A Side Of Lake Street Dive

Pollstar recently chatted with Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price between performances on the band’s North American summer tour.

The four-piece band is busy promoting its fifth studio album, Side Pony, which was released in February on Nonesuch. The LP debuted on top of the alternative, folk, and rock albums charts, demonstrating the band’s success at blending several genres into its tunes. While R&B, ’60s-era rock or soul might be more appropriate labels than folk, whatever you want to call it, this music was made for dancing.

Rolling Stone’s album review praises Lake Street Dive’s songwriting, declaring, “Bravo to them, and double for Price’s spectacularly husky alto, still the keystone of a young band steeped in Motown grooves, Muscle Shoals soul, Beatles melodies, Beach Boys harmonies, and pop divas from Dusty Springfield to Amy Winehouse to Adele.”

Ahead of a gig in Fort Worth, Texas, Price talked to Pollstar about the process of writing and recording Side Pony, working with producer Dave Cobb, and how she and her bandmates connect on tour.   

Photo: Danny Clinch
Mike Olsen, Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Calabrese

Lake Street Dive seems to have blown up in the last few years, including a spot on the cover of Pollstar in 2014. But the band has actually been around a long time. Lake Street Dive self-released In This Episode nearly 10 years ago.

Is it pretty amazing to look back on the past decade?

Yeah, it is! I’m proud of us for sticking with it. It’s amazing that it worked out, considering how long we’ve been a band versus how long we’ve been a successful band. … It’s been like 12 years and only a few years that we’ve been supporting ourselves. It’s such an amazing pay off. Obviously it’s [been] completely worth it because now our job is doing the exact thing we love doing.

Last year the band signed with Nonesuch Records. How do you like working with the label?

Great! Yeah, so far they’ve been nothing but supportive and easy to work with. They’ve been very creatively supportive as well, just letting us do what we want to do, which has been awesome.

Ahead of writing and recording Side Pony, did the band already have a vision for the album?

Not a specific one. You know, there’s four songwriters in the band and that’s how we sort of approach the record. We came into the studio with a lot of songs to work with and we definitely let the producer, Dave Cobb, just take the reins and take us on a ride, because that was something we were interested in doing. Letting someone else sort of help us make a record.

What did you learn working with Dave Cobb?

We learned a lot about playing together in a room. We learned a lot about how to play dynamically with one another because it’s the first time we recorded all together in one room. A lot of the takes are straight-up live, full takes. We didn’t have headphones on or anything like that. And you have to play very differently in that sort of situation. Very differently than you would playing live together in a club. Because when you’re live together in a room and you’re recording you have to change your dynamic. And that was a really positive experience for us.

Looking over the track listing for Side Pony, for the most part each song was written by a single member of the band. Does that go for both lyrics and music?

Yes. In general we write separately – lyrics and music. … And then we arrange it together. We did some collaboration on this record and we’re sort of currently in a stage where we’re exploring writings songs together more.

You wrote the song “Mistakes.” Can you walk our readers through that process? Did you start with lyrics or music first? Can you remember when the idea for the song came to you?

Yeah, I started with the line “Look at what mistake I’m making now.” And then it went from there. I had that line and then I just started writing based around that sort of concept – the mistakes I had currently been making. I usually start with a lyrical concept, whether it’s just a line or whatever, just something small and then I start the melody. And then after the melody comes, I figure out chords that are going to work with that.

For the most part, do the lyrics come from your personal life? Or can inspiration come from anywhere?

Most of it is just straight-up personal life. They’re actually pretty specific. They’re pretty literal. (laughs)

You mentioned you and your bandmates are starting to write more together. The track “Cant Stop” was a collaboration. How did that come about?

It was piece by piece. Actually, it started with a sample that we used from an old soul track. And we sort of used it as a platform, like the trampoline we jumped off of to get into the song. The drum part was the first thing. We laid out the form first. And then once the form was laid out, then we started working on the bassline, then we came up with a hook for the chorus. Everyone was doing it piece by piece. Somebody wrote chords to the verses and then someone wrote a bassline and then someone wrote lyrics.   

It must have been neat to see it all come together.

It was cool to work together in that way because we hadn’t done it before and I think we all became very aware of our various strengths and what we can sort of offer in that regard.

Are there any tracks from the new album that stand out as favorites to perform? 

It’s kind of like a pendulum, it swings. It depends on the night. I love playing the song “Close To Me.” I’m really in love with the arrangement and how it turned out. And that one changed a lot from how we used to play it before we recorded the record. I love them all for different reasons.

Photo: Danny Clinch

How’s the tour going so far?

Incredible. We did the album release tour, which obviously had a lot of press and a big blowout and it went really successfully. And this tour, this month that we’ve been [out] is sort of like a surprise, just an incredibly successful tour. We’ve been playing consistently to audiences that are way bigger than we’re used to. Consistently 3,000 people a night. And we played our biggest ticketed show of our own, on this tour, to date. That was at [Filene Center At] Wolf Trap, which is in the D.C. area. And that was amazing. So yeah, it’s been great.

Lake Street Dive’s 2011 self-titled album includes a song called “We All Love The Same Songs.” Was that written about touring?

Yep. Exactly, about touring around in a van. We used to drive ourselves. (laughs)

How do you guys get from show to show nowadays?

We are so fortunate, we travel on a bus. We sleep on a bus overnight and arrive in the morning in the next town. It’s the best.

“We All Love The Same Songs” is so joyful. It sounds like you have a great relationship and have a really good time on tour together.

