The day before her sold-out show at Frankfurt, Germany’s 2500-capacity Alte Oper on May 25th, Norah Jones still needed a warm-up act. She offered the slot to her bassist Josh Lattanzi, the frontman of New York rock group The Candles, who she knew was looking to test out some new songs live. “Part of me was nervous,” says Lattanzi. “The other part said, ‘Definitely.’”
Lattanzi spellbound the crowd, with set highlights including the hushed acoustic prayer “Passenger” and the gorgeous fingerpicked ballad “As Far As I Know.” Jones invited him to play several more shows on the tour. “It was really awesome,” says Lattanzi, sipping a Dogfish in an East Village bar near his apartment on a snowy March evening. “I thought, ‘Wow: these songs work acoustic. That’s a good sign.”
Those songs are just two of the highlights on La Candelaria, Lattanzi’s first album cut with a fully formed live unit: guitarists Matt Pynn and Jason Roberts, keyboardist Pete Remm and drummer Greg Wieczorek (the latter three also play in Jones’ touring band). Lattanzi spent a decade playing bass with bands including the Lemonheads, Ben Kweller and Albert Hammond Jr. before releasing the Candles 2010 LP Between the Sounds, which proved he was underutilized as a sideman; Rolling Stone contributing editor Will Hermes wrote: “With the deaths of Big Star’s Alex Chilton, it’s been a bad year for fans of Seventies power pop. Some small good news: this taut 10-song debut.” Spin named the Candles one of the breakout bands of that year’s South by Southwest, noting their set “as moving as watching the sun set over Topanga Canyon.”
Lattanzi grew up obsessed with the Grateful Dead and Neil Young; After graduating from Berklee College of Music, he began working as an assistant engineer at Q Division Studios, where he found himself at the center of the late Nineties Boston rock scene, touring with acts like Juliana Hatfield. He also regularly traveled to New York, where he started playing with Kweller, and joined bands like the Kings of Leon and the Strokes on wild early-career tours. “Being a musician is a tough way to go through life,” he says. “If there’s something else you can do, you probably should, because it’s a pain in the ass. But there was nothing else that seemed as worthwhile for me.” In 2009 as Lattanzi worked Hammond Jr.’s major-label second album, fatigue kicked in. “I spent 1998 to 2007 touring non-stop,” he says. “I needed to take a break.”
The decision began Lattanzi’s most productive, powerful songwriting period ever; “All in Your Mind” grapples with turning away from the road’s dark temptations; while the Crazy Horse-style rocker “Gold” laments being broke. But there’s plenty of optimism too: “Passenger” is a loving ode to his wife, written on a Sunday drive back from a winter visit to Northampton, MA. “It was cold and dark, but I was finding solace in this relationship,” he says, smiling. “I wanted to write a song about her, so I went for it.”
While Lattanzi labored over Between the Sounds obsessively in his apartment, he took a different approach with La Candelaria (titled after a historic neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia that he visited on tour). “I wanted it to sound as live as possible,” he says. He recorded in five different studios between New York and Massachusetts with the band, with several tracks produced by Bryce Goggin (Pavement, Phish) and Mike Denneen (Aimee Mann). The band attacked Lattanzi’s air-tight hooks with razor-sharp execution; listen carefully to Roberts’ other-worldly psych-prog escapade in “What Happens Next,” Pynn’s twangy steel-guitar bite in “Blind Light,” Remm’s haunting organ flourishes in “One Way Ticket” and Wieczorek’s tight minimalist grooves throughout. They didn’t need much practice: “One Way Ticket” was recorded the same day Lattanzi introduced it to the band. “I just knew those guys would deliver,” he says. “I wanted this one to be as collaborative as possible. Albums where one person plays everything are never as good. Plus with players like these - it’s actually so much better if you don’t tell them what to play.”
The Candles are looking to spend the next year on the road, and Lattanzi adds they'll back up some of their best friends too. “At this point, we've spent so much time making music together, we’re a tested unit,” he says.