You can have the best players, the sharpest singers and the keenest songs. The members of Lake Street Dive can attest, as they are in clear possession of all that. But in the end, nothing really matters if the band chemistry isn’t there.
For the Boston bred quartet, an underlying friendship not only formed the foundation of a buoyantly infectious sound rooted in pop, rock and soul essentials. It has also grounded Lake Street Dive as it worked its way from dingy bars (like the one in Minneapolis the band is named for) to prestigious concert halls around the world.
“Yeah, we were friends long before we were any good at making music together,” said Rachael Price, whose commanding vocal presence is the catalyst of Lake Street Dive’s huge, celebratory sound. “The friendship was what actually propelled us forward because we got along so well.
“I mean, we have generally always enjoyed each other’s individual musicianship and what each of us brought to the table. But it takes a lot to figure out how all those elements work together. The chemistry among us personally has always been really, really stellar. There has always been a familial vibe between us. It’s been that way since the beginning, really, and has only gotten stronger. But we’ve worked on that, too.
“It felt sometimes like we were spending more time as business partners that we were on our friendships. That when we decided, ‘Let’s make sure we’re honoring our friendships as well as what we can do to keep this whole operation running.”
Though Lake Street Dive came together in 2004 while Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist and trumpeter Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese were attending the New England Conservatory of Music, an ensemble commitment to working as a full time troupe came much later.
“We’ve been a band for 12 years but have been a serious, working band for about four,” Price said. “Only a couple of years before that could we have said, ‘Yes, we have a sound.’ Prior to that, it was complete exploration. I mean, we still don’t know exactly the type music that we play. But it was, like, this really weird exploration for the first handful of years. We were just throwing darts at the musical board and trying anything.
“No one was writing songs in a specific way. No one was playing in a specific way. There was just a love of The Beatles and Motown and music from that time. That was what started gearing us in that direction and applying the treatment of that type of music to the songs we were writing.”
Among the first signs of national infatuation was a 2012 youtube video of the band gathered around a single street corner microphone singing a decidedly bluesy version of the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back.” A year later the band was at New York’s Town Hall performing as part as the all-star, T Bone Burnett-curated “Another Day, Another Time” concert. Criticial acclaim began to pour in with the release of 2014’s “Bad Self Portraits” album and the rigorous touring and plentiful television exposure that followed. The Dave Cobb-produced “Side Pony” album solidified Lake Street Dive’s star status in 2016 as both a recording and touring act.
“For me, singing is one the purest forms of artistic expression,” Price said. “I don’t play an instrument with any proficiency, but I think singing is a very, very quick and direct way to the human heart. For me, personally, it’s also the most direct way to reflect what my own feelings are. I’ve always felt the most like myself and at the most peace with myself when I’m singing. Sometimes, I might be, ‘I don’t know what I feel.’ But if I’m singing, that’s like how I want things to be.
“I started singing when I was pretty young and fell in love with jazz – specifically, Ella Fitzgerald. This was when I was five or six. I would listen to her constantly and copied everything she did. That set me on a path of doing that with a lot of singers. Then I got heavily into soul music. Honestly, even at five, I’m pretty sure I would have told you, ‘I’m just going to be a singer.’ That’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Lake Street Dive performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester. Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 day of show. Call 859-537-7321 or go to ticketfly.com.