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Photo: Shervin Lainez

Fifteen Years Later, Lake Street Dive Is Still Evolving

Boston-based Lake Street Dive has been a band for an impressive 15 years as of this May, and their unique conglomeration of pop, soul, bluegrass and more has made them a fast favorite for listeners of many genres.

While at first glance, their crossover appeal would seemingly make them an instant hit, the band has slowly and steadily climbed to the top 10 of the Billboard 200, received critical acclaim from a whole host of outlets and toured internationally in support of 2018’s Free Yourself Up.

Rachael Price (vocals), Mike Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), Mike Calabrese (drums) and Akie Bermiss (keyboards) decided to forego any outside help and self-produce their most recent record, making it a true reflection of the band’s dynamic and skill.

Kearney explains that after being a band for that long, they looked at self-production as a way to challenge each other in a way they hadn’t before in their career.

“It was intimidating in some ways because you always rely on a producer as someone outside the band to make little decisions about the technical aspects of the record,” she elaborates. “But also, big picture elements of the record like what songs are going to be on it and what the general thrust of the album [is]. Those are often times the producer’s role. Not having a person to be the definitive decision maker was scary.”

The group surprised themselves, though, embracing the change in dynamic and each other when the going got tough.

“In the end, it was a really great flow for us. We found that working in that way, especially as a collaborative unit, was really fun. [There were] several of us on board to make democratic decisions, or at times to pass the producer hat around to another person in the band and say, ‘Look, I’m exhausted and I can’t tell which guitar part I should use. It’s your day to decide!’”

The resulting album deals with interpersonal relationships, gender dynamics and ever-so-subtly, but still effectively, politics. The songs are so catchy it’s easy to skim over the convictions present, but Kearney confirms their inclusion and lyrical subject matter were a conscious choice as they set out to create an album in the world post-2016 election.

“We were just shocked and devastated by the results of the 2016 election and the ensuing chaos,” Kearney says of the political lilt present in songs like “Shame, Shame, Shame,” for one. “At the same time, I always want to take some genuine feeling and inspiration and make it into a song that can be not just for people right here, right now, but for people that might hear it 20 years from now and are in a completely different situation – be it political or interpersonal. You want to leave some elements up to the listener to interpret the song as they would like.”

In keeping with the band’s ethos of diverse influences both lyrically and systematically, Lake Street Dive drew on an impressive list of influences on Free Yourself Up. Kearney recalls how they were able to use the collective sorrow surrounding the deaths of iconic musicians as a way to explore genres they may have otherwise not considered.

“[We said], ‘David Bowie just passed away – let’s check out his music and what he was doing.’  Tom Petty also passed away while we were in the studio, so we were listening to [his] records in the studio and going ‘Whoa, this thing is super cool that he was doing.’ It was little things, like the way the rhythm guitar was being played on a track or an improvised ambient foundation we hadn’t tried before.”

The small improvisational energies that make Free Yourself Up such a compelling record will be evident as the band embarks on a summer tour in support of the record, including the band’s stop at Wolf Trap on June 8. Kearney notes that she’s anticipating getting back on the road with The Wood Brothers, and even plans to showcase some special collaborations with the band onstage.

“They’re a really amazing band and they have an incredible bass player, Chris Wood, who I am excited –  as a bass player – to get to listen to every night. I think we have six or eight shows with them, so we were like, ‘We should take some time to get some extra special things together for those shows.’”

Whether in the studio or on the road, the band’s willingness to evolve and create together is evident in all they do. Catch them at Wolf Trap on Saturday, June 8. Tickets begin at $40 and gates open at 6 p.m. For more on Lake Street Dive, visit www.lakestreetdive.com.

The Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1900; www.wolftrap.org