With the recent explosion of dreamy synth-pop in the the last decade, its easy to get lost in the mire of derivative danceable, beat-heavy pop. One band in particular though, Los Angeles locals DWTWN, are separating themselves from the pack. They deliver a brand of synth-pop with bite and from one of the most unexpected of sources. The project initially started as a partnership between friends Jamie Leffler and Robert Cepeda but with success, has come growth – the band is a quartet these days. With their residency this month at The Satellite, I recently had a chance to talk with DWTWN vocalist, Jamie Leffler about the band’s sweet gig, their latest EP, and some delightfully overzealous Salt Lake City fans.
Rabbits Black: How did you guys come together?
Jamie Leffler: Well I’ve known Robert for many years because I used to date his brother. And he has been making music since I’ve known him. At the point where my relationship ended with his brother we started writing music together. It seems very odd – like you’ve broken up you’re not going to stay near that family any more but I’ve kind of joined that family [laughs]. So a lot of our early songs were about his brother.
Rabbits Black: Did that ever put Robert in a awkward spot?
JL: Not really. We’re all great friends now so its not a problem. It was just kind of funny at the beginning to be like, “So I’m going to write a song about how your brother’s a dick…” [laughs]
Rabbits Black: I’ve heard that initially, a lot of your songs were folk tunes. What prompted the change to pop?
JL: At the end of the day we always start with acoustic guitar and a melody. Really any of our songs started with Robert messing around on guitar and coming up with a melody, or I would come up with something and we go, “oh that really sounds cool,” and then we build on it from there. For us, the most important thing is the melody [….] We listen to Bob Dylan, The Carter Family – that’s something you wouldn’t expect when you hear our music […] but that’s how we always begin our process.
Rabbits Black: DJ Skeet Skeet was also influential to you guys early on. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
JL: I really liked the cover he did of “Stand Back” with Sky Ferreira years and years ago, and a friend of ours just emailed him and said, “hey you should check out my friend’s band.” And Trevor took us under his wing the first year we were actually trying to play shows. He took us on our first tour. That was a really lucky situation to have someone help guide us.
Rabbits Black: So you’re doing a residency to kick off the year at The Satellite. How is it going so far?
JL: It’s great. We’re just now getting used to playing with four members. We were used to being an opening band, so a lot of times you’d play a show and people haven’t really heard you or there’s not many people there to see you. So its really been a great experience to see the people in the crowd and know they’re there for you, and they’re singing to your songs, and they’re dancing. That was really fun.
Rabbits Black: Synth pop is certainly a genre that has exploded over the last few years. What’s the best way you’ve found to stand apart from the rest of the crowd?
JL: We just do what we do. I don’t ever think that we’re trying to listen to what’s popular or say, “oh, this is cool now so let’s make that same choice.” Maybe it’s bad, but we’re never thinking in a business way [laughs], it’s always just what’s true to us and what we like.
Rabbits Black: Was there a particular story or influence behind The Red Room EP?
JL: In Robert’s parent’s house there’s a room downstairs where we write everything – and all lived together for many years – it’s this read room. It’s got these red fabric walls – it’s kind of like a Moroccan love den. It’s really funny. It was like that when they bought the house and just never changed, so we’ve always called it the red room. And because all the songs were written and recorded in there […] that’s where we do everything so we wanted to pay tribute to it.
Rabbits Black: What was the writing and production process like on The Red Room EP?
JL: The songs definitely all went through changes. We would finish one and then re-do it completely. “See My Eyes” is something that we worked on, and worked on, and worked on. We had a completely different chorus […] and then we ripped the entire song apart. “Stood Me Up” though, it was a first try. And I think for all of us, it’s actually our favorite one. Halfway through making it actually, the computer crashed – it was a nightmare.
Rabbits Black: Do you have plans for a full length this year?
JL: The third week of the residency, January 20th, we’re going to release a single called “Til Tomorrow” and thats going to be featured on our next EP in [early] April, and then we’re hoping to follow that up with another for summer.
Rabbits Black: Live performances can be unpredictable – have you encountered any usual experiences during your gigs?
JL: Yes, definitely. When we were on the Capital Cities tour last year, we did a one-off show in Salt Lake City at this small bar. By the end of the show everyone was so drunk and so into it that they were on the stage, crowded around our drummer and he just literally started playing a drum solo out of nowhere. [The crowd] started hitting his drums and singing. We were playing our cover of [Calvin Harris’] “Feel so Close”. It was wild.
Rabbits Black: A little more wild than I would have expected from Salt Lake City…
JL: I know! I don’t know what they put in that alcohol there.
Check out the official video from DWNTWN’s 2011 single “Big Jet Plane”