Lake-Street-Dive-Cr_-Jarrod-McCabe

Lake Street Dive: Colbert bumps, rare sounds, & super-heroes without capes

Lake-Street-Dive-Cr_-Jarrod-McCabeLake Street Dive has been playing together for many years, but chances are, you have never heard of them. And if you have, it was probably a recent discovery.

 

The band is comprised of lead vocalist Rachael Price, trumpeter and guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, upright bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese.  They play a blend of soul, pop, R&B, funk, doo-wop, country, rock, and then splice that myriad of eclectic sounds with a solid jazz pulse, which is always emanating out from their core.

 

The band just released their fourth album, Bad Self Portraits. The album dropped at a fortuitous time for the group. After years of hard-work, they recently caught a big break on YouTube. They recorded the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” on a street corner in Boston, standing around a single condenser mic. The video went viral – as of the time of this writing is has over 1.5 million hits – and then the late night shows started calling. They recently performed on The Colbert Report and then the Late Show with David Letterman.

 

Gone are the days when talented artists were forced to fight for the attention and good graces of producers and A&R men; with the help of social media and sites like YouTube, bands can now take their music directly to the fans.

 

While on a short-break from the recent whirlwind of excitement that surrounds Lake Street Dive right now guitarist Olson checked in with Honest Tune to talk about the band’s newfound fame, their songwriting process, the Colbert Bump and much more.

 

Olson started by reflecting on their recent YouTube ‘discovery’:  “I was recently reminded of an Andy Warhol quote: ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ This has become so much more true with the advent of YouTube. It’s made everybody’s cats and kids celebrities. Don’t get me wrong, we are extremely pleased for the wider exposure the online video has afforded us, but there is a kind of absurd surprise and pleasure that comes from it too for us, that we can work for so long and so hard, and all it takes is a tweet from Kevin Bacon to propel us into a completely new bracket of notoriety.”

 

LSD liveWhen the band formed they were all in school for music, yet despite what must have surely been an abundance of amazingly talented musicians around them, the original set-up of the band did not even always guarantee a chordal instrument in the mix. Olson explained, “The original instrumentation was based more on a jazz setup than a pop or rock instrumentation. The Ornette Coleman bands had a drummer and a bass player and two horn players, so in the original idea for the band it was far more rooted in the jazz tradition.  Rachael’s voice was like the other horn player.”

 

This unique instrumentation still exists today as Olson splits duties between guitar and trumpet. There are often times in their music when the only sounds coming from the band are bass, drums and vocals. A rare sound for a pop band. But let’s be clear: this isn’t any ordinary band and it definitely isn’t any ordinary vocalist. Price sings with a power that would shake the judges of American Idol right off of their pedestals. She is a diva without the attitude, a super hero without the cape. The bridge on “You Go Down Smooth” from Bad Self Portraits would not feel out of place at the Met and it is hard to imagine that so much sound could possibly come out of a singer as tiny as Price. But it does, and once you hear it, you will rewind it and listen to it again.

 

Her voice was on display in a recent episode of the hit Netflix show House of Cards where she is seen belting out the National Anthem at Camden Yards.  Her appearance on the show was a fortuitous bit of casting as the director of House of Cards and his daughter happened to be at a Lake Street Dive show and was blown away by Price’s powerful voice.

 

Olson could not praise and speak highly enough of his band mate Price and her power and vocal abilities. “She can breathe life into a limerick,” he says, “Her voice is amazing. It’s our not-so-secret weapon. Rachael is the gateway for our songs to see the light of day, her voice draws even jaded music listeners, and she never gets the lead singer diva syndrome. She’s just purely amazing, and we are lucky to have her.”

 

1386606729LakeStreetDive2But of course, she is lucky to have the rest of the band with her as well. While Price is very much the band’s front-woman, there isn’t a weak link in this quartet. Kearney is a monster on the upright bass. Her intro to “Bobby Tanqueray” sounds like an electric guitar that is running chords and pushing the melody. She moves seamlessly between lowdown dirty funk, thoughtful jazz and pulsating pop lines.

 

Kearney has one hell of a rhythm section partner-in-crime in Calabrese. Often playing his kit with one hand, with a tambourine or shaker in the other, he gives Kearney – and the rest of the band – the freedom to let go and move. He is a reliable and solid drummer who adds flourishes that are so graceful, they are hardly noticed. But try listening to the disco-imbibed “Use Me Up” without nodding your head and tapping your feet. That is Calabrese making you move.

 

All four members of the band are songwriters, and all but Price contributed tracks for this album. In the past, numerous songs were collaborations and credited as such.  This time around, each track is credited to a single band-member. Olson made it clear though that nothing should be read deeper into the change in songwriting.  “We don’t collaborate a ton on the songwriting process, simply because it’s challenging for us,” he said. “We each have very different methods and processes. However, we are extremely collaborative with the arranging part of making a song performance ready. Usually, a songwriter will bring in a ‘skeleton’ of a song, the words, the chords, a temporary form, maybe some background harmonies; from there, we work on taking it from demo status to something that is totally Lake Street Dive, with a classically Bridget-style bass line, to a feel that only Mike Calabrese could pull off on the drums, and of course, Rachael takes every melody and interprets it with care and love and makes it her own as well. Even if the songs aren’t collaboratively written, they are inevitably filtered through the lens of the band to make each one special.”

 

Despite being a band of equal parts jazz and pop, Lake Street Dive’s ability to improvise is what sets them apart from every other band.  “Since we have such a strong jazz background as individuals, improvisation is a constant for us, even though we play the same basic pop songs each night and basically in the same way from one show to the next,” says Olson, “However, since everyone has such a command of their instruments, each time a song is played, there are variations and embellishments that do change night to night. This could take the form of a trumpet solo or a vocal riff or whatever, but the important thing is that we are listening to each other with the ears of improvisers, in that if someone does something new or wild, we all react to it, and it elevates the playing in a different way than it we were playing the exact same version of each song over and over again.”

 LSD album cover

While Price’s vocals are the ones you will walk away from the band singing, their harmony vocals are an equally important part of their sound. The remaining members of the band sing tight and fluid harmonies in powerful and unique ways, which essentially serve as an additional instrument. While not opposed to backing up Price with harmonies on the lead vocal lines, they are just as likely to add ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to build an aural foundation for their songs, which are massive in scope and well beyond what their numbers should allow. At one point in “Bobby Tanqueray”, Price join’s the ethereal ‘oohs’ with Kearney and Calabrese while Olson whistles his melody, creating a truly haunting sound.

 

The band’s name has led to many confusing introductions as they are often called Lake Street Drive. Despite the increased exposure they are getting, Olson says that this still happens. “I was really holding my breath on Letterman and Colbert, nervous that one of them would mis-read the teleprompter. I just know that someday, if we ever get introduced by John Travolta, he’ll say Drive.”

 las colbert

The Colbert Report was the band’s first big TV break and provided a well-deserved shot of big-time exposure.  Host Colbert is a talented singer in his own right and often joins in with many of his musical guests but he let Lake Street Dive shine on their own.  “He just let us do our thing, which was super nice of him!  Maybe he’ll have us back, and we’ll back him up on a few songs.  I’m just putting it out there,” says Olson.

 

The experience and exposure the band gained from their appearance on the Colbert Report was a life-altering moment for the band, when asked whether The Colbert Bump was a Great Bump or the Greatest Bump?  Olson emphatically responded, “Greatest. I think we’re still riding it.”

 

Follow Josh Klemons on twitter @jlemonsk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *