ABOVE: DWNTWN’S ROBERT CEPEDA (LEFT) AND JAMIE LEFFLER
It’s hard not to feel anything when listening to DWNTWN’s music. The Los Angeles-based quartet—Jamie Leffler, Robert Cepeda, Chris Sanchez, and Dan Vanchieri—has been able to cross genre lines, ranging from folk to electro-pop, all on one short EP. The band released its self-titled EP in April and has since been playing dates throughout the U.S.
DWNTWN’s influences are varied: everything from Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Beach House, Crystal Castles, and The Carter Family. They put it all together with banjo, folk music, and electro-pop—and do it well. We’re excited to premiere DWNTWN’s personal video for “Missing You,” in which Jamie Leffler sings about her late grandfather. In the video, Mason jars are featured all around —one in particular holding a photo of her as a baby with her grandfather. Leffler also gave us the background on the video and song “Missing You,” growing up on the road, and losing the two men closest to her.
ILANA KAPLAN: Your music kind of goes all over the map, but “Missing You” is definitely a song that stands out as being very personal and emotional. Can you tell me a little bit about the background of the track?
JAMIE LEFFLER: So, the song was written for my grandfather who passed away. I loved him more than anything. He was the main father figure to me in my life, and he was a really special man. I wanted to make sure that the video reflected that and showed a little bit of the love I had for him. The idea was that, I had one main Mason jar with his photo in it—it was him holding me when I was a baby. I was carrying it around with me the whole video. There were some parts where I had other jars with photos in them too. Eventually I put it down and know that I’m going to go through my life without him, but he’s always still with me. It was hard to make. The song was hard to make—just writing the lyrics. I would get really emotional. I couldn’t keep going all of the time. When I was recording the lyrics, we would have to stop. When we were filming the video, it was the same way. I would break down filming it. It’s a really close one to my heart. I hope it translates well to other people who have lost someone in their lives, whether they lost them because they passed away, or they’ve moved far away or they were in love and now they’re not in love.
KAPLAN: Definitely. I’m really into song meanings, and I looked online to see what the song was about, and I thought you guys had said it was about a breakup. Obviously this is coming from you right now, so it sounds like that story wasn’t the right one.
LEFFLER: No, I think it was someone who heard it and said, “This sounds like a breakup to me.” To me, that’s awesome. I love that someone can relate it to something different that I never intended for it to be related to. That just means that people are listening and are making it work for their own lives and their own personal situations. It makes me so happy when someone has a different take on it. I originally wanted to call the song “Grandpa.” I was dead-set on it. I was fighting about it. I was like, “It’s for my grandpa. Everyone needs to know that this is my special minute about my grandpa and that’s it.” I was freaking out about it. Everyone was trying to explain to me that the song could mean something different to other people, and if I was just limiting it to me and my grandpa, then I was limiting what it could mean to other people. I eventually realized they were right, and we decided to call it “Missing You.”
KAPLAN: I like that it’s more general. From what I know, your father was a touring member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. How did that influence your desire to be in the music world? What was it like growing up on the road?
LEFFLER: It was the most fun thing ever. I wish I was a little bit older so I could have really understood what was happening and who I was around on a regular basis. I lived that life while I was a little kid. As I got older, I was like “I had lunch with Stevie Nicks? What? How did I not know?” You’re seven or eight years old, you’re not really thinking in those terms yet. It was fun for me, and it was great to get that kind of experience. It definitely showed me what it looks like and feels like to be in a big band, and that’s something that was really enticing to me. I got to tour with my dad during the summers. They’ve practically toured every summer since I was born. I would get to be with him for two weeks, be on the bus, hang out with the tour manager. It was really great. I’d get to sit behind the amps with the guy who was the guitar tech for Tom Petty or I’d sit on the side of the stage. It was a fun place to be. I enjoyed it very much.
KAPLAN: It sounds magical. How did DWNTWN meet?
LEFFLER: I used to date Robert’s brother. Through that, I kind of became a staple at the family’s house. When his brother and I broke up, I never left. I was like, “Robert, make music with me. Let’s sing about how your brother is a jerk.” That’s kind of how it started. Obviously we’ve moved away from that topic long ago, but that’s how it all began.
KAPLAN: Cool. After listening to the EP, what is “Heroine” about?
LEFFLER: That was about my dad. My dad passed away from a heroin overdose when I was 14. The whole topic of my father was something I’ve always tried to avoid, especially in the public eye. I never wanted to receive any kind of special treatment or something, because my father was in Tom Petty’s band so now someone would pay attention. At the same time, I didn’t want people to negate the music we were making, like, “They’re receiving this or that just because of her father’s name.” That was important to me: to be my own person and not be stuck under that. I know a lot of kids who are trying to make it on their own and have parents in the industry, and they’re looked at differently. I didn’t like that. Writing “Heroine” is a different way for me to go about that, and something I never dealt with in general. I was a little kid, and I knew something was wrong. Things were getting worse with him and I didn’t know what to do. I did think that because I was his daughter, I thought that maybe I was the only one who could affect his life and changed it for the better. The song is dealing with those back and forth emotions.
KAPLAN: I’m so sorry. Those are all a lot of really hard things on one EP.
LEFFLER: A lot of our previous stuff was about heartbreak and “I got dumped and I’m really sad.” I didn’t want to go on about relationships since I haven’t had another one, and wanted to move on. I wanted to be really honest and open with myself. I just tried to push myself.
DWNTWN’S SELF-TITLED EP IS AVAILABLE NOW. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.