Lake Street Dive have been performing since 2004 after meeting as fellow students at the New England Conservatory in Boston. The band was hand picked by Minneapolis trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and named after an actual neighborhood of seedy bars in his hometown. Vocalist Rachael Price came from outside Nashville, Tennessee, bassist Bridget Kearney was an Iowa native, while drummer Mike Calabrese called Philadelphia home. “I wasn’t only impressed with their musicianship,” says Olson, who acquired the nickname “McDuck” while at the conservatory for his reclusive ways. “They were also a lot of fun just to hang out with. The first four years of rehearsals were more like glorified dinner parties.”
It took a casually made video featuring the band gathered around a single mic, performing a cover of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” shot on a Brighton, Massachusetts, street corner to grab the public’s attention—its YouTube views now hurtling past a million views. What followed next moved very quickly—T Bone Burnett tapped them to perform on the Another Day, Another Time concert at NYC’s Town Hall, featuring music from and inspired by the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, taped for Showtime. The New Yorker raved of their Town Hall performance: “I can’t imagine then, that Lake Street Dive—a quartet led by an amazing young singer, Rachael Price—won’t be getting some air time soon.” Rolling Stone called the band “unexpected showstoppers”.
And just like that, Lake Street Dive went from playing for a small devoted following, to selling out venues and planning an initial European tour, with dates on several late-night TV shows in the offing.
While “I Want You Back,”was spreading like wildfire on the Internet, the band had little idea what was happening. They were ensconced at Great North Sound Society, a recording studio located on an 18th century farmhouse in Parsonsfield, Maine, two hours from Boston, with producer/engineer Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter) a location so remote, cell phone reception was spotty and web access non-existent.
The new album, Bad Self Portraits, which is being released by the Northampton, Massachusetts indie label Signature Sounds Recording as the follow-up to a self-titled debut and subsequent EP, is a microcosm of Lake Street Dive’s evolution of the band from “a weird alt-country jazz group to a pop-soul juggernaut, that turns ‘60s influences like Brill Building girl groups (“Stop Your Crying”), British Invasion rock (“Bobby Tanqueray”), horn-driven Stax R&B (“You Go Down Smooth”), Motown soul (“Use Me Up”) and even The Band-like gospel blues (“What About Me”).
All four members of the band take part in the writing. The Bridget-penned title track is a wry commentary on how those selfie iPhone photos are just a cover for loneliness, but it could also refer to the rest of the album, each song a polaroid glimpse of a band that is constantly evolving.
“Nothing we do is set in stone,” says Olson about the band’s recording process in the studio, and that they are, first and foremost, a live outfit. “Songs change when we start to play them for people. That determines the stylistic direction more than anything else. When we record a song, that’s just a snapshot of where it was at that moment. And it continues to grow as we perform it.”
And as things are rapidly growing for Lake Street Dive, the nine years that they spent focusing on their musical development has left them with one constant to strive for. “We are named in homage to dive bar bands,” says Calabrese, “we were, are and always will be a dive bar band. Whether we’re playing for 10 people or 10,000 we want them to have that feeling.”