After 14 years as a band, Lake Street Dive has experienced a variety of crossroads and a series of milestones.
It's all of that—from the lean years as hard-touring unknowns to the breakthrough performances on national TV—to make the band what it is now. That journey sets Lake Street Dive apart, as does the band's thrilling blend of pop, rock and soul, both virtuosic and catchy-as-hell.
This year has been one of new heights for Lake Street Dive, with the band's second album for Nonesuch, Free Yourself Up, released on May 4 followed by the largest tour to date, which returns the group to Tucson for a Sept. 24 show at the Rialto Theatre.
To record Free Yourself Up, the quartet—drummer Michael Calabrese, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist/trumpeter Michael "McDuck" Olson, and singer Rachael Price—added touring keyboardist Akie Bermiss as an official fifth member. And the band decided to go it alone in the studio after several successful records partnering with outside producers.
"This is a milestone of sorts. We produced this record mostly ourselves for the first time in the big leagues," Olson says. "At first it was a scary decision, but we found it to be very freeing. We were taking a lot of risks and being very adventurous in ways that perhaps we wouldn't have if we were following another leader."
That adventurous showed up in myriad ways. The songs took on new subject matter. The musicians themselves flourished, taking those years of experience together and jumping off in new directions, all while growing even tighter together.
"We also allowed ourselves this time around to expand thematically and lyrically in a couple different directions. Part of that was motivated by the fact that we're older and maybe more adult than we've ever been," Olson says. "The love song, the breakup song etc., that has been our bread and butter and the bread and butter of pop music in general. This time around we looked a little more outward into the world around us in a different way."
Album opener "Baby, Don't Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts" is pure 2018, an Orwellian year of Twitter-fueled madness. It's a political song in the sense that it perfectly encapsulates just how difficult it is to get away from a national politics that's been twisted beyond all norms.
"The world is arguably more distracting now than it ever has been. We felt like it would be disservice to our fan base to say 'Just ignore that and listen to these love songs.' We needed to convey to them that we live in the same world," Olson says. "Escapism is one thing. But I think that the ultimate escape is actually working through a problem and leaving it behind. You can only escape too many times before you get distracted and detached from reality. We write songs to process emotions, to process real things."
"I Can Change" deals directly with that process, a reflective ballad that examines the internal side of that same coin. "Fear won't rule my heart tonight," Price sings, pointing to a sense of inner peace as the antidote to outside tumult.
Lake Street Dive has always thrived performing live, and the band's studio efforts have been about chasing that same feeling.
"We've gone into the last handful of records saying 'This one has to feel like it has the live energy' and that's proven to be a bit elusive," Olson says. "Ninety-nine times out of 100, we're playing all at the same time. But this time around we recorded in a very tight space. I was practically sitting on Mike's kick drum through most of the takes. Better than any project in the past, we've captured that live energy and that was a check in the win column for our long-term goals for recording."
Those sort of long-term goals weren't necessarily present when the band formed in 2004 as students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. But the band even at that point was a hugely important musical outlet, with the band exploring different influences and seeing how they combined their different talents. Those first few years, spent as a free-flowing band outside the mainstream eye, were critical for Lake Street Dive as the band developed a sound that's immediately recognizable as its own.
"I don't think I can overstate how important they were," Olson says. "In the last few years, people have called us the newcomers to a scene. We laugh at that because we've been doing this for so long. We've been driving ourselves in rental cars and vans and breaking down at the side of the road and making records we'd prefer would disappear into the ether. It's those formative experiences that allow us to be ourselves and be confident to play really big venues...Every time we reach a milestone, we know there's something next," he says. "It takes the pressure off of things that would be cripplingly intense to a lesser-experienced band and it allows us to deliver a consistent musical product."