Lake Street Dive will wrap up a busy year of touring with a show at the Smith Opera House in Geneva on Saturday, Oct. 19.
Regular visitors to upstate New York since 2014, the band – which blends pop, jazz, soul and rock influences – has seen its popularity explode in the past couple of years, selling out most of its shows, including a July 26 date at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchards in LaFayette. (Very few tickets remain for Saturday’s concert.)
“The thing I feel best about is that it happened for the right reasons,” said Lake Street Dive drummer Michael Calabrese in a recent phone interview from his home in Boston. “We figured out what was working for us as a band, and what worked for us as our touring show, and always made sure to be authentic about what we wanted to present.”
“We have great fans, and now we know we just love writing music for the people who are coming our shows,” he added. “If we keep doing a good job, they keep telling their friends, and their friends show up. And that’s been the process – so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m just glad it was done by authentic means, instead of artificial means – pandering or selling out or whatever. It feels good to be where we are.”
In 2017, Lake Street Dive expanded to a quintet during the recording sessions for “Free Yourself Up,” with founding members Calabrese, Michael “McDuck” Olson (guitar, trumpet), Bridget Kearney (bass) and Rachael Price (vocals) joined by keyboardist-singer Akie Bermiss.
Calabrese acknowledged that he was surprised at how quickly and effortlessly Bermiss became a key part of the group – not only in the studio but on the road as well.
“It was a big test to find out, but really it’s a testament to him,” Calabrese said. “We had our own thing and (said), ‘Hey learn these songs to start doing the first tour with us.’ And he just jumped in the deep end, never complained, rolled with the punches, had a good spirit, good attitude, and fit into the band interpersonally in a perfect way, which in the end is the only way this would actually work.”
He added: “Whether or not you can play well together doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on whether or not you can tour together – those are two distinct things. Now he’s become so integral to the sound and the recording and the live show, and integral in an interpersonal way, that it’s like, ‘Yeah, I would sell kidney before I would let him quit,’ if that’s what he wanted to do. He’s having a good time, which is all we want. It went from realizing it was working and just wanting to keep him happy to, he’s happy, so let’s keep deepening our collaboration. So far, so good. It’s a great matchup. I never expected it to work it out so well.”
Along with the expanded lineup, Lake Street Dive has raised the bar with its stage show by incorporating an impressive, sophisticated lighting rig.
“We’re kind of reluctant entertainers, for lack of a better word, so having lights has been a learning curve, but we’ve gotten really into it because it does add a lot to the live show – and having a good design and a good operator makes up for what is basically a bunch of boring instrumentalists on stage,” Calabrese said with a big laugh.
“It was learning curve to just learn the ropes of how a show works like that. But in the end, it’s been very welcome. And we’ve grown to love to the point where we can’t wait to start thinking about what comes next as far as the light show. It’s become another creative aspect that we’re just dipping our toe into.”
Lake Street Dive is marking its 15th anniversary this year – the founding band members starting playing together at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in 2004.
“It’s the luck of the chemistry and the fact that we all have similar values,” Calabrese said of the band’s successful run. “For all of us, songs were always more important than technical ability, I would say, and fun was always more important than success. We also all very much cherish maturity over more superficial pleasures or pursuits. We’ve never been an image-based band – we’ve actually struggled with our image. We don’t think about it too much. None of us like to do anything that feels fake or image driven. It was just kind of luck to find people who just want to write tunes and have a good time.
“Interpersonally, there’s been a lot of discussing of feelings, there’s a lot issues that have come up that take time, (and) there’s pain and wounds and healing, too,” he continued. “I always tell my wife, I feel like Lake Street Dive taught me how to be married before I actually got married. I knew what I was getting into because it’s one of those things – it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s continuously rewarding. That’s when you know you’re doing it right.
"Sometimes it can be like, ‘Yeah I don’t really want to see any of you right now’ when you’ve been around each other too much, or ‘I don’t hate you, but I need to get away from here for a second’ And then at the end of the day, I can’t wait to get back on tour and hang out with them. So, it’s the most functioning musical relationships I’ve ever had, which it’s pretty cool.”
With two years of touring to promote “Free Yourself Up” winding down, Lake Street Dive is looking ahead to its next album.
“We’ve already started collaborating,” Calabrese said. “We’ve got about 30 demos in this Google drive just sitting there ready to get learned and demoed out. Most of them are co-writes between the now five of us, and it’s an exciting process that we’re looking forward to. Hopefully it will start in a more serious sense soon. I always like getting in the studio and making more stuff for us and our fans.”
To read a Q&A with Lake Street Dive guitarist-trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson from July, click here.