An interview with the band at the conclusion of their Levitate Festival Performance
“Drawing the lines from where I am and from where I wanna be”
A lot can happen in a year. For example, how about — 53 shows across North America, writing, recording, and delivering an album consisting of 10 brand new songs.
July 9, 2017: Lake Street Dive rocks the Marshfield, MA Levitate Festival “style” stage.
July 8, 2018: Lake Street Dive rocks the Marshfield, MA Levitate Festival “stoke” (main)) stage.
The difference this year is not only has the band invited keyboardist/vocalist Akie Bermiss to hop upon their surfboard, but they’ve also further ignited their foundation of heart, soul and fortitude. This formula has provided a natural swell allowing the band to glide right into the south shore beach town on the heels of Free Yourself Up being released just two months prior.
The Levitate Music and Arts Festival has many unique components. Artists from all over the country blend in perfectly with the skate ramp, kid-friendly games, food trucks, and activism tents that line the grounds. I ran into many AW friends at Levitate (Danny Steinman, Rootfire, Ripe) and one thing was for sure — everyone was stoked to check out Lake Street Dive’s set.
Shortly after they came off stage, I had the chance to sit with the band and discuss the journey of the past year, the importance of owning your message, and the high of relishing the moment.
You played the Levitate Festival last year. A lot has happened the past 365 days, including the release of your new record Free Yourself Up. You just stepped off stage, performing for an incredibly enthusiastic crowd. How are you feeling right now?
Mike Calabrese: We feel that was the best festival set we ever played. At least the best feeling set. The audience was with us and we had our ducks in a row. It’s all new material for us, but it’s also new material that we wrote, arranged and produced ourselves. It feels good when the audience reacts well. It lets you know that you put in the work for the music and the fans are putting in the work to enjoy it.
Given your Boston history and meeting at the New England Conservatory of Music, do you have a soft spot for this area? What is it like for you now returning here?
Mike “McDuck” Olson: For sure. I’m not sure what it is. Yes, we’ve played here a ton and put in our time, but there is still a sense that are fans here have really taken ownership of us as well. They feel a kinship towards us. We are riding a real high just in this moment with our New England fans. Not just from today’s set, but last night we played in Portland, Maine to the largest headline show we ever played — 6,600 people bought tickets for us. When we were playing bars in Cambridge, I don’t think there was any sense that we would have this really long journey and we would go on not just as a band, but a band with a very devoted fanbase — that would take us from those bars and folk clubs, all the way to a show with that many people, 15 years later. The fact that they just wanted to see us perform and hear our new record transcends a fan relationship. That’s family, that’s blood.
When you transition from a headlining gig of that capacity last night to a festival set like today, where you’re sharing the stage with some friends, what’s the emotional difference in the performance.
Olson: Well, there were a lot of people singing along today, which to us, means that fans bought tickets to a festival to see us. That’s remarkable. When we first started playing festivals, people would buy tickets to see a headliner and the crowds we would see are those that decided to come early. That was gratifying because we were being discovered — people going to see other bands, but then seeing us as well. We transitioned slowly to a position where festival-goers want to see us too, which is amazing.
Bridget Kearney: Generally, when we play festivals we play what we call our power set. It’s a shorter set. People are seeing a lot of bands, so we want to make sure we give them everything we got in one hour. It’s a fun challenge. We have to pull out all the stops at 3:30 in the afternoon. I’ve barely had my coffee, but you have to go on there and play your heart out.
Well, you certainly did. It was evident right away. One thing I always gravitated towards with you guys is that I find your music so beautifully parallels the emotional punch of the lyrics. Your words surf your music in such harmony that it really drives the point of what you are trying to say.
Calabrese: When people always ask us what type of music we play, I hate talking about genres. You tend to throw out 10 different genres to describe one band and it becomes confusing. It dilutes what you are actually doing. I always say we are a song band. It starts and ends with the song. If we don’t have a good one, we don’t play it. The classic songs that we look to, do what you just said; they tell a story or the tap into a specific emotion or they explore a realm. It’s all either by using imagery or a narrative to put somebodies head in a place for three-and-a-half minutes. I think it does do what you suggest — deepening the experience. Some bands are just fun to listen to in terms of the sheer musicality of it. We’ve always made sure our lyrics mean something.
II: YOU ARE FREE
My favorite lyric on Free Yourself Up is “It’s not up to you to make up my mind.” I find it to be a cornerstone. There’s a lot of weight to that line. What are some of the messages you are looking to have listeners take back with the new music?
Calabrese: That’s a good point. That line does apply to the entire theme. I believe McDuck wrote that, right?
Olson: Yes, I think so!
Calabrese: It’s a tie-in to the concept of that song, “You Are Free”. But, that’s why we used it and had that song on the album. It was only up to us. We were not looking to have anyone make decisions for us. We will do it. We got this.
Kearney: There are themes of self-empowerment on the record, Free Yourself Up. When you say that, and a lyric like, “It’s not up to you to make up my mind” it’s another way of saying I’m going to look at things in my own way, draw my own conclusions, and act in a way that stands behind my beliefs.
III: HANG ON
Rachael, you do something vocally that some of my favorite singers do. That is — when you have a strong chorus where a line repeats itself, you sing the second line differently. Like in “Good Kisser” for example, how you run with the word “good”. What happens when you do that? It makes such a moving difference, especially towards the end of a song.
Rachael Price: I definitely like to think of my vocal performance of one song as an orchestrated thing. Even though I will do it differently every time there’s an arch that I want to achieve. I like to think about the first way I sing a line, and that’s all going to be measured against the second, third and forth way in which I sing that same line. I am always trying to keep track of it so that the melodies and the variations of the melodies are telling a story as well, the way something unfolds. That’s an exciting way to approach how to sing a song.
The first thing the listener hears on Free Yourself Up is the lyric “hard times”. In sequence, the last message delivered is the theme of “Hang On”. You are taken through a journey of — I’m being honest, there are some challenging things going on, but hang in there.
Price: That’s quite profound, we did want to open with a theme of struggling with what’s happening in the world today. It’s something that is running through our lives right now so we wanted to reflect the truth of that. It’s a nice thought about “Hang On” closing it out. I’m going to say we did that subconsciously.
Coming full circle here, with everything Lake Street Dive has going on right now, all you have going for you, having just stepped off stage after performing for a crowd full of open arms, what does this overall moment mean to you?
Price: For me, it means to set down the things that are not serving you so that you will experience the things that will serve you. I think that applies to the band. While we were making this record, we shed the things that were dragging us down.
Calabrese: That’s where I am coming from too. Especially as you get older, you think about what’s wasting your time. You can choose not to bother thinking about certain things. You can simplify and declutter.
Price: It enabled us to come upon these creative discoveries that were very enlightening and exciting for us.
Catch Lake Street Dive on tour now! For more info visit LakeStreetDive.com