Lake Street Dive Expands On New EP Covers

Playing music can seem like magic. Songwriting too. The perfect note can pop into your head in the middle of a jam and the whole room can explode. Or the right lyrical line can float through your fingers and a universe can open up. But without practice, without sitting down and doing the thing, none of that can happen. Songwriting and performative excellence come to those who do. You have to be in the stream to get wet, so to speak. Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price knows this well. In fact, his favorite aspects of music are walking into a room and crouching down to dive headfirst.

She thinks of the band’s bassist, Bridget Kearney, who says it’s like fishing. You cannot catch a fish in the lake, but you have to go fishing to catch a fish. There’s no two ways about it. You have to write and practice if you want to be a musician. So Price, Kearney and the rest of the band do exactly that: they work. And that effort is evident on all of their records, and most recently on the band’s new EP, Fun Machine: the sequel, which comes out Friday (September 9). It’s an album born out of musical appreciation and dedication.

“Sometimes it can be great to just force the habit,” Australian-born, Tennessee-raised Price told American Songwriter. “To create some sort of structure to compel you to write any song or any part of a song. I was just thinking that I will probably, during the winter, join a songwriting group, in which a lot of good friends from our community will participate.

Price, based in Brooklyn, New York, says the songwriting group encourages production. For her, living in New York is a succession of inspirations and the band is one of those great examples. Participants can submit anything: something they’ve been working on for 15 minutes or for weeks. But if there is no submission by a given deadline, you are expelled. The rules provide real motivation. That’s the job Price will take on once the band wraps up their fall tour, which runs from the release date of their new EP (September 9) through October. Never a dull moment.

And for the new album, the band began their creative process simply by listening. About 10 years ago, Lake Street Dive entered the studio to create their EP, fun machine, a covers album. Now, a decade later, the members wanted to celebrate their roots and release its sequel. So, to do this, they created a common playlist.

“Everyone downloaded songs,” Price says. “We all listened and listened and reduced democratically.”

The band whittled it down to the last six songs and got to work. They landed on tracks from Dionne Warwick, Shania Twain, the Pointer Sisters, the Cranberries, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt. Price says they’re all singers — especially King, Raitt and the Pointer Sisters — whom she admires and adores. In a way, they are a selection of his favorite singers.

“The one thing we always look for when choosing a cover,” she says, “is that we want it to be familiar but not acted out.”

Lake Street Dive owes part of its success to its talent for reinterpreting covers. The band took to YouTube, back in the salad days of the early 2000s, to release a cover of a Jackson 5 song they performed on a street corner in Boston. This video now has millions of views. They used horns, a double bass and Price’s powerful voice to attract ears. The group, which officially formed in 2004, is made up of former students of the New England Conservatory of Music. There they studied music theory, jazz history and improvisation. Born out of an environment of experimentation, Lake Street Dive is home to many songwriters, all with different tastes. The result is a cornucopia of influences and styles. And when they took this collection of artists on the road, they quickly realized what made the band hum.

“We were really shaped playing venues in Boston,” Price said.

These gigs, however, soon turned into tours. They played in front of 10 people, then the next year they played up to 15. All the while, the rumor mill grew with the crowd (YouTube helped). And the band quickly learned which songs from their repertoire got big reactions from fans. These are the tunes on which they then leaned. Both because they felt fun to play and because they helped build community, with people collectively screaming and screaming for more. It was this response that fueled Price and the group. And as the band matured, they discovered that they all loved Motown and Beatles songs, and wanted to share those sensibilities.

“We always used to joke about how we were falling behind in success,” Price laughs. “In truth, it was quite progressive. It was a fairly standard story of a group hitting the pavement and getting into the car.

The group then found a manager and merged. Then more breaks came. Top producer T Bone Burnett asked them to star in a TV special that brought them onto Showtime to promote the film Inside Llewyn Davis. It was a huge break for the band, which was still largely unknown at the time. Later, they made an album with another famous producer, Dave Cobb, who came up with a genre-bending process that fell within the ethos of the band. The group needed a versatile person behind the boards, and they got one with Cobb. Today much of the group is located in Brooklyn and the flames of their various interests continue to be fanned.

“I like living here for the live music,” Price says. “There are so many amazing people making live music and playing it all the time all over the city, especially in the smaller venues. You can experience music in such a visceral way.

For Price, music started at a young age. Born into a family of musicians, her father is a composer, and growing up she was near a choir seemingly at all times. His mother and siblings as well. She knew early on that she wanted to be a performer and loved the connectivity with other singers, combining voices. As she grew older, she began to copy singers, learning their “vocabulary”. Artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day. And while Lake Street Dive produces a lot of original music, there’s also something special about their habit of releasing covers. It’s part of their origin story, and also Price’s. It’s something they’ll bring on their next tour and something they’ll always carry with them. It is a gathering channel. Very often, this is the space where the magic happens.

“I love being in a room with people playing music,” Price says. “That’s what I love the most.”

Photo by Shervin Lainez/Courtesy of Fantasy Recordings

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