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Latka

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From the wilds of Winnipeg, Canada arrive indie-popsters Latka, bringing some “alternative spice,” as they put it, to the current indie-pop scene via their dedicated musical friendships of almost ten years. Their debut album, My Bright Heart is a set of adroitly-written tracks performed with equal aplomb, and anchored by the lead vocals of frontman/bassist Milos Mitrovic. The album sprinkles a hint of punk into the proceedings, faint reminisces of the band members’ early influences, but primarily gives indie-pop a good solid punch in the arm. Their most recent efforts, the singles West Coast and a 2015 holiday track called “From Under the Christmas Tree,” show off more of the band’s bubbly personalities and ability with punky hooks that are still accessible; the latter (“Hey! Hey! It’s Christmastime!”) and of course some Celtic fiddle.

Early on, frontman Mitrovic listened to primarily rock bands, who he says were the first to inspire him to buy an electric guitar and “practice every single day.” By the time he was in his teens, he’d become more selective about what he was listening to, and wound up gravitating toward bands like The Pixies, Nirvana, and Joy Division.

“Listening to these alternative pop bands really struck a chord with me,” he says, with zero hint of irony. “After gaining a lot of wisdom and courage from reading these bands’ stories, I was able to break out of my shell and play in a band with my friends. Crafting songs that evoke the same passion as the ones I grew up listening to further solidified why I wanted to be in a band.”

Those friends – Cole Vincent (guitar and vocals) and Andrew Clark (drums), had similar early-music experiences (Ross didn’t join the band until later, in 2012).

Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is one of the first songs Vincent can remember; watching live concerts and shows in his formative years, he says, made him both more of a music fan, and more determined to be a part of those live shows himself. Clark, who says that he grew up with the “wrong crowd,” lived vicariously through the music playing around the house he grew up in, which was ’80s and ’90s rock; but it was friendship that would help point him in the right direction.

“I was not fully invested in this (music) until I met Milos,” Clark explains, “he helped me get out of the pit that I didn’t belong in, and we grew into making music.”

Mitrovic, Vincent, and Clark actually established the earliest version of Latka, remarkably, while still in high school. Ross, meanwhile, was on the fringes of the group, well-known for his skill on the violin (“I remember hearing the stories of how he was a Manitoba champ of the fiddle,” Clarks recollects) but yet to be snagged for the band.

“I went to high school with everyone, and although I wasn’t in the band at the time, I knew most of the members through class and watching their shows,” Ross explains. “I was a fan back in those days, and watched the progression from then, up until now.”

One rehearsal with Latka was all it took – Ross became a full-fledged bandmate, and Latka – named after the Andy Kaufman character in the classic old TV series Taxi – would soon see their real climb begin.

There were rehearsals and more rehearsals, gigs and more gigs, of course. But it would be the recording of My Bright Heart that would cement this quartet into place. With Ross solid in his singular role of contributing string ideas to each track, the other three bandmates collaborated on songwriting, usually starting with one bandmate’s song idea and expanding it to fit Latka’s sound, sensibilities, and appreciation of music as an outlet for life itself.

“Sometimes, when the going gets tough, or even if I catch a lucky break in life, I find myself overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions,” Mitrovic explains. “There is nothing more rewarding than capturing those feelings in a song.”

My Bright Heart’s opener, aptly titled “The Arrival,” shows that Latka have evolved a long way since their early Nirvana-listening days. These songs are just as emotionally-written, but with more of a modern spin, a shorter attention span, and a more pop approach.

“The Arrival” is both reminiscent of less-familiar tracks by Stereophonics or Passion Pit, and more recognizable chart-toppers by the likes of Maroon 5; Mitrovic himself even sounds quite a bit like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, if Levine were to sing in an even higher register and with more attitude.

The set continues onward with a steady pace of peppy, attention-seeking tracks  – attention-seeking in a confident, not aggressive, way, that is. “A Love Song” features a wonderfully unaffected “sha na na” refrain, while “Fake and Marvelous Exteriors (F.A.M.E.)” offers observant lyrics (“Life is just a distant illusion/made out of porcelain/missing the downbeat”) and a standout harmonic intro:


And “Caricature of a Dead Man” offers an intriguing contrast between Mitrovic’s punk-inflected vocal and Ross’ lilting violin lines. Throughout, the instrumentation and beats from Vincent and Clark complete the picture in a sharp and self-assured fashion.

The most impressive part? Vincent recorded the album himself, as the band’s recording engineer and producer, at his own house.

Take that, major labels and your restrictive studio budgets.

“The recording process actually stretched over many months, whenever our schedules permitted,” Vincent explains. “It was fun turning various rooms in my somewhat small house into spaces worthy of recording our album. But one of the luxuries of having so much control and time, as we weren’t paying for studio space, was our ability to make changes and be constantly creative. Everyone was able to be meticulous about their creative input, and we are very proud of the result.”

Having taken on and conquered that challenge, the band wisely decided to step out of the house for the all-important mixing process, and took My Bright Heart to John Paul Peters’ Private Ear studios in Winnipeg.

That was an incredible experience,” Vincent enthuses. “JP really knows how to bring out the best in the mixing process and he works very well with bands, in quite a collaborative manner. We mixed the album over eight days, and that experience was one that none of us will forget. And I mean that in the best way possible.”

His bandmates wholeheartedly agree.

“It was an amazing experience,” Clark says, “I was able to see a lot of how Cole engineered, which was interesting. And I played drums until the sun came up the next day, which I would love to be able to do every single day of my life.”

“It was awesome,” Ross says, “a focused, musically creative experience.” (He stepped in at the end of the recording process, having recently joined the band, and employed a system of “fast deadlines” with Vincent to work the violin parts in.)

“Recording the album was quite an experience,” frontman Mitrovic agrees. “I felt that by the end of the sessions I had learned a lot more about the craft of songwriting. We drank lots and lots of coffee and didn’t sleep for days. As we worked on the album, common themes would spring up in the songs – growing up there are a lot of highs and lows, and through it all it is important to keep your head up and know that your bright heart will lead you to truth in the end.”

“And in the end, I felt much older and wiser by the time the album came out,” he smiles.
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For more info on Latka and their music, visit their official website. My Bright Heart and their two new singles, including Latka’s holiday tune, are all available on iTunes.