Mandii Larsen is looking for a place to hide. At least that is the inclination one gets when enjoying her musical alias Low Litas. During live performances Larsen retreats behind her bangs while delicately cooing and crooning into the microphone or looking down at her feet. On her self-released 2008 debut Low Litas EP, her intimate lyrics are altered by vocal effects and humbly swept beneath fuzzy guitars and drum machines.
But the shyness and nervousness is understandable. Larsen's music is very much a part of her. Her EPs are individually hand-decorated with smatterings of spray paint and the CD sleeve is duct taped closed as if it contained explosive diary-worthy secrets. On the CD itself, Larsen's lonely red thumbprint is smudged to tell the listener "This is mine, I was here."
Strangely enough we have MTV to thank for Larsen's interest in music. When she was a tween, the network acronym still represented the concept of music television, and it introduced her to a slew of female rockers through music videos and programming.
Larsen became inspired and wanted to imitate the strong independent females that caught her eye on screen. So, she did what any 11 year-old would do. She asked for a guitar repeatedly until she received one a year later.
Listening to Low Litas' vulnerable, dreamy take on shoegaze and alternative rock, it's interesting to hear Larsen explain her musical development; her past and present identities could not be further apart.
While her modern sound shares tone and mood with artists like Portishead and Radiohead, much of her earlier experience involved playing worship music on acoustic guitar for her church youth group. A fact Larsen is mildly embarrassed of these days.
During her high school years, she worked at the now-defunct Harmony House Guitars in Broken Arrow learning to repair guitars. There, the owner Bert McCutchan often offered store credit in place of full hourly wages to his employees. This arrangement resulted in Larsen and other employees earning a diverse collection of professional music equipment through McCutchan's generosity. He even bought Larsen a car and let her work off the debt through her hours at the store. The sense of trust was not lost on Larsen. She referred to McCutchan as a sort of mentor for her at the time.
After high school, Larsen attended a university in Arkansas with an interest in graphic design. But during her time there, McCutchan passed away, and she reprioritized her talents.
Larsen said that she felt guilty for not using the equipment and knowledge bestowed upon her through McCutchan.
She considered pursuing music more seriously.
Larsen then returned to Tulsa and began performing acoustically at coffee shops, but the experience left her yearning for more.
"I didn't want to be one of those girls," she said, referring to the stereotypical image of female singer-songwriters pouring out their hearts to an indifferent latte-sipping audience.
So, she started strumming her electric guitar and using her laptop as her backing band. Suddenly playing her personal style of music began to feel more comfortable; there were more places to hide, more sounds to explore. After misappropriating and misspelling a perfume name, Low Litas was born.
But Low Litas as a sound only existed for the few short moments that Larsen was plugged into an amp and her laptop was spouting beats. And performances were few. It was not until Aaron Hamby of the band Callupsie confronted her about recording that she considered documenting her music.
"Aaron basically made me do it," she said. As Larsen tells it, Hamby showed up at her door with his laptop and a microphone refusing to take "no" for an answer.
The resulting six-song Low Litas EP is an obvious transition place for Larsen caught between the coffee shop and cacophony.
Songs like "No Good For You" and "Never" most likely had their beginning in a bedroom on an acoustic guitar. But there are also a restrained ferocity to songs like "OBE" and "You Want Me" wherein distortion and noise are used as instruments in themselves, and her voice is effected to sound like she is pleading over a long distance telephone call.
Larsen cited relationships, spiritual experiences, self-realizations and the writings of Robert Monroe as the primary inspiration for the material of Low Litas EP. The song "OBE" in particular she attributed to Monroe who wrote extensively about out-of-body experiences and altered consciousness.
Although armed with recordings, Larsen only played a handful of shows during the last few years.
"It's really hard to sit there day after day and work by yourself," she said.
Consistent enthusiasm can be hard to come by. Luckily for Larsen, she successfully recruited Lizzy Wattoff from Callupsie to support her on drums and enhance Low Litas' live show.
Larsen said jokingly that a bit of sexism came up in a sense when searching for bandmates. "I wanted to get all females involved," Larsen said. "There are a lot of badass female musicians in town."
With Wattoff on board, Low Litas is already picking up momentum. If its schedule remains intact, by the end of spring, Low Litas will have had more performances than all of 2009. They've also recently expanded the duo into a trio with the addition of Erin O'dowd at bass.
With one show already under its belts together in 2010, the next Low Litas' performance is scheduled for Crystal Pistol, 417 Main St., on Saturday, March 6. Also set to perform is Jacob Abello, Fiawna Forte and Broncho (see G. Hizer's article "What You Listening to Punk?" on urbantulsa.com).
Expect to hear Larsen's whispered but aching vocals, the roaring tremble of her guitar and a splattering of Wattoff's drums. Although these days Larsen might need fewer and fewer places to hide.
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