Leela Dawson was 4 years old when she first wanted piano lessons, but there was one problem: The teacher told her parents that she had to learn the alphabet before she could be taught. Undaunted, the young Dawson went home and learned her ABCs that week.
She started writing songs at 10 and taught herself guitar at 13, but when she wanted to form a band, she hit another wall: “I asked everybody if they wanted to be in a band, but nobody would, because I was a girl, because I wasn’t cool enough,” Dawson remembers.
That’s not a problem for the singer-songwriter these days. The 25-year-old D.C. native fronts Del Florida, which she first formed in England while attending the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a music business school founded by Paul McCartney.
Like many people — musicians or not — the connection to Macca is bone-deep. Instead of contemporary music, Dawson grew up on a diet of the Beatles, along with Queen, Yes and the Beach Boys. Those titans of pop and rock have influenced her approach to music making.
Alongside her bandmates in Del Florida (a new incarnation, since her Liverpudlian bandmates didn’t make the trip back to the United States), Dawson’s rich, soulful vocals shine over productions that are at times funky, effervescent or gentle. The band’s debut album, “Mister Above,” showcases the band’s anything-goes sound.
She even borrowed a technique from one of those influences, Queen, singing harmonies with a pair of singing partners and layering them until there were as many as 30 tracks of background vocals on a single song. “I know we’re not the ‘Queen sound’,” she admits, “[but] I wanted it to be really big.”
Show: Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at DC9, 1940 Ninth St. NW. $15.