By Joe Student
It took nearly 10 years for Lake Street Dive to become an “overnight” success.
A decade after forming at the New England Conservatory in Boston, the soulful jazz/pop band has blossomed into one of music’s fastest rising acts in 2014, receiving the title of “the year’s best new band” from Rolling Stone in January. Their latest album, “Bad Self Portraits,” debuted at No. 18 on the Billboard 200 after its mid-February release, and they have appeared on “The Colbert Report,” the “Late Show With David Letterman” and “Ellen.”
The quartet of frontwoman Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist Mike Olson and drummer Michael Calabrese has also played live sets at Bonnaroo, the Newport Folk Festival and the XPonNential Music Fest in Philadelphia among its many gigs in 2014.
Lake Street Dive is scheduled to close the Campfire Outdoor Adventure and Music Festival at Lakewood, Pa. (Wayne County) this Sunday (Aug. 31). The NEPA show caps an active summer of touring for the band.
“Our tour schedule became constant very quickly, and all the facets of our career — our business team, standard of living, size of show, Twitter followers — have been growing steadily,” Philadelphia native Calabrese said via e-mail in regard to the band’s breakout period.
“It’s been very exciting for us but also daunting at times. You do something for 10 years with no expectations, just because it’s fun, and all of a sudden you have to learn the ropes as fast as they’re handed to you. It’s been a trial by fire. There are no complaints though. We have a great foundation of friendship and musical understanding that keeps us together, moving forward.”
Calabrese corresponded with Highway 81 Revisited from a tour stop in Telluride, Colo., earlier this month. He told us about how the band prepares for festival shows, meeting Stephen Colbert and which song they’d love to cover live someday.
H81R: Do you prepare differently for festival shows like Campfire than you do for headlining gigs? Do your arrangements change at all?
MC: Our arrangements, in terms of songs, are always evolving. That’s been a given since we’ve played live, no matter what the venue. It’s a slow, natural thing we don’t try to force unless a specific problem needs to be addressed. But the way we arrange our sets is definitely a conscious choice.
For instance, we’re going back to New York and Boston later this year, and for these fans that make up our biggest markets that we’ve been returning to for years and years, we’ll have tons of new songs, new banter and new set lists. We’ll also probably employ the help of some extra musicians to round out the sound, change it up a little bit and keep it fun and interesting for everyone (including ourselves).
For those new towns, especially the towns we’re playing festivals in, we’re most likely going to be playing for new audience members. Festivals also tend to have shorter sets when you’re at our level. So we’ll cater the set to that, doing what we call our “power set” — music we know is tried and true — so that the repeat (fans) are entertained and the new ones are drawn in.”
H81R: Have you heard any other artist on any of those festival shows whose work really impacted you? Is there anyone in particular you are looking forward to see at Campfire?
MC: It was amazing to see Elton John at Bonnaroo — a living legend who still has all his faculties as a performer and musician. (He was) very much an inspiration, because we would love the same kind of longevity and timelessness. Mavis Staples at Newport is another example of that. We should all be so lucky to have her lust for life after such a full career. Then there’s Ryan Adams, also at Newport, who somehow captivates everyone with his relaxed, personal demeanor. There’s a balance of passion and nonchalance that is really intriguing.
Although we won’t be at Campfire the days they’re there, Charles Bradley and Langhorne Slim always put on a great show. Dietrich Strause is a buddy of ours from Boston who we can’t wait to see. He’s someone to watch.
H81R: We’re sending these questions along the day after you were on “Conan.” What was that experience like? How do you decide which song to play for an appearance like that?
MC: Our experience at “Conan” was great. There was a professional, friendly crew, and even Conan himself was very approachable and appreciative. (We) couldn’t have asked for a better time. We decided to play “Stop Your Crying” because it was considered by our label, Signature Sounds, and us, to be the third single from the record, and we had already played the first two, “Bad Self Portraits” and “You Go Down Smooth” on air.
H81R: You’ve also been on “Ellen,” Letterman and “The Colbert Report” — those are pretty impressive names. Do you get the sense that the hosts are fans of the band? How, if at all, do those appearances impact the band’s success?
