Sisters Lex Valentine and Nadia Valerie King spent nearly a decade sporting guitar-led indie rock band Magneta Lane in Toronto. They’d started it high school and it was all they’d known until 2015, when the two became restless to try something different. As it turned out, that something new was dance pop duo LOLAA.
“We came to a point in our creative life where we wanted to try something new,” Valentine said recently in a call from their home in Toronto. Her sister, “Nads,” also sat in on the call, but Valentine, a year and a half her elder, did the talking.
“We’re at this point where we are discovering who we are as people. Not to sound cliché, but this is a whole other side of us that we hadn’t gotten a chance to express,” Valentine said. “We thought that in this new project, it was a perfect opportunity to get in touch with this other side of us that’s so integral to who we are. We never did it on purpose, or were like, ‘Oh we’re done with indie rock and now we’re gonna move on to dance because we want to make commercial hits.’ It was just where we found our hearts going.”
Magneta Lane, with King on drums, Valentine at the mic, as well as bassist French, pulled influences from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and other early oughts alt-rock bands. LOLAA incorporates some of those rock influences but sets them underneath glittering synths and Latin percussion with which the sisters grew up. Their mother played not only Debbie Harry, Donna Summer and Laura Branigan, but also Gloria Estefan, Selena and Daniela Romo. King and Valentine made their Latina heritage a focal point on their self-titled debut EP, which they released in May.
“Being Canadian, one of the things about our country that I think is cool is that … we were always taught that you’re part of this mosaic of culture,” Valentine said. “Our first language was Spanish. Both of our parents are Mexican. Our mom is from Mexico City; our dad is from Monterrey, Mexico. We were raised in a house filled with Mexican culture and customs and traditions. We definitely consider ourselves more Mexican than anything, but we’re lucky enough to live in a country that I think allows us to express ourselves and to be who we are and accept us for who we are, you know?”
Despite the current climate across Canada’s southern border, they still have reasons to be optimistic; they love the Puerto Rican culture in New York, the Cuban presence in Miami and the Mexican representation in California, for example.
“The one thing I don’t want to hear is obviously when certain leaders are saying certain things about certain cultures. That makes me sad. I don’t want some kid growing up in part of the United States thinking that they should be ashamed of being a Latin American,” Valentine said. “They should be proud of who they are.”
LOLAA pulled its name from the nickname to the name Dolores, meaning “Lady of the Sorrows.” It’s also the name of the women’s grandmother. Neither of the sisters is religious, but they liked thinking about the prospect of something or someone listening in to them from another side. ‘Lola’ was this icon that we were talking to through song,” Valentine said, be it their grandmother, a saint or some other celestial being.
The six-song EP touches on several personal subjects for King and Valentine. “Spirits” is a goodbye message to a close friend who had passed away. “Always Been” is about the understanding that a relationship is over because neither person has interest in compromising on principles.
The songs are the most personal that King and Valentine had ever written. For the first time, Valentine found herself writing in the first person about herself, rather than telling stories about other people. She said she had never felt comfortable opening up or expressing her feelings. She hopes others can relate, or use her words to help others in need.
“When we wrote our first record, I was 16 years old,” she said. “Like, what the hell did I know about anything? There’s just certain things you live through: you get your heart broken, your friend dies, you go through all these different things [and] at some point, you just have to find a place to put them.”
Still, LOLAA avoids including the lyrics in its liner notes in order to leave them open to interpretation. Valentine and King want listeners to believe the stories about them and envision the songs any way they want.
When it came time to record, the sisters got together with frequent collaborator Jon Drew, a producer who has worked with Tokyo Police Club, Stars and the Arkells. He suggested that Simone Denny of Toronto Eurodance group Love Inc. contribute vocals to “Always Been.” If it were up to them, she’d be made a permanent member, Valentine said. Now, the two are working on a Spanish version of the EP with a Columbian musician friend.
They’ve been playing live for only about a year now, opening for the likes of MSTRKRFT, and have a short tour of the Northeast and Midwest this month. LOLAA hopes to make it to the West Coast by next summer. At their shows, many longtime fans of Magneta Lane are being introduced to the sisters’ new direction for the first time.
“We just poured our whole heart into this thing, [and wondered], ‘Are people even going to like this? Are they going to respond. Are they gonna be nice?’ Valentine said. “We were just happy that we were getting to do something that we were proud of for ourselves. At the end of the day, it was just about letting it land wherever it was gonna land.”