"This is my 'woosah' day," says LaLa Nova, born LaTosha Thomas. "It's a thing from the movie Bad Boys, with Martin Lawrence and Will Smith," she explains. "Lawrence's character was going through therapy, and his therapist taught him to calm down using the mantra 'woosah.' It was a running joke in the movie. So when I'm relaxing, I say I'm doing my woosah."
Thomas might be decompressing during the interview, but her latest musical project suggests someone who is actively involved with her artistry. The quirky vocalist, who resides in Shreveport, Louisiana, confesses to having two personalities.
"LaTosha keeps up with the status quo," Thomas, 25, explains. "But LaLa is my alter ego. I do things as LaLa that LaTosha can't get away with. If LaLa wants to wear pink with green or blue, it's okay. She can do what she wants to do. LaLa is a free-spirited artist."
Thomas, along with her musical partner, s6x the Martian, brings her non-conformist persona to Denver as part of the synth-pop-inspired duo RIVAL NOVA. Their partnership formed after the artists frequently ran into each other gigging around Louisiana, she says.
"The Martian and I would always cross paths when we were out playing, and eventually we said, 'You know what? Why don't we just do something together?'" says Thomas, who takes inspiration from the sounds of groups such as Scotland's Cocteau Twins, Australia's Empire of the Sun and English trip-hop outfit Portishead.
"[s6x] is definitely out of this world when it comes to his creativity, and I bring my own twist to our sound. You can see that at our shows."
Together the New Orleans-based act creates a formidable pairing of talent with a sound that is at once bold and soothing, even while taking on more somber topics.
"I think our music is pleasant to the ears, and that we also bring a little fun to things that might be perceived as a bit darker," Thomas says. "Even when we're dealing with sadder stuff like heartbreak and cheating, we're still laid-back and contemplative. There's a song, 'Bi-Polar,' on the EP that touches on the experiences of people with bipolar condition. We have friends that make it a taboo topic, but we try to bring some fun to the highs and lows of that."
While the two artists met in Shreveport, they perform regularly in New Orleans and take occasional jaunts to cities including Atlanta, Philadelphia and Denver.
"s6x has been around New Orleans forever," says Thomas, whose family relocated to the Bayou State from Florida, "I was a military brat. My parents were stationed in Shreveport, and as an adult I decided to stay in the state because I like the culture. We play a lot in New Orleans. The city has so many influences. Some people think it's just about jazz and blues and the parades and the stuff it gets marketed for, but it's such a melting pot of obscure music. There are so many tones here and lots of underground stuff. I like to think of myself as a musical citizen of the world."
NOVA started recording together in 2013, and since then, the duo has released an EP, 858687, and the colorfully titled full-length Vivi Opaque.
"The numbers 858687 refer to years in the mid- to late ’80s and some of the music from that time," says Thomas. "Vivi Opaque was the Martian's brainchild. He thinks out of the box. If you ask him where it comes from, he'll say, 'Don't worry about it; you won't understand it anyway.' If I had to dig into his mind, I'd say it's part of our fascination with the ’80s and synth-pop. We kind of have a U.K. thing going. I tend to like all kinds of music. That's been a hard thing as a singer: I can't pick a favorite. You can hear it in our songs. We'll switch it up in a heartbeat."
Thomas says that while the Martian enjoys synth-pop and electronic sounds, he also has a background in reggae, rock and some old styles of blues. The two usually perform over recorded tracks, with s6x on keys, but they sometimes bring a band that includes a drummer and a bassist.
"In Denver, we might have a drummer," Thomas says. "We have other instruments from time to time, and we like to have live drums when we can."
As for her approach to the vocals, Thomas says she likes to keep it simple.
"For what I do with [RIVAL NOVA], I try not to over-sing," she says. "I just want to be an instrument within the music itself. There is one song, 'Action Jackson,' on which I do some weird vocal stuff, but other than that, my idea is just to be organic and blend. As I like to say sometimes, let's stop talking about it and just be about it."
RIVAL [N*O*V*A*], 8 p.m. Tuesday, December 19, Cervantes' Other Side, 2635 Welton Street, 303-297-1772, $10-12.