Photo: Shervin Lainez / Courtesy of Nonesuch Records

Lake Street Dive Gets Loose, Collaborative With ‘Free Yourself Up’

Lake Street Dive wanted to capture the energy of its live shows as well as its unique at its finest. So the quartet went into the studio without a producer and leaned on each other instead.

Free Yourself Up
Lake Street Dive
4 May 2018

Free Yourself Up is an apt a title as one could imagine for Lake Street Dive’s latest recording. The band took a deeply collaborative approach on the record, eschewed working with a producer and invited touring keyboardist Akie Bermiss into the studio. The result is a looser, livelier affair that captures whimsical spirit evident on the 2012 EP Fun Machine.

One can hear sprinkles of the golden era of AM radio across this LP worth of tunes, including “Good Kisser”, “Red Light Kisses” and “Shame, Shame, Shame.” There are flickers of contemporary events littered throughout but never does one sense that the material is becoming fixed within the moment it arrived.

Though the phrase “best work to date” is only good for one album and tour cycle, it certainly applies here. With LSD’s fan base continuing to grow, Free Yourself Up will doubtless see some come into the fold who have to work backward to Fun Machine and Bad Self Portraits. Not a bad problem for any band to have.

From the beginning, though, Lake Street Dive has been a band about live performance and there is plenty of that afoot. Vocalist Rachael Price, multi-instrumentalist Mike Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese will remain on the road in the U.S. and Canada well into the fall season.

Price spoke with PopMatters from the back stage area of a venue during one of the tour’s early summer stops just moments before she was whisked away for soundcheck.

The band decided to work without a producer for this new album.

We were doing a lot of soul searching about why our records didn’t have the same appeal as our live shows. We really wanted to demystify the process of producing and what that meant. There’s this idea that you bring in a producer and they create all the magic. We weren’t actually sure if that’s actually the case. We decided that we would try our hands at producing. We started with an initial demo session and really liked the results that we got. We found that we had a really great time doing it. So we kept going.

Sometimes I’m out for coffee with a friend and a mutual acquaintance will drop in and say, “mind if I sit down?” Once they do the dynamic shifts.

We’ve been a band for 14 years so nobody can really know our strengths and our abilities or our weaknesses better than us. When you think about bringing someone in who’s just meeting your band for the first time and making sure that they get the best sound it’s not necessarily going to work.

On a lyrical front Lake Street Dive has this thing that people unlucky in love can relate to.

The specific choice we made was to write these songs about our feelings that tended to be about breakups or loneliness or sadness but to put happiness into the actual music part of it. Upbeat breakup songs became a thing that we were really into. We’re basically writing from our own experiences and as it happens, often times the bad experiences are the ones you find that you want to write a song about.

My sense is that the last five-six years have been kind to the band in terms of more visibility, etc. Do you look around and say, “Now we’re getting somewhere” or is it more like, “That’s great but we still have a lot of places to go”?

Every bit of success we have sort of reveals what we have to work on next. You just see what’s in front of you and you say, “Well, the next thing we need to do is this.” Then you get there and you can see further through the trees. And that tells you how much more work you have to do.

In many there’s one person who steps up, takes the lead. They write the songs, determine the direction. But you’re more collaborative.

It’s a relief in a lot of ways because we have each other to lean on. In the co-writing process, which is a new venture for us, we’ve found that it’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off people and not worry about having a complete, perfect song from the start. You can pass it to somebody and say, “Can you finish this for me?” We’ve done solo projects but since the beginning, I think the success of this band was that we’re all really enamored of a four-person band. Everybody’s contributing something, no one’s replaceable. It has to be these people. It only exists in this form.

You talked about past records not necessarily capturing everything from the live show. Was it important from the start that those two worlds be equal?

At first it was all about the live show. We came from music school and we called ourselves Lake Street Dive because we just wanted to be a dive bar band, the type of band where you’d just be rolling down a street and you’d walk into a bar, like what you heard. We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We wanted to make music that made people feel good. Simple as that.

That’s what shaped us: How do we get a room to listen to us? And it’s great that we don’t have to force people to do that anymore.

Is there an identifiable moment where you said, “We’ve got it! We’ve got this much of the puzzle at last”?

It was touch-and-go. There were moments, years ago, when we were playing our local bar in front of 30 people where I said, “Wow, we’ve got all 30 of these people really rocking!” We were all having the same experience. There can be nights when you play before a big crowd, it’s a sold-out room and you worry that you didn’t put on a great show. You’re always learning, always growing.

How quickly did it happen that you started really filling rooms?

Pretty fast, actually. We were kind of in the grind and would never know how many people would show up and then the “I Want You Back” video went viral and all of a sudden the tour that we had coming up sold out. We released Bad Self Portraits and were also on Colbert. That’s actually what I think really helped us. Our lives changed overnight.

It seems like you’re drawing from a broad range of people which is more often than not a good thing for a band.

It’s a very broad range. All ages, which I think pleases me the most. Very consistently we’ll be out signing items after shows and there’ll be a whole family. Grandparents, parents and kids. They’ll say, “We all love your band.” That makes me so stoked, to have created music that is cross-generational.