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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

Photo: Michael Andrade

The Sundry Shades of RDGLDGRN

“We put a song on the Internet and it spiraled from there, but we thought it was justified because we had something unique that stood out.”

Marcus Parham, one-third of RDGLDGRN (pronounced Red Gold Green), tells me the backstory behind the success of the band’s 2011 hit “I Love Lamp” while on the road to Raleigh, North Carolina for a show later that evening. The guitarist (RD) and his bandmates, bassist Andrei Busuioceanu (GLD) and vocalist Pierre Desrosier (GRN), continued to gain popularity following the release of the track, even collaborating with Pharrell and Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.

The Reston-based, multi-genre trio actually played together as another band before RDGLDGRN, with a fourth member identified only as Blue. Even though their partnership spans nearly a decade, Parham says the three are just scratching the surface.

“We’ve just created so many memories,” he says. “We went to Europe a bunch of times, and we’ve played cruises and stuff. It’s all these different things. It’s all growth.”

RDGLDGRN brought a unique blend of different genres to the music scene when they first hit airwaves, combining elements of hip-hop, rock and go-go music to concoct an original sound. Their backgrounds play a part in the diverse sounds of their musical style.All three artists hailed from other parts of the world before settling in the DC area.

“We have so many different influences, so it makes sense that our music is always changing,” Parham elaborates.

Going back to their initial self-titled LP, the focus was almost entirely on the band’s use of rock and hip-hop. On the releases that followed, including the band’s most recent drop Red Gold Green 3, they slowly set out to reveal their entire repertoire. For instance, the last record shifted away from their heavier guitar riffs and established a more electronic sound as the album’s foundation. Parham says he feels like the band is still just making an extended version of their first album.

“We’ve [always] shown more of our palette. [We’ve] shown all the things we can do from day one. It’s not that we’ve gotten bored of a sound and evolved per se; it’s just us giving our fans a taste of everything we do.”

Not much has changed for the group apart from their music, including their process. The guitarist says they still record songs in their parents’ basements when in the DMV. Of course, they make use of professional studios as well, but they want to maintain the same authenticity that put them on the map.

“We never lost that. We haven’t changed; that’s just who we are. We record whenever we have a thought or idea, and the beauty of technology is we can do it wherever.”

The name on their albums remains the same, too. The group decided to repeat the title a la Led Zeppelin 2 and 3 in an effort to get the name’s phonetic pronunciation stuck in people’s heads.

“Our band name looks like gibberish, so it’s not something that people remember instantly,” Parham says candidly. “To make it easier, we decided to stick to our brand.”

Even with Red Gold Green 3’s February release and their busy touring schedule, he says the band is set to drop more music throughout the year.

“Any time you get music from us, it’s more of who we are. We have two EPs and another album that are already far along in the process.”

The band is set to return to its de facto hometown for ShamrockFest at RFK Stadium on Saturday, March 23. While fans can expect popular hits, Parham assures there will be some DC flair added to their set.

“Different people from the area [will] come and play songs with us,” Parham says. “We’re definitely from different places, but we’re DC at heart.”

ShamrockFest is from 12-8 p.m. on Saturday, March 23. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.shamrockfest.com. For more information about RDGLDGRN, visit www.rgldgrn.com.

RFK Stadium: 2400 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.shamrockfest.com

Photos: Lauren Melanie Brown

District of Den-Mate: Indelible Force Jules Hale Embraces DC Music Scene

Den-Mate began roughly five years ago as a literal bedroom pop project. Frontwoman Jules Hale’s music might not be in the bedroom pop genre, but she did use music to express herself by self-releasing early recordings via sites like Tumblr and SoundCloud while hanging out at home.

Through the power of the World Wide Web, she caught the attention of DC’s homegrown Babe City Records and the Virginia native struck up a fierce friendship with the people behind the label before meeting any of them in person.

Two-thirds of Den-Mate’s current lineup – Jon Weiss, Peter Lillis and the singer/songwriter herself – now run the independent record label, with Jonah Welt and Rick Irby rounding out the five-person band.

The electro-meets-dream-pop band has been a stronghold in the DC scene for several years now, playing a host of the best venues, opening for national acts and headlining cathartic, transformative shows. This year marked a new chapter for Hale, one she says was several years in the making. Babe City released Den-Mate’s first album, Loceke, an evocative and lush record that’s as personal as it is relatable. And since the 24-year-old artist now has a hand in running the label, she has nothing but forward momentum as an indelible force in the DC creative scene.

“As the process of Loceke happened, which took about four years to complete, I became best friends with the scene,” she explains to On Tap over a cup of La Colombe coffee in Blagden Alley. “I was just thinking, ‘I have to be a part of this. I love this.’ They welcomed me with open arms.”

DC has been Hale’s safe haven to express herself through music for awhile, but the release of Loceke found her sharing herself and collaborating with others at a greater intensity.

“At first when I expressed the process, there were parts of me that felt hesitant,” she tells us earnestly of sharing her music and by proxy, her personal experiences with others. “But if I don’t say it, then I’m not being honest about where my music is coming from. If I’m sacrificing myself and saying personal things, maybe it will inspire someone who’s not doing so well. They can be like, ‘Hey, this person went through this shit, they didn’t think they were going to get out, but they did.’ I hope that me doing that is going to eventually possibly help someone else.”

Hale’s passion for music as a whole is evident as our conversation continues.

“Music is super mystical – the way it’s able to control people, change people’s perceptions, change how you feel with no actual action. It’s magic.”

She’s one of those artists who makes music because music has had a profound effect on her life, a kind of intensity that lays the framework for everything she does – her music, discovering other local bands through Babe City and even her live performances.

“Performing is my favorite thing, aside from creating. I want to play the most energetic songs. I want to play the most dancy songs. I want to play songs that are chill but that I can translate into being energetic.”

One of Den-Mate’s biggest strengths is the band’s ability to take what’s on record to an otherworldly and raucous live performance.

“There are a few different dimensions of Den-Mate and I think that if people like the music, they should go to the show because you’re going to get a whole other sense of it. Sometimes people listen to a song and think, ‘Oh this is super chill! I’m going to put this on my bedtime playlist.’ And then they get to the show and they’re like, ‘Holy shit, who is this person?’”

Every aspect of Den-Mate is a well-thought-out form of creative expression. Imagery and visuals play an important part too, as Hale tells us her sights are set on eventually creating a visual album to further explore those outlets. But for now, Hale and her bandmates are gearing up for a tour to support Loceke this month. Hale says she’s lucky to be surrounded by and contributing to the strength of the creative world in the District, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel like sometimes the odds are stacked against us in DC, but we’re able to use that to our advantage. People don’t think a lot of things are happening here, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. DC is flourishing with artistic creatives and I think that’s what sets us apart. In DC, people think of the city as being political or monotone, but some of my favorite artists are right here. I think that’s our secret weapon. It’s so hidden.”

What’s not hidden, though, is that Hale’s future is filled with opportunity to shine light on her talent and those of her peers in the District. The release of Loceke and tour dates across the country will surely bring with it more fans and growth beyond what Hale has already accomplished. No matter where that talent takes her, DC will continue to welcome the artist back home with open arms just as before.

Den-Mate will embark on a tour beginning with a stop at Baltimore’s Metro Gallery on Wednesday, November 7. Doors are at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10. Check the band’s social media for updates on local shows. For more on Jules Hale and Den-Mate, follow @imdenmate on Instagram and Twitter. For more on Babe City Records, visit www.babecityrecords.com.

Metro Gallery: 1700 N. Charles St. Baltimore, MD; 410-244-0899; www.themetrogallery.net

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