One of music’s hottest acts combines superior talent and a tight bond to make a red hot band.
By Steve Houk
It could have all happened so differently.
Four strangers, four kids really, all attending Boston’s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in the early 2000’s, all with separate yet equally passionate dreams of musical success. They could have easily found other bandmates, other collaborators at that mecca of musicianship to mesh and join bands and make beautiful music with. Or they all could have decided to go it alone.
But no, serendipity would step in, as it often has for this quartet. And thanks to one of them making the first move, a musical force of nature called Lake Street Dive was born.
“Yes, it’s been serendipity over and over and over again,” lead vocalist Rachael Price told me from a tour stop in Brighton, UK. “For one, we’d only been at the Conservatory for a year before (guitarist/trumpetist) Mike Olson asked us all to play together. He was like, ‘I want to form a band, I’d like to play some songs that I’ve been writing,’ and he got us together. It’s also about the amount of music that we share in common, as far as what we love and what we grew up with, it is so the same, on a really specific level. And it’s the way in which we get along as four people, it’s so harmonious, which is really the most serendipitous part. It’s not like we were already all good friends, that all happened post-formation, we became friends through the process of being a band. It’s like I found my three siblings. We always say we’ve been on a twelve-year platonic double date.”
In addition to a truly deep bank of varied musical talent, that rare band cohesion has been a main reason that Lake Street Dive has been able to weather the last dozen years and become one of the most talked-about, sought-after and wholly unique acts out there in music today. They play Wolf Trap‘s Filene Center on Thursday June 16th with special guest The Lone Bellow.
The four members of Lake Street Dive — Price, Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese — all went to the Conservatory with a dream of their own. So who knew that it would take the four of them together to make their dreams come true? Take Price, for example; being in a foursome was not on her radar.
“I expected to come out of there being a jazz singer,” Price said. “I wanted to be the next Diana Krall, which is hilarious. I got really into jazz standards when I was young and that’s what I focused on with most of my vocal technique and training and learning. Then I was like, well, I’m gonna go to jazz school, obviously that’s what’s gonna happen next, I’ll get out of jazz school and I’ll be a jazz singer. And then, I met Lake Street Dive…and everything changed.”
Not long after the four got together in Boston, bassist Kearney entered a song in the annual John Lennon Songwriting Contest — and here’s more of that Lake Street Dive serendipity — she won in the jazz category, propelling the band to the next step in their journey.
“(Bridget) wrote that song, so it got her some prize money,” Price continued. “And she’s like, ‘Well, it’s the band’s performance of it that won, so I want to put all the money back into the band.’ So we made a record, probably earlier than we should have, but that record, and especially the tour around it, was just one of those crucial steps that cemented us as a band, which I think really was our desire. I think the four of us had that desire individually even without saying it to one another. We really wanted to be in like a set group, you know, four equal parts, working together, to make music, with no one being the particular leader. So when we went on the road together that time, it just made us all feel like we were doing what we were supposed to do.”
Lake Street Dive’s sound, their specific genre, is not an easy one to pin down. If you cut a swath across their catalog, you’ll hear shades of jazz, soul, rock and R & B all come through to create a sound truly all their own. Calabrese has described it as “if the Beatles and Motown had a party together,” but even that doesn’t describe their unique vibe.
“We don’t really do well describing ourselves with a genre,” Price said. “We could be like, well, this is a soul song, and this is a rock song. But we just kind of reach out for different styles, based on how we feel, and based on the types of songs that everybody’s writing.”
In addition to great songwriting by all four members, one of Lake Street Dive’s biggest pluses are its live performances, where you can feel the four bandmates feeding off the audience, a staple of a successful band.
“It’s something we focused a lot on,” Price said, “and it’s just kind of the way we seem to work best. That’s where we figured out how to play with each other. How to have fun playing with each other. The songs don’t really come alive until we played them live, you know, for a few months. I think our goal is for it always to feel good, so to have it be funky in some way, and to make people move. Slow or fast, but yeah, we want people to move their bodies.”
So 12 years ago, when the four young musicians began their journey in Boston together, did they think they’d ever reach this level of success?
“I think we’ve exceeded (expectations) for sure,” Price said. “I don’t think we thought too much about it, but to be making a living, and for us making a really good living, and still artistically and creatively be doing what we want to do, it’s really kind of a dream.”
Lake Street Dive with special guests The Lone Bellow perform Thursday June 16th at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182. For tickets, click here.