Dawes is part of the Laurel Canyon sound, which is centered in the North Hills area of Los Angeles and often cites influences such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash and Neil Young, among others. At the invitation of producer Jonathan Wilson, the band joined a local informal jam session that included Conor Oberst, The Black Crowes's Chris Robinson, and Benmont Tench. The band recorded their debut album, North Hills, in Laurel Canyon in a live setting to analog tape, resulting in a sound that Rolling Stone magazine called "authentically vintage". Wilco multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone is also credited with appearing on the release.
Dawes released their second album, Nothing Is Wrong, on June 7, 2011 and toured the US co-headlining with Blitzen Trapper. The band made their television debut on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on April 14, 2010. On October 26, 2010, lead singer Taylor Goldsmith told the crowd at a show in Saint Louis, Missouri, that the band took off the month of September to record a new album which was released in June 2011.
In a February 21, 2011 comment left on the same interview, Lenny Goldsmith confirmed that "Alex Casnoff left the band a few months ago. Tay Straithairn is the keyboard player."
On December 1, 2011, Dawes played alongside Jackson Browne at Occupy Wall Street's Liberty Park. They performed "When My Time Comes" and "How Far We've Come."