starting out on their October headlining tour, the singer spoke with MTV Hive about his love of reading, how it inspired his music and what you need to do to make it through a Proust novel.

What book brings you back to your childhood?

Kurt Vonnegut books do that. I wasn’t really much of a reader early on, but when I first started getting into reading at around 16 all I could really read was Kurt Vonnegut books. And I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s written at a fourth grade level – those are his words not mine. I just read Kurt Vonnegut novel after Kurt Vonnegut novel. So now when I see a friend who’s reading The Sirens of Titan or Slaughterhouse-Five or God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, I always feel like a kid again.

What’s the most times you’ve read a certain book?

I have big plans to read books over again, but I’ve never re-read anything. The only books I’ve read over again are the books I didn’t pay attention to in high school. Like The Great Gatsby, where I’d realize that I didn’t really read it and so I re-read that novel. I read a quote somewhere that D.H. Lawrence said that he feels that you can’t really know a book until you’ve read it six times. That was the number he put on it. It’s so tough because there’s so much I want to get after and so many books and so many writers that I just want to read things I’ve never read before.

Paper or digital?

I read actual books. It’s cool to read on a Kindle if that’s what you want to do, but for me, I like having a bookshelf. That keeps me motivated. If it was in a list on a Kindle it wouldn’t be as inspiring. And also seeing a bookmark 50 percent of the way through that keeps me wanting to read. Books look handsome and it’s a real singular experience getting to go to a bookstore. I don’t want to not do that.

Do you think you can fairly judge a book by its cover?

Absolutely not. I mean, I do judge books by their covers. When someone tells me The Power of Now is a special book or World War Z is really cool, I’m like “Wow, OK, I never would have thought that.”  I guess I am guilty of judging a book by its cover or where it seems to fit culturally and then realize later on, “Oh this is an incredible thing.”

Has a fan ever gifted you a book that you actually read?

Yeah, I love when people do that. My buddy in Seattle gave me this book You Can’t Win by [1920s adventurer] Jack Black and I’m really excited to get to it. I had it on the tour bus and our road manager asked to borrow it. He said it’s incredible. It hasn’t happened a bunch where fans give you books but when it does it’s pretty cool.

What’s the best book you’ve read on tour?

I do a lot of reading on tour so it’s hard to know which books were off tour and which were on tour. The most recent one I had a good time reading that I read almost entirely on tour was Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey. That’s a really special book.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Mark Twain’s travel novels. It’s really just his musings for 300 pages. It’s almost like an organized journal. I’m enjoying them just as much as anything he’s written.

Do you ever find that things you read make their way into your songs?

Absolutely. More than anything. That’s a big part of why I read. We have a song called “Just Beneath The Surface” that’s almost entirely inspired by a character exposition Marcel Proust wrote in Swann’s Way. It’s a really fascinating and provocative observation. I’m not even opposed to taking a line or two and elaborating upon it in my own way to make it my own thing.

Do you have a favorite piece of music based on a literary work?

Bob Dylan used Dylan Thomas in “When The Ship Comes In.” He’s always quoting things. In his album Love and Theft I think the word theft even refers to it. He takes lines from books all over the place. There’s a big quote from The Great Gatsby in there in “Summer Days.” That’s one really cool example.

What book would you recommend to fans of your music?

There’s a million! Sometimes A Great Notion, [Mikhail Lermontov’s] A Hero of Our Time or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. It’s always the last bunch. I would recommend Swann’s Way to anyone who is up for a challenge. You get a big reward from it.

Is there a trick to reading that book?

Forgetting the idea that you ever want to finish it. Sometimes I would find a passage that was a page and a half and that would be worthy of spending two days on. Just reading it over and over and over, not only because it’s so dense but because it’s so beautiful. It’s like a sponge you’re ringing out and no matter how many times you twist it, it still seems full of water.

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