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Lake Street Dive (who we spotlighted back in 2013) has garnered attention both as a tenacious live act, playing over 300 dates in the last two years, as well as for their strong a cappella covers on YouTube of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
The quartet of Rachael Price (vocals), Mike “McDuck” Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass) and Mike Calabrese (drums) formed while attending The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, all having strong writing and performance chops.
After signing to Nonesuch Records, the band decided to work with Producer Dave Cobb [Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell] at The Sound Emporium in Nashville, to record their latest LP Side Pony. While coming in with a pile of demos to work with before narrowing it to twelve finished songs, it was a hiatus that changed both the direction of their writing with some prodding by Cobb as well as vinyl listening sessions of outside-their-wheelhouse recordings by random artists that sparked new song structures and collaboration.
We recently spoke with Mike Calabrese about the new record and the band’s creative process…
Do you all write?
We do all write. We have done our songwriting in a specific way pretty much since the beginning but this album; it was a departure from that. You know generally we were off, four songwriters, we would just do demos in each of our own styles and then arrange it together. We wouldn’t have the bulk of the song done but it was always there.
What was the big change this time?
We had twenty-five songs that we personally had cut down from forty. We did demos of twenty-five songs, then it was the producer who chose and we recorded the [final] twelve. We took about two weeks and then they were pretty much all complete and then at the end we took a big break and listened to everything.
Did the break change your attitude?
We thought three or four songs were not really album material. The producer thought we should write stuff together. In some cases, we started with just a riff that we were inspired by from an old vinyl record that we bought at a record shop, and we would find a song from there.
So, you picked up fragments and built tunes over them?
I’ll take one example, it’s called ‘Call Off Your Dogs.’ That one was a complete song to start with, written by Bridget [Kearney] and from the beginning she was like, ‘I like the verses, I don’t like the chorus that I have.’ So we sat around coming up with a couple of ideas. The first one was to do the chorus in 4/4, instead of 3/4 which the verses are, and then come up with a hook that encapsulates the song that’s not as complicated as the verses. So, we tried to keep it ‘butt simple’ and come up with something more in the verse. ‘Can’t Stop,’ I think was the greatest departure that we made from our previous record.
How did the in-studio songwriting collaboration start?
Dave Cobb told us to go out to a record store to the $1 bins and buy records purely based on how funny the cover was and bring it in. We’d sit around on breaks and listen to them. So we would just drop the needle and if we weren’t interested in what we were hearing after 30 seconds, we would just change the song or change the record. From that, we came across a Major Lance record and it had this song ‘Love Pains’ on it. The opening song is the riff of the Major Lance song and so we just took that and a click track out and sort of based it on a pop form, you know, pop structure. The grooves, the words, the melody, the inversions and all that stuff – so that was sort of a fun stretch of five people coming up with a song together.
Was Dave Cobb suggested by Nonesuch to produce?
We had him lined up. We told Nonesuch about people we wanted to work with and they were excited about us working with Dave, because he had just got a lot of attention from producing Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
Were you into Sturgill Simpson?
I had been turned onto Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and I had also heard Jason Isbell’s Southeastern. I brought the idea to the band. Sturgill has an old sounding voice but Dave incorporated modern elements into it, and it sort of became something modern. That was sort of something we wanted to do. I brought it to the band and they were like, ‘Yeah this is cool.’
We called Dave after that and it seemed like his philosophy really clicked and he was a very inspired, excited person to work with. He is stretching outside the lines.
He was totally excited to work with us because we weren’t a Nashville act. We weren’t in the roots music scene. He still loves Motown, he loves the Beatles, he loves soul and that’s where we’re coming from. So I think it was cool, and it was exciting for everyone.
Did you record in Nashville?
We recorded at The Sound Emporium. It was great. It was really awesome. We are really happy with what came out. At first it was a shock. In some ways, we didn’t know we even had it in us and in other ways we had never approached coming up with songs in the way that Dave coached us through; we decided we would see what happens and just go along for the ride. Let’s try to merge our two machines. Dave feels like we sort of skipped a record. There seemed like there should be a record in-between.
Kind of like you skipped Rubber Soul and went right to Revolver?
That is exactly the same reference that he made, it’s funny that you say that.
He said the same thing?
He says, ‘I feel like we had Help and we skipped Rubber Soul and went right to Revolver.’ That is exactly what he said. Honestly, you can hear it in the music. It makes sense.
Lake Street Dive
Standout Track: “Call Off Your Dogs”
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