Three years after the release of DWNTWN’s successful self-titled EP, the band – comprised of Jamie Leffler, Robert Cepeda and Daniel Vanchieri – are back with their first full-length, Racing Time. After taking some time to craft an exceptional piece of work with depth, the band’s debut showcases their ability to combine their infectious indie-pop sound with a more stripped-down approach, making this record possibly their best material to date.
We chatted with Leffler on all things Racing Time, facing inner demons and what we can expect from the LA trio in the coming months!
The last time we chatted, you guys weren’t too keen on releasing a full length as you felt people don’t really give full albums a chance anymore. What changed? (We’re really happy you changed your mind, by the way!)
You got me! Yes, I used to be very adamant that a growing band like us wouldn’t be served by doing a full length. With so much attention on singles and the popularity of playlists, people usually gravitate towards one song. Asking them to spend 20 minutes listening to an EP felt more reasonable than wanting them to take 40 minutes to give a new band a shot. With all that being said, it kind of felt like time to do a full length. With three EPs under our belt and more confidence as writers, we had more to say and decided our debut album was the way to go. Now that we have done it, it’s interesting because it almost seems that people are taking us more seriously because we have a full length. Totally the opposite of what I previously thought. I guess I was wrong haha!
Sonically, Racing Time sounds like the culmination of all three EPs with a richer vision, if that makes sense. How long did it take you guys to decide how the record should sound? Were there other options you had in mind that eventually got scrapped?
We knew that we wanted these songs to feature more guitar and less synth. Less layers and more venerability. We didn’t set out to have a specific sound per say, but over the course of writing the album I think we found “our” sound. We used to try every single option known to man before landing on how we wanted a song to sound. We still had that habit when writing “Sticks & Stones” in particular. It had about 7 different versions, starting as an indie rock song, then full pop, then a different chorus, a different verse. It almost made us lose our minds. I used to sing in three different vocal styles and we would layer and mix them all together. I think we did that because we were scared of not making the right choices for the song, so we would find a way to choose everything. That was the last time we did that though. It was tedious and insane, but it taught us how to trust ourselves. I have learned a lot about singing, and learned how I want to convey the words. It feels really good now to write something and not question it.
I admire how honest you were on this record about the death of your father. Do you feel a sense of clarity now that you’ve gotten these feelings off your chest? What was the songwriting process actually like?
Thank you. I am still figuring out my emotions surrounding my father’s death. Writing about it has definitely helped a lot; it’s forced me to look inward and try to figure out how I really feel. I refused to deal with it for many years opting to be strong and not realizing that I was just avoiding it. It’s interesting because this one was easy to write. Maybe it’s because I am finally ready to deal with that big loss and I’ve got a lot to say about it. Kinda surprised me and just poured out, which felt really therapeutic.
I loved hearing a revamp of “Pioneer Square!” How did that one make its way onto the record?
We always loved that song, but because it was one of the first ones we ever wrote, we felt it never reached its full potential. Usually we hear our oldest songs and cringe, but “Pioneer Square” always had us saying, “damn that was a good song, I wish it didn’t sound like shit.” So hopefully this time around it is less shitty! Haha.
I think the overall theme of “Back & Forth” is going to resonate with a lot of people. What initially inspired that one?
We started that one in our practice space. It’s the only song on the album that came from the three of us jamming and it came together really quickly. I was singing the lyric, “everyone is gonna die someday,” and we thought about changing it because it’s pretty dark, but I wanted to keep it. I’m really scared of death, and have had panic attacks about it since I was a child. Nothing scares me more than the idea of waking up old and full of regrets. I get the shivers just thinking about it. Plus life is so amazing, I don’t want it to end, like ever. It freaks me out knowing that everyone and everything will all be gone one day. A blip in the grand scheme of things.
What does the title of Racing Time sum up to each of you personally?
Many of the songs serve as reminders to me not to allow fear to govern my decisions. I really don’t want my life to turn out crummy because I was afraid to take risks. I can get paralyzed when faced with difficult decisions because I don’t want to choose the wrong one. I need to be more present and active and not hide from things just because I might get hurt.
Now that the album is officially out, what can we look forward to? Any tours we should look out for?
We’re going to have a video out soon for “Lonely.” And touring will definitely be happening so keep up with us on socials for announcements. My plan is to tour the world, so let’s see if we can make that happen. 😉
Racing Time is available now here.