The four members of Lake Street Dive sit with backs as straight as the spine of a brand-new book of sheet music—it almost seems like a defensive stance, especially when compared to the calm, cool doo-wop swagger they air out onstage. They’re ready for whatever oddball or smart-ass questions Stephen Colbert will huck at them during their first televised interview and performance, which aired Feb. 5.
Guitar and trumpet player Mike “McDuck” Olson fields the first question and tells Colbert that the band met at the New England Conservatory of Music.
“Is that the place where Colonel Mustard kills you with the candlestick?” Colbert asks.
A conservatory is a place where you, generally, only study music, frontwoman Rachael Price says, to which Colbert asks if they received classical musical training. “We study jazz,” Price says.
“Jazz! Oh, then why do I like your music?” Colbert says. And with that quip, the band finally, visibly, loosens up.
All four musicians are certainly accomplished players and songwriters—upright bassist Bridget Kearney even won the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest—yet Lake Street Dive’s brand of neo-soul requires an effort of self-restraint, says drummer Mike Calabrese. That’s not to say that the 11 songs on the band’s second full-length album, Bad Self Portraits (released Feb. 18, Signature Sound Recordings), are pedantic; rather, the tunes are artfully crafted with the listener in mind.
Several years after the band formed (nearly 10 years ago), there was a group realization that if they wanted to make their compositions speak to and connect with their listeners, then they’d “have to restrain our impulse to play everything all of the time, which is sort of a generalized impression that a lot of people have of jazz—that it’s too busy, too many notes,” Calabrese says via phone.
Sure, Colbert—and many fans of modern pop and rock music—might not like or understand jazz music, but Lake Street Dive’s jazz influence is now so subtle as to be barely noticeable on Bad Self Portraits. The album is heavy with potential pop chart-toppers, such as the magnetically poppy first single “Bad Self Portraits” and what’s possibly the best tune on the album, the R&B-driven “You Go Down Smooth,” displaying the band’s progression over the years.
“When we first started as a band, we considered ourselves more of an improv group,” Calabrese says. “We were more interested in improvisation and interaction. What changed for us, however, was the idea that we began focusing our attention more toward songs and those songs’ influences,” such as British Invasion pop (“Bobby Tanqueray”) and Motown hits (“Use Me Up”).
While on The Colbert Report, before Lake Street Dive played any songs, Colbert asked if they were ready for “The Colbert Bump.”
“I don’t think anybody can really be ready for it, as a sort of recognition of reality,” Calabrese says now. “It’s felt like a dream the past couple of days since it happened.” The band’s Twitter following and Facebook likes, plus the number of ticket sales and interview requests, have all skyrocketed, he says. But this isn’t the first celebrity endorsement the band has received.
Prior to Bad Self Portraits, Lake Street Dive released an EP of cover songs, Fun Machine. To help promote the release, they recorded a video of themselves performing the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on a Boston street corner. The YouTube views were rising slowly and then Kevin Bacon tweeted about the video; proof that the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon is real—very real. “Him of all people. It was funny—it was just so, it was special, because everyone knows about the six degrees,” Calabrese says.
Bacon aside, Fun Machine was pivotal for Lake Street Dive’s growth—beyond giving their listeners a clear sign of what inspires them. The EP allowed them to delve into these old songs, deconstruct them, find out what was important to them and then reassemble them for their unique instrumentation. Calabrese says that recording Fun Machine helped the band have a deeper understanding of how to make the songs on Bad Self Portraits come alive, in that they could dissect how each song was functioning and give it a heart.
Dissection, functioning, reassembly—Lake Street Dive certainly studied jazz.
LAKE STREET DIVE
The State Room
638 S. State
Thursday, March 20, 8 p.m.