BNBTV Spotlight: People By the Sea, “Take Me Backwards”

People By the Sea, comprised of husband and wife Leah Grounds and Jake Irwin and brother Dan Irwin is a heartfelt amalgam of rock, pop, folk, and sentimental singer-songwriter sounds.  I have been wary of their presence from word around the UCLA campus (the band formed at UCLA) and was first blown away by them live at the Troubadour last month. With their video for “Take Me Backwards,” listeners are given a taste of the band’s apt songwriting capabilities and are taken through a gradual increase in volume, dynamic, passion and mood.  The song starts out sort of blue and is taken to a sunny yellow by growing major chords and the transition of Jake’s face from sad to smiling, only to briefly return to the previous melancholy.  Leah’s harmonies add an indescribable element to the sound as a whole, and the song lingers as something tangible, relatable, and beautiful.

Claire Gallagher: Alrighty, who’s who? What are your names, what instruments do you play, etc?

Jacob Irwin: Well my name is Jacob, and I sing and play guitar,  Leah [Grounds] plays keys and sings, and Dan [Irwin] here plays the drums and sings as well.  I could’ve said we all sing.  We all sing.  And we’re all in on the writing process.  I sort of get the bones of the song written, and these two help me bring it to life.

CG: Where are you from? How did the band come together?

JI: We’re from a little town here in California called Tehachapi.  It’s the sort of place you’d imagine with a name like that you know?  3 stoplights.  And we just got a decent coffee shop.  It snows in the winter and burns you in July.  We’re always surprised how much we like it even if the things-to-do score rates somewhere around 2.  Dan and I moved there during grade school some time, and Leah’s been there most of her life.  Dan and I met when we were babies at some point.  You know being brothers.  We all hung out at Taco Bell in High School and became friends.  I know, I know… Tehachapi.  Dan and I have been playing in different bands since junior high, but in college Leah and I were playing gigs together in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t help hearing Dan in every song.  So I gave him a call and he obliged.

CG: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?  Any influences besides music–people, art, literature, film, etc? Are there any particular eras or places or both that have influenced your work?

JI: We soak up anything from Robert Johnson to Lovedrug to Radical Face to Elbow to Mozart to Glen Hansard to Sleeping at Last to I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business.  We grew up on classical music of the Baroque persuasion when our Mom was in the room, and crazy Hair Metal when our Dad was in the garage.  Leah gets a lot of her singer-songwriter influences from Regina Spektor, Sarah Groves, and Patty Griffin.  Really though, we try to tap into anything timeless and make it our own. We’re inspired by the love that Jesus has for people, and try to capture that sort of optimism and depth communicate it to others.  In terms of eras, we draw a bit from vintage country, Harlem blues/jazz,  folk of most every era, and a bit from the heavily melodic anthems that defined the 80′s, I guess.  I know I’m missing something but you get the idea.

CG: Did growing up where you did influence your music at all?  Do you feel a kinship with your hometown?

JI: Absolutely.  We love where we grew up, and the context of a lot of our songs point to a need for some level of simplicity and reprieve, of value in relationships and spirituality.  The mountains and big sky definitely bring that out of an artist.


CG: What bands do you think you sound like or have you been told you sound like?  Any strange or incongruent comparisons?

JI: We hope like we sound like ourselves, but we’ve recently got “The American Swell Season”, and I’ve gotten Damien Rice a time or two, and Phil Wickham, who’s a professional musician and a second cousin of mine on my dad’s side.  Oh, haha. I totally got likened to that one guy on American Idol.  I still don’t see it.  We don’t want to sound like anyone, predictably enough.  Coldplay‘s got the market cornered, anyway [laughs].

CG: What do you think you would be doing right now if you weren’t a musician? What did you want to be when you were a kid?

JI: We’d be doing the same things were doing now, but maybe a touch more of it.  We hold down fairly normal jobs, and without music, Dan and I would probably be professional Call of Duty: Black Ops players and Leah would probably model more.  I’d be doing freelance graphic design full-time, probably, and Dan here is looking to finish school at some point, so maybe he’d be suffocating in a stuffy Economics class.

CG: What has been a personal high and a personal low about your musical career so far? Any particular moments of awesomeness or embarrassing blunders?

JI: The highs happen in three places.  First, when musical chemistry happens in the writing process and a simple song gets taken way deeper and gets flesh and a soul, and the song gains a spiritual and emotive force that knocks the wind out of you when you finish playing it.  The second high is when were on a stage like the Troubadour, and we’re hanging out as best friends sharing that with others. Third and most importantly, when someone tells us our music helped bring them through something terrible.  Music brings us all through the worst of things, so we like being part of that.  The lows happen when we play music for our egos.  We always know when we’re doing it, and it has the potential to suck every bit of quality right out of a performance.  Embarrassing?  We eat humble pie every time we get up on stage.  We’ll just leave it at that.

CG: What’s the story behind your band name?

JI: Our last name is Irwin, and I was doing some random Googling on the name and found it means sea lover or sea dweller.  I don’t know. Irwin is just hard to say. Try and say it. Irwin.  People by the Sea it is.

CG: What is next for the band? Are you planning any tours?  Any collaborations or side projects?  As for your next project/sound, will you stick to your sound now or will you experiment/take a new route at all? If you do, do you think your fans will dig it?

JI: We’re headed into the studio and plan to have a record laid down mid this year.  There’s a few musicians that we’d like to work with in the process, but they probably don’t know that yet so we’ll let it be a surprise.  We sort of plan to take the acoustic folk rock sound and amplify it and make it as well-executed and punchy as possible.  No real shift from what we’re doing, but more of a focus and continuity through each song.  And whether or not people who are listening will like what we’re doing, the hope is to execute it in such a way that the raw quality and musical tact are given nod.  Two nods and a contract wouldn’t hurt, either.


Be sure to keep an ear out for People by the Sea, and like them on Facebook to receive updates.