DWNTWN might be a folk-based band at heart, but the duo’s current stylistic thrust is more melodic synth pop meets ambitious big-room electro, with flourishes of new wave. The narrative started in 2010, organically on a road trip. Robert Cepeda (multi instrumentalist/vocalist) and Jamie Leffler (lead vocalist) frequently found themselves in a car together—sans working radio—heading north to San Francisco from Los Angeles. The two friends would pass the time by jamming out, playing the guitar and singing during the six-hour stretch. Somewhere along the way during one of those trips magic happened and the duo recorded a demo straight to their iPhone. In 2011 said demo ended up in the hands of LA-based DJ/producer Trevor McFedries (Skeet Skeet aka Katy Perry’s tour DJ) and things have been on the upswing since. The band’s album Midnight Ride, an obvious reference to their road trips, was produced and weaved together by Skeet Skeet and released in mixtape format last summer. It not only caught the attention of the blogosphere, but it also saw high-profile magazines like Paper singing praises. Building on the momentum, DWNTWN has released videos for “Big Jet Plane,” “Hungry Hearts” and most recently “Believe Me.” They’ve also just remixed fellow Savior of Sound Jessie and the Toy Boys’ song “Let’s Get Naughty” into a heavier, harder and more devastating dancefloor tune. They are currently revving up to hit the road on a US tour with Skeet Skeet dubbed “Hack the Planet.” We predict even more success and a brighter horizon for these two self-described coffee addicts.
Home Town: Los Angeles, CA.
Currently Living: Franklin Village, Los Angeles, CA.
Origin Of Name: Well, we are in a gang named Dream Team or DT for short. When we say gang we mean a close group of friends that love each other and cuddle all night. So naturally we wanted to somehow incorporate the DT initials into the band’s name. One day we were sipping coffee at Downtown Urth Caffè and the name DWNTWN just sort of felt right.
Weapon of Choice: Our feet. They smell like buttered popcorn—it’s a deliciously disturbing phenomenon.
Est. Miles Traveled Per Year: Seven.
Gigs Played/Nights Out Per Year: Gigs played 365 baby! Nights out zero.
Source of Power: Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain, Stevie Nicks, Carter Family, Lil’ B and Mozart.
“Hey, we’re DWNTWN. We are a folk band that just happens to write electronic music. We will be going on tour at the end of February with DJ Skeet Skeet, which perfectly suits our two favorite things, coffee and road trips.”
If you visualize music as your listen, what (generally) do you imagine?
I really like watching people while listening to music while pretending it’s a movie. Music has the power to make an ordinary situation—like riding the bus—look beautiful. I’ll play something dark or cold like Joy Division’s “Disorder” while staring at a lonely fellow sitting at the bus stop. I’ll listen to something heartfelt like Anita Carter’s “As The Sparrow Goes” while staring at a single mother with her cute little kids. I know it’s borderline creepy… but whatever, it’s great.
If you could send advice via a fortune cookie to up-and-comers, it would read:
“Make music from your heart and they will listen. Also, don’t forget to Tweet. Lotto Numbers: 12-5-66-27-5.”
What is a song that inspired you to create?
There’s an enormously long list of songs that have inspired us, but the song that inspired us to create music together was Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl.” We modeled our first song, “Kali Nichta” after that jumpy “American Girl” drum beat. Although we ended up scraping that song, it got the DWNTWN bearings rolling.
What (type) music—or mood—makes you reach for the headphones?
When I think of SOL REPUBLIC, I think of one thing, Waka Flocka Flame. The bassline in “Hard in Da Paint” combined with the incredible low-end power of the SOLs makes for an ideal listening experience. When you’re trying to keep it trill, there’s just nothing better than SOL REPUBLIC.
Tell me about your most memorable night out.
My most memorable night out was when Robert went to see the Black Lips in San Francisco. Just hearing about his night was the best night I’ve had. I’ve seen the Black Lips as well—one of the best live shows I’ve ever been to. They make it impossible not to have fun at their shows.
Tell us about a specific event or period in your life that is linked in your mind to a song/album.
We stumbled upon this great band named Minks from Brooklyn. We got into them just before we went to CMJ. We must’ve listened to them a hundred times while we were there. Whenever we would sit out on the fire escape we had to play their song, “Funeral Song.” It just made the mood so much more New Yorky. Now when we’re at home in LA and we want to take a quick trip back East we just turn on Minks and bam… we’re in New York.
Are there any dots to connect with where/how you grew up to your musical output?
We both had very musical families that introduced us to all types of music. Robert’s family listened to a lot of traditional Greek and Mexican music—that’s where his parents are from. I listened to a lot of classic rock because I’m white.
How does listening to music figure into your creative process?
When we’re writing a new song we like to listen to a certain song or band, and attempt to get into a similar musical mindset. For example, when we wrote “Transition” we were listening to a lot of New Order and electronic music from the ‘80s. We loved the catchy synth lines in “Bizarre Love Triangle.” It was something we definitely wanted to incorporate into our music.
What value do you place on environment as a creative springboard?
We are strong believers in location playing a roll in creative exploration. We like to keep things fresh and what better way to do this than by recording in different neighborhoods. Most of our songs were written and recorded at my parents’ house in Culver City. We did some tracks in San Francisco and we are currently recording at Jamie’s mother’s house in Franklin Village. In addition to location, a comfy studio set up and a nice outdoor area to chill after a stressful or stress-free day is crucial.
Do you remember the first time you had a live audience’s complete attention?
We played a show last month at the Satellite [LA] with The Knocks. It was the first time we really felt like everything clicked. We sounded good, people were responding well to our music, and on top of that our sweet ass lasers killed! We set a mood in the room and everyone was dancing to our music. The feeling was magical.
Soundtrack Of Life:
“One of our favorite things to do is drink coffee. It makes up about 12.5% of our daily lives. Our favorite spot to get coffee in LA is at Urth Caffè. The problem with Urth is that the music they play is not always fitting and it doesn’t quite capture that outdoor, coffee sipping sort of vibe. So, we’ve decided to make our own personal playlist to set the mood…”
“Instead of paying thousands of dollars for a ticket to France, turn on some Edith Piaf—wherever you may be—and voila, you’re relaxing at a beautiful café in Paris with a nice big cup of coffee.”
“We’re not quite sure why, but for some reason 1920’s jazz and coffee mesh seamlessly well. This song just sounds like a cold, snowy day in the city. What better way to complement that than with a warm drink.”
“This Beach House song is picturesque. When you listen to it you can’t help but imagine the sun rising over an endless field out in Maryland. You’re just sitting on your wooden porch with a coffee in one hand and a rifle in the other.”
“Just to clarify, Mikis Theodorakis is an absurdly brilliant Greek composer. We were just in Cyprus (an island near Greece) last month visiting family and we realized that coffee is like water to Cypriots. We would wake up, drink coffee then go out for coffee. When we came back home we’d make more coffee. It’s insane! This song brings back those lovely memories.”
“The title says it all. This amazing song sounds like staying up all night with your friends. After that long, fun filled night, what better way to recover than with a warm cup of fresh coffee. We sound like an ad for coffee… we better get sponsored by Folgers or something.”