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This article was published 1/5/2019 (902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Keri Latimer of Winnipeg roots duo Leaf Rapids began digging into her family history, particularly on her Japanese side, one story about her great-grandmother inadvertently sparked the inspiration for the band’s new record, Citizen Alien.
Concert previewClick to Expand
Album release Thursday, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
Tickets $20 ($25 for mezzanine seating), available at the WECC and online at Eventbrite.com
To sum it up: Latimer’s soft-spoken ancestor once stabbed a lumberjack with a pair of barbershop shears.
After hearing a tale such as that, Latimer was eager to learn more about her relatives who left their homeland to immigrate to Canada, and spent time in an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. She was also interested in her husband and bandmate Devin Latimer’s family and their histories in Iceland, Poland and Ukraine. It’s these family stories, collected over a span of a couple of years, that tie all 10 tracks of Citizen Alien together.
Leaf Rapids launches the album Thursday, May 2 at the West End Cultural Centre.
"I became really fascinated by our ancestors coming to Canada, and I guess because we’re at an age, when you’re younger you may not be as interested in your family history.
"But now all these stories are coming out as I’m talking to my parents and there’s some really fascinating stories in our family, so they just started seeping out in our songs and I started realizing there’s a theme here," Keri says.
"This album, I feel like we really concentrated on fine-tuning our craft, producing it the way we wanted to, and I think this is the album that we found our real sound."
One of the largest changes while recording Citizen Alien was getting the vocals in the bank first, rather than leaving them until the end, which is more commonplace.
Keri, who is the lead vocalist for Leaf Rapids, says inverting the order made a huge difference in her mindset in the studio. Typically, there is nervousness that sets in for her when it comes time to lay down vocal tracks, but being able to take her time and do them at home removed much of the pressure.
"The part I’m most fearful of is singing in the studio. You always run out of time by the time you do your vocals, but you don’t really want to rush that, and you kind of want to sit on some," says the veteran performer, who was previously part of the alt-country band Nathan, as well as local supergroup Middle of Nowhere, which released a record this past year.
"One reason we also recorded the initial vocals and guitars at home was to keep that intimate and more laid-back flavour of it. Instead of getting too big, they all seem like intimate stories. Like little films. So we, sonically, wanted it to be full of space and not too huge. And I would only take the tapes that felt genuine. I always try too hard in the studio, and then you listen back and you’re like, ‘Ugh.’ Some of them are demo versions — Caragana Switch is the very first try and I couldn’t match it."
That desire for space is immediately evident on Citizen Alien. There’s an airy quality in many of the arrangements, delicate but not especially fussy and full of unexpected but wonderful turns guided by the sparkling sweetness of Keri’s wandering voice.
And the passion for the project is evident, too. Each vignette is so carefully crafted and presented, taking snippets of history and renewing their relevance. For Keri, the content has changed the way she sees herself as a woman and mother, and an especially strong endearment toward this album developed during its creation process.
"I feel like I come from a really strong line of women. Hearing about the Japanese internment, for instance, I do feel connected but sort of overly pampered. Like, even just talking to Devin’s grandma about doing laundry in the winter, they didn’t have dryers or anything, so she’s like, ‘Oh we’d hang up the sheets and then they’d freeze and we’d have to break off the first layer of ice and bring them inside for the last part.’ So when I do laundry, every time I’m so grateful to have a dryer," Keri says, laughing.
"I do feel differently about this album than any other ones. I did want to be more accessible, because I tend to be probably more abstract in my songwriting and these are more finite stories. It feels the most dear to my heart."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.