Pop-soul throwback Lake Street Dive’s music is kind of like all these Spiderman movies, to loosely paraphrase drummer Michael Calabrese.
“There is this whole thing right now in our culture of reaching back and trying to do something new with old ideas and make sense of them in our modern time,” he told C-VILLE Weekly in a recent phone interview. “I just hope all this is leading toward something else.”
Whatever it’s leading to for the music industry, it seems to be a good ways down the road. Lake Street Dive, on the other hand, might be on the verge of something big in the near future.
Largely due to the strength of its recent tour of the late night TV scene—and particularly the “Colbert bump,” according to Calabrese—the up-and-coming band has had a slew of tour dates sell out in the past several weeks. When Calabrese, lead singer Rachel Price, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson, and upright bassist Bridget Kearney hit The Jefferson Theater on February 23, they will play to another full house.
Popularity has come quickly for the band since two years ago, when a sparse video of a Jackson 5 cover went viral and people started talking about the four classically trained musicians.
“‘I Want You Back’ was our calling card for a while,” Calabrese said. “Because of that, we were able to get out and grow. We have been a band for 10 years, so when the universe handed us some luck, we were able to take advantage of that.”
Lake Street Dive’s recent surge in popularity seems to be part of a wider trend of independent musicians rediscovering and repurposing retro sounds—think Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings faithfully reproducing vintage funk/soul or The Black Keys co-opting the blues. For its part, Lake Street Dive fuses pop from the late ’60s and early ’70s with soul and R&B, laying backbeat grooves under Price’s throaty caterwaul.
The goal, Calabrese says, is to take the sounds that had people sock-hopping back in the day and make them move some butts in modern concert venues. The result is not unlike the music—at least in spirit—of recent chartbusters Alabama Shakes, who Calabrese said Lake Street Dive looked to for production insights prior to going into the studio for the band’s latest album, Bad Self Portraits.
“We listened to some of their tracks with our producer because there are some awesome production choices” on the Shakes debut album Boys & Girls, he said. “They are into the same bands as we are, I think.”
Unlike the instant success of Shakes, Lake Street Dive has been refining its sound and fighting for a popular foothold since Olson brought the foursome together in 2005 at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music, the institution that nurtured the talents of Medeski, Martin and Wood and, more recently, songwriter Aoife O’Donovan.
Calabrese said Olson, a composition major, had formed several bands at the conservatory before finding the combination of Price, Kearney, and himself. The drummer said the band has over the years tightened its sphere of influences to the pop-soul combination we hear today, although folk and ’90s music is thrown into the mix at times.
Calabrese said Olson handpicked Lake Street Dive in much the same way Miles Davis formed his jazz bands, before realizing his mistake. “And yes, I just compared Mike to Miles Davis,” he said.
If there is a member of Lake Street Dive capable of attaining such rarified status, it’s undoubtedly Price. With the vocal power and soul of an Amy Winehouse but presumably without the demons, the jazz vocalist sets the tone for everything the band does. And while Calabrese suggests vocals are “the most immediate way to react to a band’s sound” as if to imply Lake Street Dive is more than just a sexy lead singer, Price’s pipes wouldn’t be a bad thing to ride to the top.
According to Price, all four members of Lake Street Dive are songwriters, with everyone breaking off to craft their own tracks before bringing them back to the studio to flesh them out. The most difficult hurdle for the talented group will most likely prove to be that whole “something else” Calabrese hopes all this is leading to.
Even the band’s breakout Michael Jackson cover has pigeonholed the quartet at times —Calabrese said some fans thought they were a “cover band”—and with no experience with being big stars, the future is anything but set.
“As all this is happening, we are still just green in the music industry,” he said. “We’ve never paid close enough attention to the music business to see what happens, so we’re just along for the ride. But we’re prepared, and hopefully we have enough history behind us to ride it out.”