In 2004, four students at Boston’s New England Conservatory blended their classical knowledge with wide-spanning taste in pop, jazz, and R&B to form the eclectically cohesive group, Lake Street Dive. Keyboardist Akie Bermiss joined the band—Rachael Price (vocals), Mike “McDuck” Olson (guitar, trumpet), Bridget Kearney (bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums)—after touring with them since 2017 for their latest Nonesuch release, Obviously.
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Penned and completed pre-pandemic, Lake Street Dive’s fifth full-length collection felt surprisingly fresh as the quintet debuted it live on March 29 at Moon Crush Festival in Miramar Beach, Florida.
“It was very surreal,” Price tells American Songwriter about their first moment on stage since last February. “We’re rusty and also experiencing the newness of playing songs from our new record for the first time. It was super exciting, and the crowd was incredibly warm. We were all living that new experience and trying to figure out how to be celebratory together because we haven’t had spaces to do that yet.”
Until last Thursday’s performance, the quintet had not spent a substantial amount of in-person time together or even had a chance to rehearse formally. Their new record, released March 12, was produced by Mike Elizondo, whose diverse résumé ranges from Dr. Dre, Eminem, and 50 Cent to Fiona Apple, Carrie Underwood, and 21 Pilots.
Usually, the tour preparation would be incremental, building up to a confident live debut of their recent work. But as 2020 did to nearly all best-laid plans, the quintet was tossed out onto the South Florida stage with nothing but instinct from over a decade of tour experience.
“Whenever you’re making records, you’re creating sounds, and you have access to all kinds of equipment to make those sounds,” she says. “You then have to figure out how to interpret those sounds into a live setting. Furthermore, you don’t know how the song functions as part of a live show and how it will work within the arc of the performance.”
Price chalks up the re-entrance experience to a “huge learning curve.” She jokes, “Maybe Akie needs three more keyboards.” She also notes that “Making Do”—a protest tune about climate change—should probably land later on the setlist as it feels too heavy for an energetic entrance.
One song that surprised them on stage was “Feels Like The Last Time.” As the third-to-last song on the 12-track record, Price explains, “It occupies the space that it’ll naturally get overlooked.” She laughs and says, “There’s gotta be a song in that space, that’s how it works.” To their dismay, the red-headed stepchild of their new setlist evoked a strong response from the audience.
“It’s a totally different experience to embody the emotional space of a song in the studio, and then to release it out into the world on the internet, knowing that people can create their own experience listening to these songs—alone at home or in the car. Whatever the meaning of the song, they can apply it to where they are in life. This is a very different thing live. We’re all sharing this space together. So suddenly you’re sharing a very immediate message with people, looking into their faces and expressions.”
The artist further describes those moments as both “jarring” and “humbling.” “But,” she adds, “that’s what we have to do—show up and be authentic, share our feelings. We have to share in this human experience together.”
Over 15 years in the making, Lake Street Dive has evolved from pupils to pioneering artists with a global impact. As a founding member and representative of the now vetted band, Price feels proud of this collection of songs. Much of their process for this record involved mining through their computers and voice memos, trying to be “less precious” about sharing their ideas.
“Lackluster Love” was one that Price stumbled upon, and “in the spirit of sharing,” she sent it to Bermiss. She says, “He totally got it and figured out a few of the lyrics that needed fixing and wrote the bridge, and that became the final product.” The addition of Bermiss, who penned “Same Old News” and “Anymore,” added a new flavor to their songwriting. The band gave him intentional space to change up the sound.
“Nobody’s Stopping You Now” blossomed after Price flipped through a diary from her early teenage years. The character she found within those pages struck her as “unrecognizable” in both a positive and negative light. “That girl was so funny and weird in a good way,” she says. But being a journal, she uncovered a lot of emotion, doubt, and bad feelings about her body. The track, which started as a lullaby, was Price’s attempt to embody her younger self’s bravery and speak to her from a wiser place. Passing the idea on to her bandmates, Kearney wielded the emotive track to build the anthemic hook that establishes the song as an album standout.
“Our songs go across many genres, so sometimes we feel like we need to write for the band, within the genres we found a ‘home’ in,” she says. “Therefore, we shy away from some of the more diverse tracks we write—’this doesn’t sound like a Lake Street Dive song.'”
Elizondo played a part in this growth, as he assisted in the song selection process, adding confidence to the choices, regardless of perceived sonic fit.
“It feels like we achieved new things we didn’t know we wanted,” says Price. “But we also achieved a lot of things we’ve wanted to for a long time, and we finally figured it out.”