With a series of approachable, danceable, sing-along-able albums and performances, Lake Street Dive has found the perfect recipe for pop music excellence and hardcore Americana soul. With their latest effort, Free Yourself Up, LSD finds a funkier side courtesy of a united effort to helm their own production, and the addition of organ/piano player Akie Bermiss to the main roster of guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, drummer Mike Calabrese, upright bassist Bridget Kearny, and vocalist Rachel Price. They’re a live band at heart, at home together on stage or in studio, in harmony and in step. It’s a groove, it’s a vibe, it’s Lake Street Dive, and they’re coming to Macon for what will surely be an unforgettable performance. Though I probably interrupted her morning routine, lead singer Rachael Price was gracious enough to answer a few questions about writing, performing, YouTube fame, and controversial Christmas tunes.
AI: I want to ask about songwriting. Your singing style… you developed out of gospel and jazz. What are you channeling when you sit down with your pen and your paper? Is it easier for you to write alone or with somebody?
RP: It’s definitely easier for me to write alone. It’s still a pretty sort of… mysterious and difficult process for me to begin a song, but generally, it starts with a melody. I think that’s where a lot of the jazz and gospel and soul that I grew up singing kind of comes in because I generally connect to a melody with those roots in mind.
I know labels, genre specifications, all that gets tangled with Lake Street Dive. You usually get mentioned in conjunction with Soul music or with Americana– and I don’t mean this as a jab– but you guys are playing really good pop music with real actual musicians. Do you think that that’s the secret to enduring music?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s definitely a big part of it. A lot of what people respond to these days is something that sort of contrasts to what they’re used to hearing. A lot of music is electronic, and what you’re hearing on the record isn’t really what happened, initially, from real people. And that’s all good, but I think that it’s nice for people to hear something that’s, you know, stripped down and organic.
Free Yourself Up is doing real well. As a band, you chose to produce that yourselves. What was behind that decision? Was there something you were able to accomplish by doing it yourselves that you wouldn’t have any other way? Did you have to convince anybody to make that happen?
First, we had to convince ourselves and that took quite a bit of convincing because we felt very uneasy about the idea of producing ourselves– how that was going to work logistically, who is going to make the final calls, and was it going to make everything take longer because we were going to deliberate over decision. But once we were convinced, it wasn’t too hard to get everyone else on board. Nonesuch [Records] felt super great about it. And the big part of it for us was that we needed to learn how a record was made. When you ask somebody to help you figure out how to do something, and they just do it for you, you’re like, “Well, I didn’t really learn anything.” It’s the same thing with producing an album. We needed to be at the helm to understand, and I think at this point now, it’s sort of taken the mystery away from what makes a great record. It’s very accepting for us to be in charge of our own sound.
Not to jump too far ahead but is that something you think that, as a band, you’ll continue to do in the future?
The band as a four-piece… You guys have been playing together since you were in college around 2004 or so… You added Akie Bermiss on the keys as a full-fledged member. For a group that’s been so close for so long. Was it strange to have a new voice speaking up at the table?
It’s not strange, it’s just exciting. It’s really, really fun. We’ve always heard keys on our songs, and we’ve always had them on our records, and it makes so much more sense to have a real keys player in the band with us to do that. He’s also just a wonderful musician, and we click with him in just about every way.
Were there any practical jokes or a breaking-in period when he joined the band?
(Laughs) Oh, well, we took it pretty easy on him! I mean, we definitely didn’t take it easy on, like, you know, initiating him into our inside jokes in the sense where we didn’t really tell him. We were just like, “We’re gonna make a lot of the same jokes over and over again, and you’re going to have to figure them out!” But at this point, he’s made many inside jokes that are now part of the band. So he did great!
You’ve been performing straight jazz on the regular recently. Do you still identify as a Jazz singer? Or do you even see a difference between what you do with Lake Street Dive and jazz?
Definitely, it’s a very different approach to singing. At this point, I am very interested in exploring many different types of singing. Do I identify as a jazz singer? Probably no– but it’s the first style of music that I really, really, really studied, I’ve never really studied any other type of singing to the extent that I’ve worked on jazz. I think that I always felt a little bit out of place singing it– like I hadn’t really gotten there. It’s fun to go back and start doing it again after not singing it for many years because I do feel a little bit more comfortable. I feel a little bit more like I’ve earned the right to sing it a bit, but it’s still complicated for me.
I don’t want to put you on the spot– well, actually I’m gonna put you on the spot. Where do you fall on the latest controversy around “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”?
(Laughs) I don’t care! I simply don’t care about that controversy. I mean, there’s just so many more things… It’s fine. If people want to be mad about that song, then I totally get it, but I don’t think it’s even a great song. The fact that it’s getting taken off all the Christmas playlist is fine by me.
I want to go back to that famous YouTube video of Lake Street Dive performing “I Want You Back.” You had Kevin Bacon sharing that experience, and at the time– that was 2012, I think– you were all accomplished and trained musicians. You’d been around the block. You had years of experience performing together. In an era now that sees videos go viral to largely create a fleeting fame, do you ever feel the need to caution aspiring artists who might think, “Well, all I need is a hit YouTube video,” instead of actually perfecting their craft?
Yeah, if that’s what they said. If they were just like, “That’s all I need.” Thing is, it has really worked for some people. What worked for us was not just that we had a YouTube video that went viral, it was that we had years and years and that experience– and a great live show to back it up. When that video went viral, the reason why we were able to really capitalize on it is because we had shows booked and if people came to the show, we were able to deliver what they experienced from that video with covers and with our originals. And I think that if we’d made that video a few years earlier, I don’t know if we would’ve been able to capitalize on it the way that we did. When success comes, you also have to be prepared for it.
From traveling around the world and singing with your family as a child, and then you were in the big jazz festivals– and now you’re doing Lake Street Dive. Three-quarters of your life, if not more, has been spent on stage performing. Is it still fun?
Yes. It’s still fun. Performing is absolutely the funnest part. I will not deny that the touring lifestyle… It’s hard. I’ve had to learn how to take care of myself in a way that I probably wouldn’t have ever needed to. But once you get onstage? That’s the money.
You do vocal workshops, teaching people how to perform better. What are some basics that all singers should incorporate?
The main thing that I tell singers is that they need to listen to singers like… I hear a lot of singers, and I can tell that they haven’t really gone back more than 10 or 20 years as far as the singers that they’ve studied. And so the main thing I tell them is to go way further back because to understand vocal tradition and to sing with any sort of depth you need to actually study the depth of time. That’s a big thing. And then probably breathwork is the next biggest thing in my arsenal.
Do you have a guilty pleasure song that you like to sing? Something that nobody knows you do?
Maybe? I don’t know. Guilty pleasure? I’m like, you know, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song!