You would think the members of Lake Street Dive would be a spent force by now. Ever since the release of its breakthrough 2014 album Bad Self Portraits, the Boston-bred pop troupe hit the road with the vigor of a youthful band enchanted with its first glimpse of success and a willingness to meet the promotional demands such popularity brings.
But Lake Street Dive wasn't a new band. It had already spent a decade establishing its presence in and out of New England, often while juggling duties in other groups or in other forms of employment. So when Bad Self Portraits solidified a national buzz about the foursome — vocalist Rachael Price, bassist-vocalist Bridget Kearney, guitarist-trumpeter-keyboardist-vocalist Mike "McDuck" Olson and drummer-vocalist Mike Calabrese — the reward wasn't so much stardom as another visit to the starting line of a continually expanding career.
"I'm sure that there are a lot of bands out there that have a few years like this," Olson says. "But maybe they had them earlier in their career. They would say, 'Wow. This is awfully exciting.' Then as the grind settles in, they would probably tire. But we are accustomed to the grind. We've been playing together as a band for close to 12 years now. We say 10 years. But I feel like we've been saying 10 years for a few years now. So we're no strangers to the road, long story short."
The charm behind Lake Street Dive sits in a love of all things pop. There are elements of jazz phrasing, especially in the band's early work, and more than a hint of vintage soul. But everything boils down to a bold, summery pop sound. Kearney leads the fearless vocal charge, but all four members add to a musical make-up that runs from vintage Shirelles-style harmonizing (Stop Your Crying) to Kinks-like pop and rock (Bobby Tanqueray) to Little Feat-flavored groove (What About Me) to Jackie Wilson-style soul (Use Me Up).
"I learned guitar after we graduated from college (the New England Conservatory of Music)," Olson says. "Everyone else has been on their primary instruments for the lion's share of their lives — not just adult lives, not just scholastic lives. Rachel has been singing since she was very small. Bridget was playing bass before she probably could have even reached the top of the instrument.
"Early on, when bass and trumpet were the melodic instruments in the band, we had a way more jazz oriented sound. As we've incorporated guitar more into the mix, my strengths turned to rhythmic, rock 'n' roll-oriented playing. That has shaped the sound just by the very nature of its limitations."
The catalyst for Lake Street Dive's breakthrough didn't just come from relentless road work or even a killer album. It was triggered by a variety of resources that flew both under the radar (a viral Youtube video of the band performing the Jackson 5's I Want You Back on a Brighton street corner) and in its audience's face (television appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Colbert Report).
Adding to the exposure was a spot on the T Bone Burnett-curated Another Day, Another Time concert at New York's Town Hall, a tie in to the music he produced for the 2013 Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis.
"We've definitely seen returns from the television stuff that we did last year in a way that we never had before," Olson says. "Hitting the road was always our bread and butter, and it was nice to see faces over and over again returning to the shows. But things like Letterman, Colbert, the Llewyn Davis show, Youtube even, have propelled us into the next phase."
A follow-up to Bad Self Portraits is scheduled in February. After its release, the touring will accelerate even further and Lake Street Dive will work like a new band again — one that's been new a few times already.
"Not to get to all hippie and crunchy on you, but the band is a real gift and always has been," Olson says. "Early on, we either played with other bands more regularly or had day jobs. So for a very long time, being able to tour with this band was more vacation than work. It was the creative impetus that kept everything else going.
"Yes, things have gotten more hectic in terms of schedule. But we have been able to maintain the sense that this is still very much what feeds us creatively and personally. The spark that has kept us coming back, even when it wasn't paying the bills and maybe wasn't paying at all ... we haven't lost that."