Lake Street Dive didn’t plan to be a pop sensation. When they formed the band, 10 years ago, the four jazz students who met at music college in Boston had rather more avant garde intentions. “We were extremely earnest in the beginning, almost detrimentally so,” says Mike Olson – known as McDuck to his bandmates, because of his unsociable, grumpy demeanour at college. “We started as a ‘free country’ band.”
If that’s not a genre you’ve heard of, it’s because they thought it up. “And hopefully,” adds Olson, “it will never be thought of again.” A decade later, Lake Street Dive’s first album has indeed invented its own genre – and it’s anything but earnest. With pared-back instrumentation of drums, guitar and stand-up bass, their joyous, upbeat songs and big, groovy vocals get you up and dancing long before you’ve worked out what you’re listening to. They’re also creating a considerable buzz in the US, where Rolling Stone named them the best new band of the year and appearances on Letterman, Colbert and The Ellen Show have gained them a huge following.
“We want it to sound like the Beatles and Motown had a party together,” says drummer Mike Calabrese. “We’re taking the elements of the 60s and 70s music we love and applying it to what we’re able to do with the four of us.”
That includes multi-textured harmonies, the vibrant, virtuosic bass-playing of Bridget Kearney – and the lungs of the operation, Rachael Price, whose show-stopping voice and onstage charisma are crucial to the band’s success.
Those last two qualities are also the reason why it’s taken them so long to bring out the album: Price, who has been singing Ella since she was five, was signed to her father’s jazz label, and his business partner refused to release her from her contract. “My dad was in a really awkward position, and there were months when there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” she admits. “There were threats to sue, the whole year was a battle.”
It gave the band a new zeal – playing live was all they were legally able to do – and eventually they managed to buy Price out of her contract (“Worth every penny,” notes Olson).
In the end, it was a homemade YouTube clip that proved their biggest break. A recording of their slow, soulful cover of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back, filmed on a Boston pavement, got a million views after an anonymous fan posted it on Reddit. Kevin Bacon tweeted about them, T Bone Burnett gave them a spot alongside Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and Justin Timberlake at a New York concert celebrating the film Inside Llewyn Davis.
And now a European tour, with sold-out dates in London. “The internet is a rocketship to fame!” says Price, then adding: “Well, perhaps it’s more like time travel.” It may have taken 10 years to get here, but it still seems to have happened overnight.
Lake Street Dive’s UK tour begins in Cheltenham
• Lake Street Dive are also performing as part of Sydney festival 2017