Yeah, it’s kind of the basis of the whole thing – just four people that became friends with one another. Musically, we sounded really weird for a while but we all love the same music and we all love playing together because we’re friends.

You met one another at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Did you click instantly when you decided to make music together?

Instantly? I mean, pretty fast. We definitely didn’t know each other as far as, I mean, we weren’t [all] good friends. The two boys, Mike [Olsen] and Mike [Calabrese], were good friends, but I didn’t know anyone else, really, in the band. And shortly after we started playing music together we realized that socially we were just as inclined to get together as we were musically.

Do you guys still sing along together on the road? What have you been singing along to recently?

Actually, just on this tour we acknowledged that we missed listening to music with one another. You know, we always used to be on the same page because we were on tour in a car and riding around every day. And now we don’t do that anymore because we tour on a bus. We don’t actually spend our days in the car together. So we’ve been getting together every few days and one person plays music for the other and we talk about it. We’ve been listening to a lot of stuff. We listened to a Bowie record and we listened to this new band we love called Big Thief … all kinds of stuff.

Lake Street Dive has become known for your Halloween cover videos. I loved last year’s version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” with you as Freddie Mercury, complete with a mustache. Do you guys already have a song in mind for 2016?

We do not. And even if I did know, it’s a big secret. (laughs) Yeah, but to be completely honest, we don’t have any idea.

You talked about what you learned working with Dave Cobb. But what about being in Lake Street Dive in general? What’s one thing you’ve learned since the band first formed?

Oh gosh. We’ve learned so much over the years. Musically, I think we’ve learned less is more, in a lot of ways. What we’ve managed to be able to do musically, with just four people … has been a lot and we don’t need to tire ourselves out trying to fill up that space all the time.   

Photo: Danny Clinch

Upcoming dates for Lake Street Dive:

Aug. 3 – Louisville, Ky., Iroquois Amphitheater      
Aug. 4 – St. Louis, Mo., The Pageant
Aug. 5 – Kansas City, Mo., Uptown Theater            
Aug. 6 – Saint Charles, Iowa, Avenue Of The Saints Amphitheater (Hinterland Festival)
Aug. 8 – Santa Fe, N.M., Lensic Performing Arts Center
Aug. 10 – Boulder, Colo., Fox Theatre (appearing with Amos Lee)
Aug. 11 – Lander, Wyo., Jaycee Park           
Aug. 13 – Tamarack, Idaho, Tamarack Resort (The Huckleberry Jam)
Aug. 14 – Salt Lake City, Utah, Red Butte Garden
Aug. 16 – Missoula, Mont., The Wilma         
Aug. 17 – Ketchum, Idaho, River Run Lodge          
Aug. 19 – Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre (appearing with Grace Potter)
Aug. 20 – Steamboat Springs, Colo., Strings Music Pavilion           
Aug. 23 – Milwaukee, Wis., Turner Hall Ballroom   
Aug. 24 – Grand Rapids, Mich., Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Aug. 26 – Buffalo, N.Y., The Town Ballroom          
Aug. 27 – Northampton, Mass., Look Park (appearing with Amourasarus)
Aug. 28 – Northampton, Mass., Look Park (appearing with Amourasarus)
Sept. 2 – Quincy, Wash., Gorge Amphitheatre (appearing with Dave Matthews Band)      
Sept. 3 – Quincy, Wash., Gorge Amphitheatre (appearing with Dave Matthews Band)      
Sept. 4 – Quincy, Wash., Gorge Amphitheatre (appearing with Dave Matthews Band)
Sept. 15 – Nashville, Tenn., Ryman Auditorium       
Sept. 17 – Toronto, Ontario, Various Venues (Toronto Urban Roots Festival
Sept. 18 – Ottawa, Ontario, TD Place At Lansdowne Park (CityFolk Music Festival)
Sept. 19 – Montreal, Quebec, Corona Theatre          
Sept. 21 – Kent, Ohio, The Kent Stage
Sept. 23 – Chicago, Ill., Chicago Theatre
Sept. 24 – Indianapolis, Ind., The Vogue      
Sept. 25 – Madison, Wis., Majestic Theatre  
Sept. 27 – Birmingham, Ala., Iron City
Sept. 28 – Knoxville, Tenn., The Mill & Mine          
Sept. 30 – Ithaca, N.Y., State Theatre
Oct. 1 – Lebanon, N.H., Lebanon Opera House       
Oct. 2 – Camden, Maine, Camden Opera House      
Oct. 4 – Troy, N.Y., Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Oct. 6 – Providence, R.I., Fete Music Hall   
Oct. 7 – Boston, Mass., Wang Theatre – Citi Performing Arts Center
Oct. 8 – New York, N.Y., Radio City Music Hall    
Oct. 11 – Philadelphia, Pa., Union Transfer  
Oct. 12 – Philadelphia, Pa., Union Transfer  
Nov. 6 – Gateshead, United Kingdom, Sage Gateshead      
Nov. 7 – Glasgow, Scotland, Oran Mor
Nov. 9 – Manchester, England, Manchester Academy
Nov. 10 – London, England, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire   
Nov. 12 – Bristol, England, SWX Bristol     
Nov. 13 – Brighton, England, Old Market Theatre   
Nov. 16 – Belfast, Northern Ireland, The Belfast Empire Music Hall
Nov. 17 – Dublin, Ireland, Vicar Street
Nov. 18 – Cork, Ireland, Cyprus Avenue

Visit LakeStreetDive.com for more information.