MC: We definitely got that impression from Colbert. As soon as we pulled up to load into the studio, we heard a “Hello!” from two stories up that turned out to be Colbert, waving his hand at us violently. “Thanks so much for being here!” he said as we stared back, agog. We also heard him humming one of our songs to himself as we watched the rehearsal taping. That was great.
All these TV appearances are the best publicity possible. With the Internet, you never know who’s going to stumble across your posts, but you’re pretty much guaranteed an incredible number of viewers. Our Twitter and Facebook numbers are a good tell for an exposure bump, and they’ve always jumped considerably after these shows air.
H81R: The band gained attention in 2012 for its performance of a distinctive cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on YouTube. Whose idea was it to put that cover into video form? Did the response surprise you?
MC: The response was definitely a surprise. Part of that surprise was because it wasn’t some sort of specific inspiration to make the video and put it up on the Web. We were doing what we’d always done when releasing new material or doing something fun for fans, which was make a one-shot live video of one of our tunes and just have a good time with it. We did three songs from (EP) “Fun Machine” the same way and just decided that “I Want You Back” sounded and felt the best, so we put it up. That’s how the coolest stuff happens: when you don’t try.
H81R: You seem to have an affinity for cover songs. How often do you include them in your set list? Which song haven’t you covered live that you’d like to?
MC: We used to include them in our sets more when we were playing markets that were new, where we would have to play songs that would captivate the audience; win them over a little more deliberately. We still do that, but not as much — only if we feel very new to the crowd. We’d really like to cover “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston or something like that. So far, we haven’t covered a song by another female singer, and that seems silly.
H81R: What’s your most memorable moment from this tour thus far?
MC: So far, it’s hard to beat getting to play on the Conan O’Brien show. Being on TV is cool, especially when it’s on someone’s show who you’ve watched since you were a kid. It doesn’t hurt that he was a real mensch. After the taping, he stood around and talked with us about Boston and music and was generally nice and easy to talk to. That’s a real treat when dealing with a TV personality as big as him.
H81R: You’ve played a lot of shows this year. Does touring ever affect the band’s chemistry on stage or off?
MC: Yes, but luckily our positive experiences while touring affect our onstage chemistry much more than the negative experiences.
H81R: Do you make an effort to write new music while touring? Are you more or less creative on the road?
MC: We are now. It used to be that we were just too busy or tired from taking care of the day-to-day of touring that we wouldn’t have the opportunity. Now, we’re on a bus and have a full-time crew, so we can finally devote our time and energy to what we love and do best.
H81R: NEPA has its share of dive bars — the type of place from which the band gets its name. Will you explore any while you are there? What’s your favorite dive bar in Brooklyn (where the band now calls home) and why?
MC: It’s too bad that we’re going to be in and out of the festival in a day…the downside of bus. We always love a good dive. Fourth Ave. Pub in Brooklyn is a great “dive.” It’s not a dive in the true sense, because it has a wonderful hipster beer selection, but the wood floors, soggy tables and free popcorn really round out a great experience.
H81R: You’re playing two shows in Philly this fall at Union Transfer. Has that city become a big market for the group? How important has WXPN been in building an audience for the band there?
MC: XPN has been so incredible to us. The Calabrese family is big, but not big enough on its own to necessitate two nights at one of the bigger venues in the city. The station has helped us build a following in that town faster than most others we’ve played. Usually it takes a matter of years, but with Philly it took a couple months. We’re very grateful!
H81R: What’s next for the band?
MC: The next thing is to make it through this year in one piece. There’s lots of miles to cover, but thankfully a lot of great gigs to look forward to. Playing with Lucius for some shows, playing the AMA, Austin City Limits, etc. …then we take a month off in December to recharge.
We are also learning a lot of new tunes, and we can’t wait to play them for our fans and then put them down on wax. For now, more highway!
Lake Street Dive
Sunday, Aug. 31 at 8 p.m.
The lineup of the three-day festival (Aug. 29-31) also includes headliner Charles Bradley on Friday, the Delta Spirit on Saturday and more than 30 other artists.
Tickets: $159 for three-day GA camping pass; other packages available
Lake Street Dive
Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 18 and 19 at 8:30 p.m.
1026 Spring Garden St.