To glance at the Wikipedia entry for Lake Street Dive, one sees a band whose formation is cited as 2004, making them more than a decade old. Given that, it might be natural to picture the still young group of indie poppers as a “veteran” band, but that also doesn’t feel quite right. They may have formed in name 12 years ago, but for almost their first whole decade together, Lake Street Dive was more fun diversion than serious professional venture. Members Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson and Mike Calabrese were individually tied up in their own ventures, which often put them at odds, stretched one way or another with not nearly enough time to focus on the band. The one thing that kept the band together? The extremely gratifying sense of enjoyment the quartet experienced climbing on stage together.
Still, the band doesn’t really consider any recording that came before 2011’s self-titled LP to represent a fully gestated Lake Street Dive, and even that album is admittedly on the rougher side. They truly arrived last year with the release of the excellent Bad Self Portraits LP, some two or three years after finally making the decision as a unit to make the band their primary focus. Benefiting from the viral exposure of their Jackson 5 cover of “I Want You Back” around the same time period, Lake Street Dive has been on fire ever since. We caught up with lead singer Rachael Price about making the transition from the jazz world to pop, the ascendancy of her band, and an upcoming opportunity to step into the shoes of the legendary Grace Slick as part of a Jefferson Airplane reunion.
Your father spent a long career in gospel and choral music—is that what you assumed you’d be doing for a living as a kid?
Rachael Price: I just knew that I was going to be a singer; from a very young age that’s what I thought I was going to do. Stylistically, I hadn’t made a choice what kind of music that would be, but I did get into jazz very early. For the longest time I did think I was just going to be a jazz singer, but I also got into soul music very early as well.
Never imagined yourself as a rock star?
Price: Oh no, definitely not. Rock music, I just didn’t listen to it a lot growing up besides The Beatles. I didn’t get into the heavier stuff. I liked The Beatles, Paul Simon, Motown and of course jazz.
Either way, I feel like there’s a definite sense that you were dedicated to your craft from the beginning. Was there ever a time that came along where you thought about doing something else?
Price: No, I honestly can’t say I ever thought I would do anything else. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to have other skills, but I don’t think I ever thought I would pursue any other career. The song “Bad Self Portraits” is actually pretty true, because I didn’t cultivate any other skills. If I ever had to seek out any other career, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
I imagine that means you take vocal conditioning really seriously, among other things.
Price: Yes, I’m very serious about taking care of my voice, and very diligent on the road for that reason, but there’s still a lot of struggle to keep it healthy. I definitely think of it as a long game, to not just preserve it for now but for 20 years from now.
Lake Street Dive
feels like a project that stayed part-time for a long period before you were all able to give it your full attention.
Price: Well, we enjoyed doing it so much together and clicked so quickly that the motivation to continue was always just for sheer enjoyment. We never looked at it as a career band. Everyone was in other bands—I was singing straight-away jazz, Bridget was very busy in touring bluegrass bands, the two Mikes were working as a teacher and a touring musician. I think it really took 4 or 5 years into it to know that we had something special, something unique that other bands didn’t have.
Was there a switch-flipping moment, then, when you all decided?
Price: It was a specific decision, absolutely, one member saying “I think we need to commit to this all the way or go our separate ways.” We were like on this cliff edge, and we could go for it or back away. There was some soul searching, and we said absolutely, lets quit what we’re doing and focus on the band. And almost immediately, that changed everything for us. I think it affected the way we played, the way we thought about writing songs, everything. Our minds were clear.
How did the release of that “I Want You Back” video affect the band, before and after? Was there a noticeable change following that?
Price: When it happened, it was about a year after we decided to get serious. I was just thinking, “This YoutTube viral thing, that’s it’s own thing, millions of hits don’t always result in anything lasting.” So we weren’t quite sure what it would mean. Luckily for us though, it made a 100 percent concrete difference. We had a string of shows on our schedule with no tickets sold, and after it went viral every ticket to those shows sold out.
Plus, it came 8 years after we’d formed the band, so we already had a decent show to put on for these people who’d never seen us before. It was really, really lucky the way it happened; if we would have had something go viral 5 years earlier it wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing for us.
In September, you’ll be getting on stage in the Jefferson Airplane reunion at Lockn’ Fest in Virginia. Do you know who else you’ll be performing with?
Price: In the band it’s going to be Jorma and Jack from Jefferson, with Bill Kreutzmann from Grateful Dead playing drums. We’ll do a solid couple of days of rehearsal, and I’ll definitely need it, because I’m super nervous.
How did they reach out to you as a potential person to take Grace Slick’s parts?
Price: They became fans of the band! Apparently it was from Jorma, that’s how they knew about us. But it was a complete shocker to me to get the offer. Apparently I’ve gotten Grace Slick’s blessing as well, which is really cool.
So how does it make you feel to know that you’ll be performing “White Rabbit” or “Somebody to Love” in front of huge audiences who are Jefferson Airplane superfans?
Price: Well, Grace is such an interesting singer—she’s very unique in her field. One of the things I particularly love about her voice is her vibrato, which is unique to her. I don’t want to try and emulate it exactly, or I feel like I’ll cheapen it somehow. I dont know if I can or not yet, I’m still thinking about it. But I’ll take in as much as I can about the spirit of how she sang those songs and not put too much of myself into it. It’s somewhere in the middle of those two things; I want to honor the style of how she sang the song as much as I can and be respectful of that.
Just this opportunity, it’s intimidating but also really exciting. I love that they asked me and wanted a younger singer to participate.
It’s certainly a bit different from doing one of Lake Street Dive’s Halloween cover videos.
Price: Haha, definitely different. Those, we don’t think so much about honoring the song as making a silly video. That’s more of a joke. We’re trying not to be taken too seriously in those videos.
Do you now see Lake Street Dive as something you’ll be doing for life, or do you still sort of see yourself as that jazz singer who’s doing this for a while before returning to a solo career?
Price: I see myself as a Lake Street Dive singer for life now. It’s the band where I finally found my voice. As much as I love singing jazz, I never discovered it fully there. Although the one thing that makes me want to record a jazz record again is the things I’ve learned while singing with Lake Street Dive.
Anything you want to tackle with the band now that you haven’t had a chance to do?
Price: Oh my yes, we want to make an album that we’re all just in love with. We’re very proud of the albums we’ve made, but we don’t feel like we’ve totally discovered how to record properly for us. There’s still a lot to learn. We’re in the process of recording the new album now, and we have a producer who’s really kicking our ass. We keep chipping away at that goal.
The upcoming Lake Street Dive album is currently targeted for early 2016. Tickets are now on sale for Price’s performance with members of Jefferson Airplane as part of Lockn’ Fest.