Lake Street Dive is another entry in that ever-expanding category of Bands That Can’t Be Categorized.
The indie quartet met as students at New England Conservatory in Boston and is slowly widening its audience. It’s a little jazz, a little Americana, a little pop and a little soul. Rolling Stone named the band one of its “10 New Artists You Need to Know” in 2014. Paste called the band’s second and most recent album, “Bad Self Portraits,” “powerfully impressive.”
Hand-picked by Minneapolis trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson, the band also features vocalist Rachael Price from Nashville, drummer Mike Calabrese from Philadelphia and bassist Bridget Kearney from Iowa.
Lake Street Dive, which performs Tuesday at Knuckleheads, gained national attention after posting a slow-burn cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on YouTube (the band performs several other covers in online vids, including George Michael’s “Faith” and a goofy version of the B-52’s “Love Shack”). A one-take performance of the band’s own “What I’m Doing Here” is simply stunning.
“The video thing has certainly made a huge impact for us,” Kearney said. “It’s how we first got our music into the public eye.”
The band’s online performances certainly caught the eye and ears of T Bone Burnett. The iconic producer invited Lake Street Dive to play a New York concert inspired by the music of “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the Coen brothers’ paean to pre-Dylan folk music.
The band shared the bill with Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Jack White, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, the Milk Carton Kids, the Avett Brothers and the Punch Brothers. The concert was made into a fascinating film, “Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’” which is available on YouTube and as a DVD.
“T Bone had never met us or seen us play live at all before inviting us to be in the show, so he really put a lot of faith in us and our music,” Kearney said. “We were all completely thrilled and honored to be a part of that production and included among so many people we admired.”
While online music has been great for exposure, it’s not so great for the pocketbook. But Kearney is optimistic about that future.
“There is a grand tradition of a new technology coming around and the business people taking the reins of it and the musicians being left with only a small share of revenue,” she said. “I have confidence that if music is moving toward a streaming model and that’s what listeners prefer, we will eventually figure out a way that that can work for everybody.”
While any measure of additional success would be welcome, the band is focusing on music over business. Kearney said you’d think that would go without saying, but it doesn’t always.
“As your professional operation grows, it can be hard to remain focused on the music first and your business after that,” she said. “We’re not talented at business so it’s not hard for us.”
In September, Kearney will release “Bawa,” an EP with Benjamin Lazar Davis, composed of songs the two recorded during a trip to Ghana. She said she learned several musical concepts during that trip that translate amazingly well to music created half a world away.
“There were plenty of things that I was exposed to, musically, that were way over my head that I can only hope to grasp more fully at some time in the future,” she said. “Every time I travel to learn music, I’m astounded by how open and welcoming and warm the musical community around the world is. That’s what sticks with me the most.”
The Soundtrack of My Life
We asked Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney to tell us about some of the music that shaped her life.
Q: What was the first album or CD you purchased with your own money?
A: I think that would be Soul Asylum’s “Grave Dancers Union.” I probably bought it at Target.
What’s an album you’ll never tire of hearing?
Caleb Klauder, “Dangerous Mes and Poisonous Yous.”
What song did you wish you had written?
Josh Ritter, “The Temptation of Adam.” It’s a beautiful, perfect melody, the subject is very singular and the lyrics are surprising and poetic and heartfelt.
What song or album do you hear that reminds you of your family?
Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” We used to listen to it a lot, and it’s also playing in the background of a favorite home video of us up at a cabin we used to go to in Minnesota in the summertime. Definitely still in my top 10 favorite albums. Never get tired of that one.
What’s a song or artist that helped you find your voice as a songwriter?
I discovered Carole King pretty late in life and found her writing to really reflect everything I try to do as a songwriter. She has an album that came out with her autobiography awhile back that is demos she made of her songs for other artists to listen to and pick up the song. Even in the most pared down of her demos, the song and the orchestration ideas are all there, fully formed. She (and her co-writers) write great lyrical hooks, great melodic hooks and sneak in some unconventional harmony but never just for show — always in a place where they are really benefiting the song.
What artist would you consider your guilty pleasure?
Hall and Oates? But I don’t really feel guilty about it. They are amazing!
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been obsessed with the Zombies for the last year or so. “Odessey and Oracle” is my jam. Their harmonic palette is so interesting and their production is really varied and awesome and they just rock. I also really like the debut album of Tobias Jesso Jr. He’s written a bunch of perfect songs on the piano, and they didn’t dress them up too much in the studio, just let them be.