LA-based duo LAYNE are set to play Rockwood Music Hall tonight and DC’s DC9 on Wednesday, so I recently hopped on the phone to talk to frontwoman Layne Putnam about the band’s EP The Black Hills (which just dropped a few days ago), what it’s been like to transition from her hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota to good old Los Angeles, and about the magic of being on stage. Internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, catch the band live if you can, and be sure to grab a copy of that rad EP RIGHT HERE!
Let’s talk about your EP first. It’s a little downbeat and dark despite the pop vibes, and I kind of love it when LA bands project that sound, because that, to me, is exactly what LA is like, you know? You’ve got all these palm trees and it’s constantly sunny, but it can also be a very heavy place. So tell me about what inspired you with this batch of songs that ended up on the EP if there’s anything specific you can pinpoint in that regard.
Yeah, it’s interesting that you say you get a dark vibe from LA, but Alex and I are both from rainy forest areas, so we both kind of have that dark background as far as our environments go. This collection of songs was written over the last year or so, though, and we probably tracked ten to fifteen of them. The EP just kind of encapsulates what we’ve been doing over the last year, and is kind of sporadic as far as we didn’t necessarily sit down and do the songs all at one time. It has some pretty consistent themes, things I was feeling this past year, but the point of the EP is really just to introduce people to the project and put the music out there so people can get more familiar with us, to discover what the project is about beyond just two singles.
For sure. And do you guys have set roles within the project? Or is it fairly collaborative across the board?
Generally I write everything melodically (and sometimes the drum parts), but it depends each time. Alex will come in and put his drum ideas in something I’ve tracked out, or he’ll come in with a drum loop and I’ll build around it, but everything melodically on the guitar and synths is me and the producer, depending on the situation, and then Alex is in the drum department usually. I do all of the melodic and lyrical stuff 100%, but it’s different every time.
What do you generally gravitate towards for lyrical inspiration? Do you tend to pull from every day life, or do you like to invent scenarios, and then how do you transform those ideas into songs?
I’ll usually jam something on the guitar and say something, and then I’ll realize what I’m saying and build around that feeling. A lot of the time I write something and I don’t even know what I’m saying until I have to write another verse and think about what it actually means. Then there are times when I’m just super sad and it’ll pour out of me, and then there are other times when I find words that I like or phrases that I think of when I’m driving in the car, and I’ll build around that. It’s generally a phonetic thing, because I play drums and am pretty rhythmic, so I think the way you sing something is almost more important rhythmically. I build around that first. I don’t ever sit down and write lyrics and add music to it; they happen together. But it’s usually just me kind of saying what’s on my mind without consciously saying, “This is my theme. This is what I’m going to write about.”
Right. And I know you’ve been writing songs for a while, so do you remember the first song that you ever tried to write and what it was about?
I don’t remember the first song, because I was always singing songs about cartoon characters and stuff when I was little, but there’s a song I wrote I think in first grade that’s got a recording of me playing it, which is pretty hilarious. That was about Sacajawea, and that was weird; I had a prompt for a first grade art competition, and I wrote about being brave, basically, which is funny because I still write about that now but in a very different way. It’s hilarious to listen to because I have such a tiny little voice! But it’s hard for me to remember exactly the first song.
So did you win?
I did! I got a medal and everything.
That’s amazing. We had one of those creative DARE competitions when I was in the fourth or fifth grade that I won for writing a poem about not doing drugs. My prize was to read it in front of the whole school. Humble beginnings. Now, tell me a little bit more about the shift from South Dakota life to LA life; I know people harp on that, but I know you’d also said you and your parents traveled quite a bit, so can you go into more detail about that?
Yeah, so we went to Europe when I was ten, because my dad’s a musician as well, so we’d travel around for that. I was in Europe quite a bit, and then I also did a trip to Europe with my high school band. We were always traveling around to different places and states, though, and I don’t know, my parents thought it was really important to expose us to the outside world because South Dakota is so rural. I was lucky to be able to experience a lot outside of where I was from.
So how’d you settle on LA as your music town, then, as opposed to a New York or a Nashville? Was the outdoors aspect of LA at all a draw for you? I grew up in fairly rural Virginia and wouldn’t necessarily consider myself hugely outdoorsy, but I do miss the scenery a lot.
Well, I had a friend that was living out here, so I had a place to go immediately. (I had been debating between LA and New York.) I haven’t gotten to explore the surrounding areas so much, though, and I don’t really like the desert-y vibes you find out here a lot, because I came from more of a forest environment and miss the trees. I do miss being home and being in the woods so much, and I’m so into nature, and it’s so much a part of what makes me me, but I don’t really get to explore it that much here. Even just going hiking makes me sad because everything is dead and dry. It’s depressing! [Laughs] I do want to get up north and explore California more, but I haven’t had a chance to do that yet.
Totally. And you mentioned another thing about LA in another interview where you said you’re kind of shy, so the friend-making thing is sometimes not that easy; do you find you’re only shy when you’re not on stage? Does that fade away when you’re performing?
Yeah, totally. I think being on stage is when I’m the most confident, and my identity has always been that I’m a musician, so I feel incredibly comfortable doing that and being in that space. I think that’s why it’s so addicting; I still get nervous and stuff, but I lose the day to day self-consciousness. I definitely feel totally comfortable walking around a venue and playing a show, and I love that. I feel like I get to be me.