Lake Street Dive are reaping the fruits of their 10-year labors. The quartet has been classified as indie pop, jazz, soul, perhaps even with a splash of R&B, but the band’s Twitter bio breaks it down nicely, noting their makeup of “two girls, two guys, and a whole lotta feelings.”
The unit is somewhat of a modern late 20-something spin on Fleetwood Mac, but their music is not easily comparable to other acts because they’re marking territory that’s truly new and different.
While the band’s been making music for years, it was their 2012 cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that quickly spread like wildfire via YouTube. At the time they were immersed in recording their 2013 release, Bad Self Portraits, at Great North Sound Society, a farmhouse recording in Parsonsfield, Maine, with producer/engineer Sam Kassirer.
This past year has been a breakthrough, as they’ve graced late night show stages at The Colbert Report, Conan, and The Late Show With David Letterman. But their humble beginnings are rooted at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where trumpet (yes trumpet!) and guitar player Mike “McDuck” Olson set off in search of classmates who would join a new band back in 2004.
Though lead singer Rachael Price’s pipes have been appropriately compared to the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse, it seems best to classify her more distinctly. She’s a sophisticated stray away from many of the female artists gracing the charts today—an authentic voice and graceful front for this special band, which leaves the bells and whistles for those who really need them.
Each member of the band is both instrumentally and vocally represented, a unique offering widely served up on Bad Self Portraits. Upright bassist Bridget Kearney offers a strong sounding backbone. Her luscious and buttery basslines take center stage, particularly on the tracks “Better Than” and “Use Me Up.”
Drummer Mike Calabrese pops in for a verse on “Seventeen”—offering up a suave “ying” to Price’s “yang” in a song too diverse to simply call a duet. All four voices peer back in on the chorus, which picks back up into a doo-wop ditty sure to get your shoulders on the move.
While the band is enjoying this exciting time, it feels like they’re just getting started, as there’s more to come from Lake Street Dive. Lead singer Price paused from the band’s persevering tour schedule to talk about songwriting, the climb to the top, and how it feels to be bask in it all.
Lake Street Dive the band was founded 10 years ago, so you’ve been collaboratively working toward the explosion you’ve seen this past year. How does it feel to come to this point?
It has been a big year. It’s been twofold. In a lot of ways it feels like our hard work is finally paying off, how we had intended and wanted it to come about, and we’re also sort of in shock that it’s working—that we’re supporting ourselves, and that the shows are going so well—that people keep coming to them. And it does feel super fast. It went from eight years playing in tiny dive bars with 30 people there to huge rooms and theaters and famous rock clubs that we’ve heard about other greats playing with sold-out crowds and people singing along. We definitely have been working towards this, but we didn’t think it would happen so suddenly.
Bad Self Portraits is a great piece of work. The album is a breakthrough because it’s a culmination of genres and caters to a vast variety of musical palettes. You’re each classically trained and bring something special to the table—how do you begin the composition process?
Everybody writes separately. We don’t do a lot of co-writing in the band. And then we bring the songs to the band and collectively first decide if it’s a song that we feel like suits the band’s aesthetic. When we first started, the songs defined the band’s aesthetic, because everyone was new to songwriting. If someone wrote something, that’s what we’d play. But over time, as everyone started writing more and more, and we have defined the aesthetic we like in the band, it became a thing where we choose whether or not a song fits the band.
Sometimes someone will say, “I wrote a Lake Street Dive song.” Everyone writes differently, and when you come up with something that inspires you it doesn’t necessarily fit into one area immediately. I think that really helped because we have big, open pallets, but have something specific we’re going for in a lot of ways. So we bring it to the band and then we pretty much give everything a fair shot—it’s fun to play and see how it’s going to sound. Then we arrange the song together—that’s 100 percent a collaboration. In just about every song there’s going to be an idea incorporated from everybody in the band. That’s how we go about it. We’ve collaborated a couple of times but for the most part the writing is done individually. The lyrics and the music are all written by the one songwriter, and that person brings the full song to the band. I’m mostly singing other people’s lyrics.
The dynamic of two guys and two girls is incredibly interesting—and obviously unlike most other bands. How did all four of you come together?
Mick, the guitar player, formed the band. To be honest, I don’t know if he had a strong aesthetic in mind. It absolutely is strong to have “equal gender” represented with two guys and two girls in the band. There were about 100 of us in the jazz program at the Conservatory. I was the only singer in my year that was in the class. There were other singers in the jazz program but they didn’t come in with our class. I think there were three drummers, and three or four bass players. He heard us play as a full concert and asked us after that. He said, “I want to get a band together—would you play?” So it’s probably more of a happy accident. Maybe in the back of his head he thought two guys and two girls were hip, something like Fleetwood Mac, but I completely agree—I think it’s a strong aesthetic as well and it works well vocally because we have a soprano, alto, tenor and bass all represented in each of our voices. It’s a great energy. I think the balance of feminine and masculine energy in the band is awesome. You don’t get that in bands that are mostly dudes. There’s something really awesome about those two energies.
The title-track, “Bad Self Portraits,” appears to be a bold comment on our culture as a “selfie” consumed society. Is that so?
That definitely plays into it. Bridget wrote that song and one of the things she really has a talent for is picking out things that are very current, like the selfie trend, and translating it into a song in a way that makes you realize it’s a trend that speaks to a greater idea. She took the selfie and translated it into a song about loneliness. Obviously loneliness has been around for centuries and people have turned to themselves. We’ll be doing that forever, but we may get sick of taking pictures of ourselves. That stands out in her songwriting. It absolutely is a “trending topic,” as people would say right now. I think the subject of the song is actually a lot more classic.
How do you feel about the idea of being a role model, particularly for younger girls? Do you see it as a responsibility?
I feel good about it. It’s definitely about expressing authenticity to young girls—I think that’s the most important thing. If that translates into being a role model for them then I feel good about that. I think the responsibility is to be genuine and authentic, and always have that in mind with whatever we do—whether it’s the songs we sing or the way I present myself on stage, or what I’m wearing. The whole scope of it is to remain genuine and that’s what I feel the most responsible for. If that means that girls look up to Bridget and me then that makes us happy.
Are you actively writing or recording new music?
We are absolutely writing. We have a lot of new material that we’ve been learning. We’re going to record at the beginning of next year. I don’t know exactly how long it will take to get a new album out but that train is going!
Lake Street Dive are playing Terminal 5 in New York City Nov. 14 and 15 and Union Transfer in Philadelphia Nov. 18 and 19. Their latest album, Bad SelfPortraits, is available now. For more information, go to lakestreetdive.com.