Bridget Kearney knew something was up — as in, way up — with Lake Street Dive's ascent to stardom as the band returned to its Boston homebase after recording what would soon become its breakthrough album, Bad Self Portraits.
While finishing the record in a remote studio in Maine, a homemade video of the quartet performing a jazz-soul revision of the 1971 Jackson 5 hit I Want You Back on a Brighton, Mass., street corner was blowing up on YouTube. All of a sudden, Lake Street Dive was a hit without any of its members knowing it.
"We were up there in Maine, isolated from the world and not really paying attention to anything except making the record," Kearney said. "That was the exact time the I Want You Back video started going viral. So having been out of cellular service for about six days, we drove back from the studio and discovered our number of Facebook friends had doubled. Our YouTube hits were hundreds of thousands beyond where they were before. That didn't affect the session at all because we didn't know any of that until afterward, but it did kind of feel like cosmic timing.
"That being said, it also meant all of what we were doing in the studio was just very genuine. We didn't have any pressure on us. There was nobody saying, 'Hey, you guys are the next big thing. You better make this good.' It was more like, 'Here we are again making a record and we're going to make it as great as we possibly can."
The attention kept rolling after the release of Bad Self Portraits last winter. Though together as a band for over a decade, the members — bassist Kearney, vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese — found themselves championed by such notables as T Bone Burnett, who invited the band to perform as part of an all-star concert devoted to music from the Coen brothers' film Inside Llewyn Davis at Town Hall in New York, and David Letterman, who featured Lake Street Dive on The Late Show in February.
"We've come to think of any of those appearances as sort of like doing a show," Kearney said. "Like, we used to play bar shows in Boston where 20-25 people would be there and you would have to win them over. That's how we developed our music, as something that's going to catch someone's ears, something that's going to make them turn their heads and go, 'Whoa. I haven't heard this before.'"
That is often the reaction that greets an initial listen to the strongly traditional pop-soul slant of Bad Self Portraits. What grabs your attention initially is the exact, emotive and volcanically potent singing of Price, which shifts from the torchy Booker T-style cool of Better Than to the jangly wail and percussive roll of What About Me. But then there are the songs, which all the members have a generous musical say in, from the Jackie Wilson-style soul of Use Me Up to the harmony-heavy roar of Stop Your Crying.
What distinguishes such pop-heavy preferences as much as the music itself, Kearney said, has been the band's spirit and personal bonds that developed between the four players over the past decade.
"Our days together have added up to 10 years over time. Every day just kept being one more day that I still wanted to see these three people and make music with them. I think that's something that's very hard to find, but that's what we have stumbled upon.
"It's hard enough to find three people that you get along with to that degree. It's also hard to find three musicians that you love and share a musical taste, aesthetic and flavor with. To find those two qualities in the same three people is like the perfect storm."