Lake Street Dive took off after 'Inside Llewyn Davis' concert
March 27, 2014 12:00 AM
Lake Street Dive: Bridget Kearney, Mike "McDuck" Olson, Rachael Price and Mike Calabrese.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They say it's not what you know, it's who you know, and when that person also knows T-Bone Burnett, well, you're in business.
Brooklyn band Lake Street Dive was rising slowly through the ranks of the roots music scene when its friend from the Punch Brothers, fiddler Gabe Witcher, hooked them up with the legendary producer.
"I think [Gabe] just played our music for him one day and said, 'Check this band out,' " says singer Rachael Price, "and we got a call from T-Bone, saying, 'How can I help the band? I like what you guys are doing.' This was about a month before that concert, so he invited us to be a part of it."
Lake Street Dive
With: Ages and Ages.
Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets: Sold out.
That concert was "Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of 'Inside Llewyn Davis,' " held in New York City in September. It aired on Showtime in December. Although Lake Street Dive's music was not in the Coen brothers movie, the band joined such A-listers as Jack White, Joan Baez, Patti Smith and the Avett Brothers for the concert.
"It was just full of incredible musicians that we all respected," Ms. Price says. "Joan Baez was there, Gillian Welch with Dave Rawlings, Elvis Costello. It was incredible and we were so excited and overwhelmed by the performers that we didn't even think who was in the crowd. We didn't realize that Rolling Stone was there, and The New York Times, and the booker of 'Letterman.' That didn't even cross our minds, because we were like, 'Oh my gosh, we're sharing the stage with Joan Baez!' It was super fun, and it led to a lot of amazing things."
It got Lake Street Dive on "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Colbert Report," which in turn led to multiple sold-out dates on the tour and a top 20 Billboard debut for the new album, "Bad Portraits."
Lake Street Dive was in position to capitalize on the hype as the members aren't new kids on the block. The band goes back to 2004 when it formed at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, taking the name of a street in trumpeter/guitarist Mike "McDuck' Olson's hometown of Minneapolis. Ms. Price, a Tennessee native who fronts the band with a husky jazz vocal style, was on a jazz track and in 2003 had earned an honorable mention at the Montreux Jazz Festival's International Jazz Vocal Competition.
"I was singing jazz professionally with a band at the same time that Lake Street Dive was getting together and shaping our sound," she says. "Both were sort of trotting along happily together, everyone had other projects they were in. We weren't incredibly busy. There was definitely room for other things.
"Once I was out of the academic atmosphere and out in the real world, I realized I was having more fun singing with Lake Street Dive than I was in any other thing I was participating in."
Rather than covering the same ground as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, she was free to work on something from the ground up.
"That was a huge part of it because I had a lot experience taking songs and interpreting them in my own way, and I was able to do the exact thing with this band, but I was the first one to do it. It was exciting to take these songs, and the subject matter was so close to me, because it was my close friends writing about their experiences. So I understood them on a deeper level."
Ms. Price's brassy vocals are comparable to Bonnie Raitt, and Raitt disciple Susan Tedeschi, but you can also hear more traces of a jazz singer in the way she shapes the notes.
"I definitely had to rein it in," she says of the jazz training. "When I listened to old shows of ours, the style of singing I was doing was decidedly more jazzy and I really had to focus on pop singing and what that is and how to communicate that."
After a couple of indie releases going back to 2006, the band, now based in Brooklyn, got its first splash in 2012 from a viral YouTube video promoting its "Fun Machine" release with a cover of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back."
"We always made very easy YouTube videos, where we'd stand in the kitchen and use a little flip camera or something. We'd been doing that for several years," she says. "We just recently put out 'Fun Machine,' our covers EP and we wanted to make a little video to promote it. We were staying at our friend's house, Greg Liszt, who made the video for us. We woke up that day and we stepped outside of his house in Brighton [in Boston], and he put up one microphone and we made the video. We did videos of several other songs. We'd been out there for about an hour and Greg was like, 'Just do a quick video of "I Want You Back." ' That's the one we put up and that was it."
Lake Street Dive does the J5 hit as a slow torch song that showcases the harmonies of the group's two female members, Ms. Price and bassist Bridget Kearney. "I think the song is really iconic and recognizable and I think the way we do the song is so different from the original that it caught people's ears," the singer says.
You can also find her on film doing a cameo in season two of the Netflix hit "House of Cards," singing the national anthem alongside Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who's throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game.
"If it hadn't been so surreal, I would have been a lot more nervous," she says. "Because I was completely out of my element. I don't act at all. But it was awesome. They let me sing it live in the stadium. It's a hard song to sing."
It wasn't her first crack it at though.
"I think I maybe did it in high school -- at a basketball game -- once!"
The way things are going with Lake Street Dive, you get the sense there will be a few more national anthems in Rachael Price's future.
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