A few years before the US’s centennial, a force of 1,000 men led by General Custer marched into the Black Hills to investigate rumors of gold in the area. Small amounts were found launching the Black Hills Gold Rush. One hundred and forty years later, Layne Putnam, the songwriting force behind her eponymous project LAYNE, and her producer Devon Corey, mined the mountain range for gold as well, albeit in a more metaphorical sense.
After living in LA for three years, Putnam returned to her roots in South Dakota drawing inspiration from the state’s natural beauty while recording her upcoming EP, The Black Hills.
“[Corey and I] went up to this lake I used to go to when I was a kid when I was sad. It’s really close to my house, and we recorded sounds of the water and sounds of us throwing rocks. We used a lot of those samples [on the EP], so there’s a lot of influence from my hometown,” the 21-year-old Putnam said.
Music has always played a large role in Putnam’s life. As a little child she would borrow her father’s tape recorder, singing original songs onto cassette tapes. Layne’s father, Kenny Putnam, is a reputed local musician who played fiddle in the Red Willow Band and spent years touring with country legend Roy Clark. As a result, the Putnam living room was a communal gathering place for Kenny’s musician friends while Layne was growing up. From a young age, she was encouraged to join in their jam sessions on acoustic guitar.
Now, Putnam plays electric guitar and sings in LAYNE alongside drummer Alexander Rosca, who makes up the other half of the indie pop-rock duo, which becomes a four-piece band during live shows. Admittedly, performing is one of Putnam’s favorite aspects of her life in the world of music.
“I love playing shows,” she says. “It feels like complete freedom, but also like walking into a battle in a way. You can look around, and you have your band, and you’re just a team. There’s nothing that makes you feel more together than being in front of a bunch of people and having to deal with difficult situations sometimes and push through it.”
Music’s power to bond people is a large part of what draws Putnam to write songs and perform. She and Rosca immediately clicked, striking up a friendship over shared musical interests.
“We both grew up listening to a lot of Blink-182, Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore, Tegan and Sara, a ton of indie rock and pop punk. When we first met, I think we were listening to a lot of TWENTY ØNE PILØTS and obviously The 1975. I feel like every time I show him a song that I’m really into, he’s really into it too, because I think we have the same sonic color palette,” Putnam said.
Talking to Layne, it’s obvious that music permeates all facets of her life. Creating offers her a chance to forge relationships, performing a chance to ally herself with an audience, and songwriting the opportunity to compartmentalize her feelings in order to better know herself.
“Making music definitely makes me feel more connected to people. I think that’s what it’s all about is making a connection, and it is the most important thing. It’s the reason why people can do music,” Putnam said. “It’s a very personal thing, because it’s something you do for yourself but you also find that you’re not alone in a feeling. When I listen to a lot of my favorite bands, and I feel the same way that they did when they were writing that song, I take something away from it. I feel like I’m not alone, because they were feeling it as well.”
For Putnam, songwriting is a visceral experience that almost always begins by examining her mood.
“Sometimes I’ll start with just a groove or something that I’m into or that I want to try, and it always ends up being tethered around how I’m feeling—100 percent—it’s a very emotional experience,” Putnam said.
LAYNE’s songs often touch upon love veiled in gloom. The band’s most recent single, “Good,” is imbued with a sense of foreboding. Over a dance-y beat, Putnam sings “I feel better in the dark / I feel better when the lights are off,” but darkness seems more of an aesthetic choice for Putnam than a philosophical one. She outlines LAYNE’s raison d’être by descrying the band’s artist statement.
“Some people do concept records, but I’m doing a concept for the entire project, and it’s this place called the in-between. We’re all in between something. We’re in between two feelings, we’re in between pop and rock, we’re in between life and death. There are so many different things we’re in between, and I think everyone can connect with that in some way,” Putnam explains. “But the whole project is basically finding power through emotion and finding strength in that. And not being afraid of your emotions and feeling like other people [don’t] feel as intensely as you do.”
Thus far, LAYNE has released only two singles—the aforementioned “Good” and “Somebody.” Each has landed them within the top 15 on Spotify’s Viral 50 chart both nationally and globally, according to OC Weekly, and the former song is close to breaking 1 million streams on the same service. The Black Hills EP, composed of four new songs, will be released soon, though no hard date has been set yet.
When it does come out, though, the EP will surely raise the band’s profile. With that in mind, Putnam ponders where she’d like to see the band head in the future.
“For me, the goal is to be on the road until I can’t anymore. I want to tour for as long as I can and to be able to put out records that people care about and have people care about the whole record,” Putnam said.