Lake Street Dive is feeling good. As the chorus breaks out to their latest single “Side Pony” they’ll tell you: “Baby I’m just living my life! That’s why I rock the side pony.” Quirky is the new cool for singer Rachael Price, drummer Mike Calabrese, standing bassist Bridget Kearny, and guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson.
The band has transcended their feelings about creating music and are proud to present it to the world—calling on a (not-so-)trendy hairstyle as the perfect metaphor. They are unapologetic and fully embrace their originality, style, and talent. Their latest album release of the same title is a confident and generous compilation. The tracks on the record offer a spectrum of sound—one could call the album a “journey through the decades” because the songs sound as if they were specifically influenced by different times in music.
See the slow ballad “Mistakes” for a sad and self-loathing trumpet that perfectly accompanies the angst relationship tribulations. Similarly the slow jam “So Long” takes you back to your middle school’s auditorium anticipating a slow dance with that someone special. The track is evidence that a stripped down and light ballad can pack so much emotion and ensue a mystery melancholy of those uncertain times.
The four songwriters in Lake Street Dive balance their real-life experiences with true storytelling. “How Good It Feels” is an imitation of life as the band marks the excitement of this time in their careers, but borrows from the sentiment of personal and individual growth. On the song Price sings: “I’m having so much fun by myself, I want the whole world to know/That I don’t need anybody else to row my boat/And how good it feels to have nobody to make conversation with/How good it feels to have nobody to keep up relations with/How good it feels to be alone.”
But Lake Street Dive is far from alone. They’re selling out shows in substantial venues, a far cry from their humble Boston beginnings. “How good it feels,” indeed, to mark this moment. The build took time, effort, and stress, though. “As a whole band we felt a different sort of pressure going in to record this record,” Price says. “Absolutely everything was different from any other time we’ve gone into make an album.”
Price paused in Los Angeles for an interview about creating the album. When asked how the City of Angels is treating her mere hours before a show, she is feeling all right.
“Good,” she says. “I just got a pedicure. It’s sunny.” She sounds relaxed, content, but still eager and excited for what’s next. Following is an excerpt of the interview:
There must have been a great deal of pressure on the band as you were creating Side Pony. How did your feelings shift from creating your last album to now?
The last time we went into make Bad Self Portraits, we were an obscure band that played to maybe 100 people at the most, in the town we lived in. We went in [to the studio] with a lot of passion. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because when we recorded the first album we had decided shortly before that we were going to go full time with the band and quit everything else for the four of us to just focus on Lake Street Dive. As far as outside success and recognition, we didn’t really have that yet so we were just able to go into the studio, put our heads down, and be four friends making an album.
Then a year and a half later we went into record Side Pony and everything feels completely different. We’re on a big major label. We’re in a really professional studio. We have a producer that’s really producing us. It’s a totally different ballgame. We’d had ten times more feedback from friends, fans, and audiences after touring for that long. We had so much more feedback about what the band is, what people like about it, and what they respond to. All those things get into your head. You have to be able to weed them out, see the forest through the trees and be like, “This is the band we are. This is what we want to keep doing.”
The tracks on Side Pony offer a spectrum of sound—one could call the album a “journey through the decades” because the songs sound as if they were influenced by different times in music. Was that intentional or just a happy coincidence?
It was a happy coincidence. We didn’t intend to make an album that explores all the decades of music that we’re most in love with. But one thing we did decide before going in to record was is to go all the way, not to half ass anything. We also decided that no genre was outside our wheelhouse. Our attitude was: Let’s embrace everything. Let’s do what we feel like the song and composition calls for and not worry that it’s not something we’ve done before, or that it’s not a “Lake Street Dive” song. We committed to it. I think that’s eventually why we ended up calling the record Side Pony because we decided that it meant something that you do all the way and unapologetically. That’s how we ended up recording this whole record.
Side Pony is such a clever metaphor! What was the band’s process for recording this album?
We went in to the studio with the framework we’ve used before. We had like 30 demos that everybody had contributed songs but written them individually. That’s how we worked during the first part of the recording process. We went through those songs and arranged and recorded them together in the studio. We got so much wok done. We did it in two sessions over two weeks and we took almost two months off from it and went back to do another two weeks. We got so much done in that first session, recording songs live together, that we were able to experiment a lot more in the second session. That gave way to co-writing. There’s one song on the record that is a full four-part co-written track called “Can’t Stop,” the wildcard of the album. That song we built from the ground up in the studio.
Everybody worked on different aspects of it. It was sort of confusing and strange at times but it also was really fun to see everybody’s individual strengths and how to work quickly. We realized that the four of us could be like our own little songwriting factory. One of us was good at writing lyrics really fast; another would be great at writing quick harmonies. One was good at coming up with different melodies and grooves, so we all worked individually and then put it together.
Do you write primarily based on specific personal experiences or do you write more generally?
It is a mix. I guess maybe it depends on the songwriter. I write specifically from my experiences and also say Calabrese does (he’s looking at me right now as I say that). He writes his feelings out, which is great. And I think Bridget is kind of a mix. She can write from personal experience but she also takes outside influences. Sometimes she’ll just decide to write something on a certain topic even though it’s never happened to her, and she’ll delve into understanding that. McDuck is a real wildcard. He likes to write character songs, he likes to write stories. He writes about specific things, exactly what’s going on in his life right now. It’s all over the map.
So is it safe to say you dated a Bobby?
“The Bobby Myth!” This is great. We haven’t fully decided how we’re going to deal with this. Now we have two songs about Bobby [“Bobby Tanqueray” off Bad Self Portraits and “Spectacular Failure” off Side Pony]. People ask if he’s the same character. In the world of songwriting, most songwriters would be like, “Sure, they can be if you want them to be.” Realistically two different people inspired the characters in the songs. But you could think of “Spectacular Failure” as the sequel to “Bobby Tanqueray.” We do. It’s safe to say that any person I write about is a real person.
You mentioned earlier that things have changed drastically for the band, which previously played small and intimate shows in your hometown. Now you’re playing venues like Radio City! How does it feel to be on that level?
The thing that feels the best about is that this entire ascent to the success we’ve been having has been accompanied by so much support from our peers, our family, and our fans, the people that have been listening to us for a long time. That just feels really amazing. We’ve all done these same tours and played these same venues. For other bands to recognize what’s happening and tell us they’re so happy for us, that’s so amazingly overwhelming and rewarding, to feel like there are people rooting for you. Success is actually really scary; any type of success. If you sell out one show, you’re like, “Oh my God, what if we go back there and we don’t sell out again?” You wonder how long you’re going to have it for. We’ve had to do a lot of reminding ourselves that it doesn’t matter. Those details or type of numbers don’t matter in the pursuit of our creativity and wanting to keep authentically making music with one another.
I know as a music appreciator, what certain bands and records can mean to your life. That’s how we connect to music. That’s one of the reasons we like to make it and make it with each other. We feel like it’s the greatest thing ever. Music is just the best.
Lake Street Dive will play the Beacon Theatre March 25 in New York City, and Radio City Music Hall October 8. For more information, go to lakestreetdive.com.