by Jane Roser
“Well, it wasn’t really a choice for me.” I’m sitting in my living room chatting with the very personable Michael Calabrese, the drummer for jazz/soul/pop/rock band Lake Street Dive, about his musical roots while my rather large Maine Coon cat decides to plop himself down on my notes.
“I grew up in a family that was very musical. My parents were actually in a rock band, so at pretty much every family gathering there were a lot of guitars and singing of all the repertoire from the 60s and 70s that they grew up with. My parents encouraged both my sister and I to pursue music in addition to our education at school.”
Lake Street Dive have been performing together for close to a decade, teaming up at the New England Conservatory in Boston where they were all studying. Vocalist Rachael Price is from outside Nashville, Tennessee, bassist Bridget Kearney is from Iowa, Calabrese hails from Philadelphia and trumpet/guitar player Mike “McDuck” Olson comes from Minneapolis where the band’s name originates from.
“Mike’s concept for the band was going to be a group that would play in one of the dive bars that you would find on Lake Street in Minneapolis. He already had the name picked out and was responsible for getting us our first rehearsal room; he threw a tune down and said let’s try this,” recalls Calabrese. “We had no idea it would actually go anywhere and that was ten years ago.”
In 2012, the group made a video on a street corner in Brighton, Massachusetts which featured the band around a lone mic, performing a cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”. It quickly went viral on YouTube, gathering over a million views. Soon after, iconic musician/producer T Bone Burnett came a-calling, inviting them to perform on ‘Another Day, Another Time’ at New York’s Town Hall. The concert would feature music inspired by the Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis and included such iconic artists as Gillian Welch, The Avett Brothers and Patti Smith.
“A good friend of ours, Gabe Witcher, is the fiddle player for The Punch Brothers and he introduced T Bone to us. Then T Bone’s manager called our manager and asked if we’d like to be a part of this performance. Needless to say, we didn’t hesitate for a moment,” recalls Calabrese. “It was a very heartwarming and invaluable experience for us, especially coming at the time that it did.”
Bad Self Portraits is Lake Street Dive’s third studio album and the band’s sixth release overall, selling over 15,000 copies within it’s first week. “A lot of songs that are on this album we’ve been playing for years,” says Calabrese, “the track “You Go Down Smooth” we’ve been playing since 2010, but this was the first time it had ever been recorded. In preparation for the album we went through a backlog of songs that probably should have been recorded years ago, but we just didn’t have the rest of the songs to group them with. So we did a couple of demo sessions this month leading up to the recording. We put together a little over 20 songs, then cut down the ones that weren’t really working and from there we brought about 13 tracks to the producer. Only 11 made the album. That being said, we do have some B sides from the same sessions that we’re looking to use on maybe some single releases or a small seven inch vinyl release.”
Lake Street Dive is an eclectic, versatile group who also know how to have a little bit of fun on the side. Two years ago, they released Fun Machine, their EP of cover songs ranging from George Michael’s “Faith” to The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment”. The band is also known for their playful Halloween videos paying tribute to some of their favorite classic groups such as The Mamas And The Papas and Starland Vocal Band, which has not gone unnoticed by those former band members.
As I was prepping for this interview, I received a message from my friend Jon Carroll who was a member of Starland Vocal Band and won a Grammy for “Afternoon Delight” in 1977. He asked me to “tell Lake Street Dive that I’m thrilled at their video version of “Afternoon Delight” and their decision to actually learn much of the arrangement.” He also noted that their inclusion of a fiddle was fortuitous since the original version of that song was meant to have a fiddle accompaniment.
Lake Street Dive is currently touring the U.S. before heading to Europe next month and when I ask if they’ve had any memorable shows so far, Calabrese immediately mentions Charlotte, North Carolina. The first time they ever performed there, they played to two people. The following year they performed to a sold out show of 100 folks and on this tour they’ve been fortunate enough to play to a sold out show of 800 fans. “That was really amazing for us to sell out a show in a town that we’d only been to twice before.
“Calabrese is also looking forward to his homecoming show at Union Transfer this Wednesday, which is completely sold out. “We’ve played there before, opening for a bluegrass band called The Infamous Stringdusters and we love the venue. I grew up there and you can tell by their sports teams, when Philadelphians love something, they really, really love it and are not afraid to show it.”
On a roller coaster ride of success, they’re picking up steam and anything is possible around the bend. Lake Street Dive recently performed on ‘Ellen’, ‘Late Show With David Letterman’ and were named “the year’s best new band” on the March 13th cover of Rolling Stone. “We were in a green room at either our New York or Boston show [when we got the news]. Our manager said ‘guys, take a seat….Rolling Stone wants to do a feature on you. And we sat down.”
Lake Street Dive has a packed summer ahead of them, playing at festivals such as Bonnaroo in June and the Newport Folk Festival in July. They are definitely looking forward to taking some time off from touring to get back at rehearsing and arranging some newer songs they’ve been writing. Calabrese notes, “we hope to have a new album out in the next year and just seeing where all this takes us.”