I walked into the house where the band DWNTWN was temporarily staying before their show in (get this) downtown Las Vegas, and within 30 seconds was offered a beer. I knew the professional thing was to decline, so I kindly accepted.
The group began as a duo with Jamie Leffler (vocals) and Robert Cepeda (guitar, vocals), but over time felt it wasn’t heading in the direction they wanted and signed on Chris Sanchez (keyboards, bass) and Dan Vanchieri (drums).
I sip my beer and ask why they’re excited to perform in Las Vegas.
“We’ve really upped our live show a lot: lighting, gear, equipment, performing,” Dan Vanchieri says. “We’re really focusing on putting on a show, as opposed to playing song after song after song; a lot of practicing and rehearsals and getting ready for this tour.”
They nod in agreement.
“After this we’re going to work on more music again.”
For DWNTWN, writing is an on-going process, but some of that persistent effort is a result from the higher ups at their label. They enjoy writing music, but on their terms.
“It’s constant, Robert Cepeda says of the creative process. “You have to keep [writing] or management will be like ‘come on guys, where’s… anything?’ It’s constantly playing, writing.”
Lead singer Jamie Leffler adds it’s “Work, work, work.”
“Especially the way we write… we take forever. We’ll finish a song and then we’ll let it sit for a month while we work on another one.” They reflect and make changes accordingly.
“What can we do to make it better? We do that about a hundred times until it’s finally the finished product.”
So if management is down their throats to, as they put it, “work, work work,” do they feel their artistry is stifled?
“It’s kind of nice having that flame under your ass,” Robert said.
Jamie chimed in: “It’s like a reminder. Someone saying ‘hey, don’t get lazy. Don’t forget. Keep going.’”
They clarify they’re signed with a smaller, independent label that allows them freedom to produce what they want and when.
“We made sure we didn’t sign away that control,” Jamie says of DWNTWN’s creative freedom. “They’ll give notes and suggestions of what they think could sell better from a business standpoint, but nobody is forcing us or telling us we have to do this a certain way. It’s really lucky, because I think nowadays if you don’t just do what you’re told, [the label] will shelf you.”
“It’s a beneficial relationship,” Dan says of their indie label allowing the group creative control. “They benefit from us being authentic and organic, and we benefit from being able to create the kind of music we want to create. I think by doing that we create better music right off the bat.”
Jamie feels it gives them an opportunity to grow and figure out their vibe.
“Our sound has definitely evolved over the last few years, and we’re allowed that. We’re allowed to take time and make sure [our music] is something we’re really proud of.”
DWNTWN began as a boy-girl duo between Jamie and Robert, but as things progressed, they found they preferred more cooks in the kitchen.
“We like the energy between more people, and more people on stage creating things. We were very limited live when it was just the two of us.”
“When we were first starting it was a lot more electronic, computer based; a lot less live instrumentation, and now that we started playing live… we kind of shifted gears.”
These changes are evident in their recent music, including “Missing You,” a slow-song about the passing of Jamie’s grandfather – who she says was a father figure throughout her life.
“We had a very special relationship,” she says as her eyes well up. “He supported me at all times. It was really hard for me when he was sick and then he passed away. I wanted to write a song for him that was really poignant about our relationship, but also that could relate to other people who maybe have lost someone.”
“I can say one hundred percent I was closer to [my grandfather] than I was my own father,” Jamie says of her dad who tragically passed after a heroin overdose. She wrote a song called “Heroine,” which she said was a form of therapy for her.
“I’m tough in certain situations,” Jamie says, “but when you’re singing, something about that is very vulnerable.”
We switch gears to the current state of music – the politics amongst album sales and selling songs in the fast-paced digital age.
I gulp my beer…
“People aren’t buying music anymore, and that’s fine,” Jamie says. “It’s just evolved. It’s just different.” Instead, they hope to reach a lot of people.
“If more people are sharing our music, more people are talking about us with their friends – that’s all we can ask for. That’s the greatest thing.”
But if you bought their self-titled EP on iTunes, they wouldn’t hold it against you.
– Jordan Miller, BreatheHeavy.com