Every once in awhile you have to thank your friends for turning you onto a band you’ve never heard before, as it was for me, I hope we can do that for you. Such is the case with the Los Angeles based quartet, DWNTWN. They’ve already released three EP’s, that you can find on Spotify or Apple Music, or do yourself a favor and spend some time on their Youtube page. Vocalist, Jamie Leffler was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me, to discuss the future of the band, new music and what it’s like to be building a modern fan base in a social media dominated world.
BT: I read somewhere that you’re not from LA is that correct?
Jamie: No I’m from LA, born and raised, one of the few. Robert and I, who started the band, grew up here we’ve known each other since I was about 17 I think. Chris who plays keyboard and bass is from the LA area. He grew up in the OC, Fontana for about a minute and our drummer Dan is from Chicago, but he just finished USC music school, so he’s been out here for a few years now.
BT: What made you want to be a musician?
Jamie: Well, I was very fortunate, very lucky to grow up around music. My dad was the bassist for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and my step mom is Carlene Carter, the country singer. My dad produced one of her albums in the 90’s. Both of them would take me on tour when I was in elementary school, so I got this crazy, first hand look at music. Being little I didn’t understand a lot of it, I didn’t know who people were and that kind of stuff. But at the same time it implanted the desire to be on stage. I remember when I was little when I would go with my dad on tour I would sit in between the amps, so I could see the crowd, I was right behind everything. Even being there, it was an adrenaline rush. It was exciting when I was little, it was normal for me, but I didn’t understand it, but as I got older I learned to appreciate growing up in that setting. As I grew up I started singing more and more, that’s when I realized I wanted to pursue full time. Creative endeavors were the way to go for me.
BT: Are you still that excited now that the creative endeavors are your own?
Jamie: Yes, totally, I always get more and more excited. It’s like your heart flutters when you’re working on a song, it’s like ooh that part is really cool. I’m like a little kid, I get super excited about everything that we’re doing. The more we can do the better, the more shows we can play the better. I feel really good on stage, whether we’re having bad sound, or the night is the most perfect, everything is great, everything is working perfectly, it’s still you always have that feeling of wow, this is great, I’m on a stage performing songs that we wrote and we get to connect with people and I’m so lucky to be able to be doing this.
BT: From what I’m seeing, you’re building that connection. You have a good solid base.
Jamie: Yeah, we do. It really makes me happy everyday. Anytime I’m feeling stressed out about where we are, or what we’re doing I remember there are so many people out there that care about what we’re doing and know who we are and want to connect with us it really warms my heart. Because music, as a fan and listener myself, is so important to me and knowing that there’s at even one person out there that feels that same way, and connects that same way with our music it’s like an honor. When we meet people it’s hard for me to call them a fan, I’m like you’re my friend, you tweeted me and it’s so good to finally nice to meet you in person. It’s good to have a bit of community around it.
BT: That’s probably the strangest part of modern day music and social media now is the connection to faces.
Jamie: It’s really interesting the way it works now. It’s about creating a relationship with people as opposed to just putting out my song and you don’t get to know me that well. We can connect on a better way in a sense, it’s exciting.
BT: You mentioned being a fan, I can hear influences in your music, but give me some of your influences, or what you’re listening to now?
Jamie: I love Grimes, that is someone I look up to all the time. I think she’s not only a great songwriter and singer, I like her visual, but she’s so confident and smart. That is someone I really admire because she can do it all on her own. I also love Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac is a definite influence for all of us. Some voices I really admire, Victoria from Beach House, it’s just like this velvety, sick, smooth, beautiful blanket of voice, it’s so great. Recently I’ve been listening to a band, Alvvays, we’ve all been into that. At the end of the day, there are so many artist out there that you can pull influences even if it’s the smallest little thing from so many different places, so that when you listen to one of our songs, or anyone’s songs for that matter, it can encapsulate so many different things. I love going way back to the Carter Family and the pain and honesty of their lyrics, the hurt in it. Then looking at someone who is current now, charlie xcx, so cool, love that. You know what I mean, you can take so many little bits and pieces from so many places.
BT: You’re sort of eclectic as it is, the electronic, folk thing that you do, is sort of mix of the smooth electronic London Grammar feel, mixed with the seventies LA folk vibe, which is an odd mix, but it works really well for you guys.
Jamie: Yeah I think it’s because we focus on being true to ourselves and making choices that feel right to us. That might not be trendy or popular now, or even make sense, like you’re saying. If you’re doing something electronic, it wouldn’t necessarily be logical to add a bunch of acoustic guitars in there. We have a new song we’re working on called Sticks and Stones, and it’s one of my favorites now, which I wasn’t expecting it to be. Because it feels kind of the most electronic, but it’s also at the same time it’s the most vulnerable i think. It’s very stripped down, the verses are just acoustic guitar and voice, and by the time the chorus comes in, builds into this big electronic thing. I’m really excited about it, I just like mixing all these different genres. We are all multi faceted people, we all like different things. You can like Drake and Folk music at the same time, why can’t you bundle it all and make one thing.
BT: You mentioned a new song, there is a new EP in the works right?
Jamie: Yeah, we have five songs, and we’re getting them all mixed right now. We’re going about figuring out how we’re going to be releasing them. I’m really excited because it feels like the most professional sounding we’ve ever sounded, because we were able to work with Jarrod Bettis, who used to be our drummer, but he’s a music producer, who did the Serena Ryder album (Harmony). He kind of took our songs and gave them extra balls, if I can say that, he just amplified everything a little bit. It was a hard time coming making these songs, because we’ve gone through ups and downs as a band and for a moment we were thinking, are we going to be able to make this happen, get through this? But at the end of the day we owe it to the songs and ourselves to make this the best we can make it, put it out and share it with people. In all honesty, we’ve become stronger because of going through the harder times because we’re a more united front than we’ve ever been. So I’m excited to start sharing it with the world.
BT: Are you thinking mid summer, end of summer?
Jamie: Well I want to start releasing songs sooner, so that we can have singles out. We got the first song back from mix over the weekend and I’m so excited about it, I just want to put it out and let people hear it and maybe that’s not such a bad thing, to start putting songs out and putting the ep out in the summer, but I just can’t wait.
BT: Looking at your YouTube page, the band is extremely visual, with videos of your own songs, and covers that you’ve done really well. What inspires you to cover someone like Springsteen?
Jamie: Well, that song (I’m on Fire) is so good, I don’t remember how that one came about, but I feel like nine times out of ten we’ll just be thinking that sounded so good, and Robert will learn it on guitar and I’ll start singing and because we like to make things, it’s easy for us to say “lets make that”, and shoot a video and put it out. I think we should do that more often, because it is fun to pay tribute to some great song that we’re fans of.
BT: In the ideal world, where do you see yourselves in the next two years?
Jamie: Well, I like to think of things step by step. Someone once told me an analogy that I really liked, and it was to celebrate first downs. Yes you’re trying to get a touchdown, but you have to get a first down to move your way down the field, to be proud and celebrate those moments and don’t just be looking at the end goal. So ideally I would love for us to be making more music, putting it out, going on longer tours, playing larger shows and expanding our reach and all that. But right now I’m focusing on getting the new stuff out, getting on a tour and moving ourselves forward. At the end of the day, we love doing this and we just want to make it our lives and fully commit, but we have to just see where things take us.
D W N T W N is:
Jamie Leffler (Vocals)
Robert Cepeda (Guitars, Vocals)
Chris Sanchez ( Keyboards, Bass)
Dan Vanchieri (Drums)