Lake Street Dive can’t be restrained—to a genre, that is.
On their new album, Free Yourself Up, the quintet pulls from blue-eyed soul, jazz, pop, rock, Americana, and even disco depending on the song.
“We’ve never picked a style,” says lead vocalist Rachael Price. “People might attach a genre to us. We just do what feels right for the song.”
Though the four founding band members grew up in diverse places (Price in the Nashville area, trumpeter/guitarist Mike Olson in Minneapolis, bassist Bridget Kearney in Iowa, and drummer Mike Calabrese in Philadelphia), they all listened to rock and roll from the ‘60s and the ‘70s, eras revived in the band’s instrumentation. “It’s just what we connect to,” Price says.
Lyrically, the band sticks to the tried-and-true topic of love—the good and the bad. “Good Kisser,” the strongest track on the new album, slays the ways stories are told post-breakup by one ex about another. “If you’re gonna tell them everything/Tell them I’m a good kisser/Tell them all the things you told me/In your desperate whisper,” Price sings. In the funky, self-empowering “Shame, Shame, Shame,” Price declares, “No, I’m not getting caught in your little spider web.”
Timeless as those sentiments are, Lake Street Dive also incorporated a couple of cultural references specific to the here and now into Free Yourself Up. An aggrieved girlfriend laments: “We used to kick it like Joe and Obama/Now you just leave me at home playing mama” on “Dude.” On “Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts,” Price sings, “An old man, an old man/Has got his little hands on the button/Feels like nothin’ anyone can do.”
“We’re not impervious to what’s happening in the world right now. We’ve all been personally stressed by the news cycle,” Price says. “As individuals who write songs, we write songs about what’s going on in our personal lives, and that’s what’s happening. There’s a certain element of responsibility. We do feel, as artists, that it’s important to make sure that your music is relevant to what’s happening right now.”
The introspective ballad “I Can Change” reflects on the challenge of choosing love over fear. Price can relate to that battle as she endeavors to be more socially engaged with human rights and to use her platform to raise awareness about issues. “[It] takes a certain amount of bravery,” she says. “Any time we express these things, people will give you a little bit of blowback for it. They don’t always agree. Trying to be brave and courageous and firm but also kind and loving; all of these things I’m working on.”
Price also continues to hone her singing skills, though it’s her vocals that already make most of what Lake Street Dive does worth listening to. But while Price is the focal point of the band, all members write and contribute to songs. “Whether it’s a co-write or written by a single person, once it’s brought to the band and we’ve arranged it, it just sort of feels like our song,” Price says. Rather than evenly divide the songwriting credits evenly among the group, “we put out what we think is the best material,” Price says.
Lake Street Dive formed at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where all four original members were students, in 2004. Their self-titled debut didn’t drop until 2010; an EP, Fun Machine, followed in 2012. But what really launched Lake Street Dive was a YouTube video of the band’s cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that went viral in 2013. With each subsequent album release, the band’s fan base burgeoned, requiring almost constant touring.
“It’s hard,” Price says of the schedule that leaves little time and space for a personal life. “You really have to work the balance out in your life. We do a pretty good job. It’s good that we’re all friends and that we can all talk about that with each other and that that’s an important thing for us as a group: to make sure we have a personal life outside of touring. But it’s not easy.”
Free Yourself Up marks two big milestones for the band: the addition of keyboardist Akie Bermiss (who toured with the band last year) and their time self-producing an album. “Just that venture alone, we feel we’re launching into a new way and era of record-making for us,” Price says. “We see it as the beginning of being more in control from here on out.”
Lake Street Dive
With: Liz Vice
Where: Palace Theatre
When: 8 p.m. Thurs. May 17
Tickets: $34.25, $54.25; more info here