Lake Street Dive Relies on Its Jazz Roots for 'Side Pony'

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click to enlarge Lake Street Dive Relies on Its Jazz Roots for 'Side Pony'
Big Hassle/Danny Clinch
In the middle of recording Lake Street Dive’s latest album, Side Pony, producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, the Secret Sisters) asked the R&B/pop/’60s-era rock/soul band to hit the local record stores and browse the dollar bins to find the wildest and wackiest albums they could.

“He brought a turntable into the studio,” says guitarist and trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson via phone from Nashville as the band was about to perform at the historic Ryman Auditorium. “He wanted us to find the cheapest record with the most hilarious cover art. He said, ‘We’ll just drop the needle and see where that gets us.’ We did that for a couple of days.”

They wound up using a sample from a Major Lance tune for “Can’t Stop,” a song that sounds like a soul record from a different decade thanks to its funky bass riff and soulful vocals.

“The sample we used came off a record that was really warped,” says Olson. “Part of what made the sample so interesting was the inconsistencies in the record. It changed the time feel from the original recordings. That was really inspiring.”

Initially, band members met in 2004 as students at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. Singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Michael Calabrese round out the group’s lineup.

“We got together to play one day and things clicked,” says Olson. “Obviously, that’s the simplified version, but it’s as straightforward as that. We didn’t get together planning on a 13-year run as working band. As jazz students, when you get together to listen to records, it’s mostly just jazz records. When the four of us were together, we listened to the Beatles, Paul Simon and the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson and Motown records and Muscle Shoals records. It was funny how long it took us that that was the musical direction we wanted to go in. We played music that was far more than just jazz-influenced early on.”

In 2012, the band benefited from the fact that its YouTube video of an acoustic rendition of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” went viral. Olson says the band has played covers since the start because “cover songs provided a gateway drug for new fans.” He says he can’t remember exactly why the band chose “I Want You Back” but that the group intended to use it as a way to get into the groove for a taping session.

“The bass line to ‘I Want You Back’ is iconic,” he says. “It’s one of the most recognizable bass lines in pop music. That translated to well to our bass and trumpet incarnation. The slowing it down wasn’t a super conscious thing. We didn’t slow it down to set us apart or garner us fans. It was an example of us messing around. That is a hallmark of our jazz background and jazz training. You want to take a song and mess around with it and make it your own. The day we recorded that video, it was a throwaway. We were trying to capture performances of other songs as well.”

Their friend shooting the video said they needed to loosen up, so he asked them to play the track.

“That was the song that ended up having that magic,” says Olson. “We’re eternally grateful to him for that.”

Olson says the band has evolved since 2014’s Bad Self Portraits. After recording Side Pony for two weeks, band members thought the album was done. But Cobb asked them to return to the studio to cut some more tracks.

“Dave said he wanted us to stretch ourselves out and write songs that are really simple and songs that are based on a sample and write together in real time instead of everyone squirreling away and then coming to the studio,” he says. “The song ‘Side Pony’ came out of that second half and ‘Hell Yeah’ came out of that second session. I know that “Can’t Stop” came out of that, but that’s one where we played around with a sample. ‘Call Off Your Dogs’ was also part of the second session. Definitive songs came out of that second session. If there was a change between the two albums, it was that we had the gift of that second session where we could stretch and expand our minds and think about music in a different way because we knew we already had a product.”

Olson says the band will take the same approach on the next album.

“Because we had such a great experience on that second half of the Side Pony sessions, we talked about approaching the entire follow up album in the same way that we approached the second half of Side Pony,” he says. “We’re doing collaborative writing and looking for inspiration in different types of music. We’re getting together more on tour to listen to music together. When we were in the passenger van, we could listen to music together all the time. Now, we spend less time consuming music. We want to know what each other are into. We started doing that in a more concrete way [for Side Pony]. We don’t know where or who we'll record the next album with, but the musical preparation we’re involved in right now is setting the ball in motion that’s for sure.”

Lake Street Dive, The Brother Brothers, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, The Kent Stage, 175 East Main St., Kent, 330-677-5005. Tickets: $27,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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