Getting on the map

ATLAAS presents an excellently produced synth-pop creation with debut release

ATLAAS - and no, we’re not shouting, it’s one of those stylistic things - is one of those bands that comes out of nowhere and manages to immediately distinguish itself. Its debut EP, titled ONE, only features three tracks. Each is totally golden. There’s the ever-versatile Heather Thomas (of Bunny) on vocals and keytar, bouncing between octaves with remarkable style and assertiveness. Then, there’s Ricardo Lopez-Aguilar (of Oldfolks Home) on guitar, drum machine and programming. It’s a bit like Phantogram, except actually enjoyable to listen to.

“It’s been really fun, but also crazy,” Thomas says of the recording process. “It’s my first ever real release; Ricardo’s been doing it for a lot longer than I have. Being in the studio has been really gruelling. When there’s only two of you, only one of you is going to be recording something at a time. When it got to vocals days, it got very intense for me, because the vocals on all of the songs are pretty crazy.”

The pair met last summer while working on a mutual friend’s movie. Later, Thomas accompanied Lopez-Aguilar on an Oldfolks Home tour, during which they realized the effectiveness of their collaboration. “Love Song,” dropped in January, was the instant result. Soon after, they displayed their infectious and well-groomed tunes at the likes of Rainbow Trout, the Winnipeg Pride Festival and Little Sister Coffee Maker (the latter as part of the 2014 Juno Awards festivities).

ONE was created in Lopez-Aguilar’s basement studio. Thomas notes that she follows a fairly standard protocol for warming up before recording: vocal exercises for between 45 minutes and an hour, and lots of tea. There’s also an array of twinkling lights assembled throughout the studio. The lights were switched off before the mic came on. It helped set the mood, Thomas says. Such frivolities will only continue at Saturday’s show.

“That is going to be crazy,” she remarks, laughing. “We’re working with Jeanine Saurette right now, a local artist. I can’t really explain the pieces; you have to see them. They’re folded pieces of art, basically, and they just look really cool and will reflect projections. The fun thing about this show is the audience is going to be inside the show. It won’t be like the audience watching a show. The room is part of the show.”

The crew isn’t slowing down either; a music video for “The One” was recently shot, described by Thomas as a collaboration of artists. She also assures that the break that her and Lopez-Aguilar will be taking after the upcoming show will only be a brief one, with a longer release on the horizon. For now, she sounds pretty damn satisfied, and justifiably so. ONE is an extremely good introduction to the band.

“I don’t want to toot our own horn, but I feel like there’s a gap in the market for a band like us: female-driven pop music in Winnipeg in general,” she notes. “I feel like we maybe have something that people have been wanting, which is cool.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 19, 2014)

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