After Lake Street Dive produced Free Yourself Up with Dan Knobler, they turned those reins over to Mike Elizondo, who has collaborated in writing songs with the likes of 50 Cent, Dr. Dre and Eminem and as a record producer for diverse artists ranging from Carrie Underwood to Fiona Apple to Mary J. Blige.
Also a multi-instrumentalist and formerly the music director of Live From Here, Chris Thile’s radio series that’s sadly no longer with us after its run ended last June, Elizondo knew the band well and gladly accepted their offer. According to Price, he “has been a fan of ours for a long time. That’s kind of a hard thing to find (laughs) … a producer that’s really well-suited to what your band wants to sound like, but they also express a really keen interest in just producing you. And he’s been coming to our shows for years.”
The Grammy-winning producer (for Switchfoot’s Hello Hurricane as Best Rock Gospel Album in 2011) and four-time nominee brought Lake Street Dive to his Phantom Studios in Gallatin, Tennessee, a Nashville suburb. They recorded throughout February 2020, “just in the nick of time” to return home before the pandemic hit.
“He and I had gotten a chance to sort of catch up and talk to each other over the last couple years,” explains Price, who connected with Elizondo through her Live From Here appearances. “So I felt really good about having him because I knew that he was a great person to hang out with and I knew that he has produced a lot of music that I really love.”
His knowledge of hip-hop sounds also brought something new to their delicious blend of genres. Pleased that this record is sonically “a little bit different” from their previous work, Price credits Elizondo for an “amazing job bringing out the best out of all of us. … You can really hear a lot of confidence in the production mostly because of Mike Elizondo.”
With lyrics to many of their previous songs focusing on fast times, past relationships and lasting memories, Price recently was quoted in a press release about the band’s collective efforts to take on other issues in their “three and a half minute snippets, dropping whatever truth we can and hoping it’s the type of thing that people want to ruminate on.”
Determined to add “stronger opinions” while plunging deeper into other realms, they were still having a tuneful blast filled with hearty harmonies and instrumental innovations.
Starting with Free Yourself Up, she proclaims in our interview, “A lot of those songwriting skills and writing a song with kind of a message … it became much clearer. We sort of brought that into focus. It’s hard to write a message song. I think if you set out to do it, sometimes that can actually get in the way. And we really wanted to write songs that just weren’t about our breakups. … We’re in our 30s now, we’re not really living the same life. So there’s a necessity but also just wanting to write about our feelings. …
“We were stepping lightly into the world of expressing opinions about politics (“Hush Money”) or expressing opinions about gender roles (Kearney’s “Being a Woman”) or climate change (“Making Do”) or any of that stuff. And we just hadn’t really done it very confidently [in the past]. And we weren’t really thinking too much about whether it was right or wrong or whether we should or shouldn’t when we were writing the songs for this record.”
The group provided Elizondo with about 35 songs for the album, and “he really whittled down the list (including a “couple others” from Price that didn’t make the cut),” she recalls. “We were like, OK, there’s a few with potential. … And we trust you.”
From Quartet to Quintet
Sounding like a most valuable team player among a lineup of heavy hitters, Price also welcomes Bermiss as their latest cleanup batter. The singer-songwriter-keyboardist who shared cowriting duties with her on Obviously’s “Lackluster Lover” became a permanent member in 2017.
“That was another old song,” Price recollects. “I probably wrote that six or seven years ago. That was kind of a big part of the process of writing songs for this record. We were all kind of like going back through our hard drives and our voice memos and really just sending any idea to people. I just didn’t really know what the song was [initially]. It had a totally different feel and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh, it should have this feel. And the person to write that is Akie Bermiss.”
Specifically thinking about an Erykah Badu track, Price sent Bermiss the demo and “he got it immediately. He sent it back to me like super-quick with a new beat and he wrote the bridge.”
Bermiss, whose Lake Street Dive stint as a touring musician began after he received their invitation in 2015, also sings a soulful, playful duet with Price on “Same Old News”. He co-wrote it with Olson, the band’s architect who’s credited with having the “grand vision” to initially bring together the original core four. Price foresees more duets with Bermiss in their future, saying with a laugh, “I’m campaigning for him to sing twice as much,” but also believes he’s already making essential contributions in other significant areas.
“Well, to have a fifth songwriter in the band was a huge difference,” Price says of Bermiss, who also wrote “Anymore” andcowrote “Now That I Know” (with Olson), “Feels Like the Last Time” (with Kearney) and an a cappella-delivered “Sarah” (with Calabrese) for Obviously. “And Akie writes so differently from us. When we made Free Yourself Up with him, it was still in the early stages of us playing together, so we weren’t really highlighting him and sort of letting him loose to express himself musically. Whereas on this album, he had a lot more space and he has more solos and … he added more texture and vibe to this record because we made sure that we made the space for that.”