LOLAA’s Sweeping Synth Pop Captures the Glamour and Drama of 80s Pop Divas

LOLAA. Photo by Stephanie Luong. Courtesy of Canvas Media

The self-titled debut EP from Canadian sister duo LOLAA opens with a cavalcade of percussion. Clattering, clave-like adornments give way to a galloping rhythm topped with snare on the album opener “Breaking Sound.” An intricate dance beat drives the following track “Always Been.” The songs are modern power ballads that call to mind the pop-rock anthems of HAIM or even Heart, with glimmers of Tegan and Sara and Jenny Lewis. Singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter Lex Valentine’s emotional vocals invoke the early 1980s, when badass femmes like Pat Benatar, Janet Jackson, and Gloria Estefan bared their hearts while prowling stages in spike-heeled pumps.

Valentine has always had the badass part on lock. It’s revealing her heart that has been a learning process for her as a songwriter, she says. “I always wanted to get to a place where I could lay it all on the table and express my sadness and my happiness and my passion in the most vulnerable way, which, for me, lyrically, has always been so frightening. I’m one of those people who, even in life, constantly struggles with allowing myself to become a vulnerable person,” the Toronto musician admits in a phone interview.

Photo by Stephanie Luong. Courtesy of Canvas Media
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A first-generation Mexican-Canadian, she says she was raised not to be vulnerable. “Growing up as a Latin woman, in my family, you are constantly taught that you have be strong, and so we grow up strong. And the women in Latin families, we are strong,” she asserts. But coming from a Mexican background also meant growing up with diva Daniela Romo, legendary ranchera singer Vicente Fernández, and, of course, Selena. These were the voices the songwriter looked to as an example when she came to a crossroads in her creative life. “One of the things I love about Latin American artists, when they’re sad, they’re so passionately sad; when they’re angry, they’re still crying, but they’re so passionately angry,” she says.

“Growing up as a Latin woman, in my family, you are constantly taught that you have be strong.”

“In our last band, that style of writing, in terms of the lyrics – it was very hard to be vulnerable in that space,” she reflects. The band she is referring to is Magneta Lane, the gritty yet tuneful indie rock trio Valentine started with her sister Nadia Valerie King on drums and one-name bass player French when Valentine was 16 and King was 15. They were signed soon after forming, and Valentine and her sister proceeded to “grow up in the Canadian music industry.” Valentine says they learned “everything” from the experience, but that after 10 years of touring and recording music, the band not longer fit who they were as people. Now in her 20s, Valentine had hit a wall with her songwriting. It was time for something new. Magneta Lane broke up around 2014. It was an amicable split, but, as much as everyone agreed it was time, the ending left the sisters in an uncertain place.

Photo by Stephanie Luong. Courtesy of Canvas Media
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During the same period, a close friend of Valentine’s died. He was a fellow Toronto musician who she’d known since she was 17. His loss affected her very much. “He was one of those friends who I knew always had my back even though our lives went in two very different directions. When he passed away, he was very young and it came out of nowhere,” she explains. The frontwoman says the single “Spirits,” which we are premiering today on Remezcla, is her way of trying to say a proper goodbye. In the chorus she professes, “I will always sing for you,” and doesn’t sound like she has trouble being vulnerable.

LOLAA began as a way of dealing with everything that was going on, of healing and starting over. “A lot of endings were happening at that time, so we needed this creative space to go and experience something cathartic and just release all the stuff that was happening,” Valentine recalls. With King on bass, they went into the studio with their producer and friend Jon Drew, who has recorded bands like Toronto punks Fucked Up, to write songs without any preconceptions about the kind of music they would make. With no band, and no label, they were free to do what they wanted.

“There were no expectations from other people for what it was supposed to sound like. It was a space where we could go and be ourselves again and that was so amazing and so liberating and refreshing for us,” Valentine continues. The music that came out of this process is melodic but beat-driven, tender and, indeed, vulnerable. It sounds honest and fresh, and it’s very pop.

Photo by Stephanie Luong. Courtesy of Canvas Media
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Their new approach to writing allows them the freedom to express parts of themselves that didn’t fit into their old project. In addition to being more emotionally vulnerable, the newly minted duo felt free to draw on any musical influences that came to mind, including the Latin pop artists that they grew up on, artists from Spain and Latin America of the 70s and 80s. It’s a big reason why LOLAA is so danceable. “The musicians and the music that inspired us, a lot of them, there’s a lot of beat to those songs. When you listen to Latin music, it kinda makes you want to groove and dance. We take a lot of that into our live performance. If you see us play as LOLAA, we get up there and we dance. It just feels natural to express yourself through movement,” Valentine relates.

The project is a promising new beginning, emphasis on the new. LOLAA has only been playing live since last spring, but they’ve already opened for Helado Negro in Toronto. Tapping into their musical roots seems to have energized them for the adventure ahead. “Making music like this and taking from all those influences, it reminds us of being kids and growing up with that and that’s a really positive, happy place for us,” Valentine says.

LOLAA’s self-titled EP drops May 22, 2017.