story by Brett Hutchins
photos by Danny Clinch
Nostalgia is tricky business. Many a band has made the mistake of simply rehashing their musical influences on their listeners, but true musicians know that art is to be a living and breathing entity. Luckily for the world, Lake Street Dive finds the perfect balance between past, present, and future.
With obvious influences from 50’s and 60’s soul, the stripped-down foursome takes stand-up bass, guitar, trumpet, drums, and breathtaking lead and harmonized vocals to fresh heights. This is a band full of charismatic folks doing what they love, making polished anthemic music that is, above all, fun.
Mike “McDuck” Olson took some time off from the road recently to chat with SANDSpaper about the band’s early years as young players, how the band has handled the buzz that’s come with YouTube videos amassing millions of views, and the simple power of saying “yes”.
SANDS: Each of you were playing music at a very young age. Talk about the importance of music in both the melding of a young mind, but also in contributing to a happy childhood.
MCDUCK: I’m no child psychologist, or brain scientist, but I think for all of us music provided an outlet as young people that became crucial modes of expression, and certainly still does. It was also a social impact for us all, whether it was finding our enclave in school (band nerds, anyone?) or having jam sessions with family. I would say we all had reasonably happy childhoods, but imagining those years without music seems grim indeed…
SANDS: You mention the atmosphere at New England Conservatory was one of everyone just wanting to play. How does that free flowing spirit inform the band today?
MCDUCK: Since there isn’t one specific band leader in LSD, we all have an equal voice, and as such, we also much all have equally open minds as it applies to working equally hard on each other’s music. At NEC, the question was “want to play?” and the corresponding answer was always “yes.” Nowadays, the question we ask each other in the band is “wanna try this out?” and the answer is still the same, all these years later.
SANDS: Why do both musicians and listeners love vocal harmonies so much?
MCDUCK: Again, I wish I were a brain scientist. (what is the official name for brain scientist? You can tell I’m about as far away from being a brain scientist because I keep calling them brain scientists.) I think one of the big reasons for LSD’s success is Rachael’s dynamic engaging lead vocals; people love to hear the human voice, because it is so personal and expressive, and by extension, they love to hear a beautiful human voice. Multiply that by four, and it’s just that much more awesome.
SANDS: How organic was the band’s move to begin making them a focal point of the sound?
MCDUCK: Very. It was a matter of, one day, someone said “what if we sang harmonies on this song, like the Beatles? Wanna try that?” And everyone said “yes.”
SANDS: Although Lake Street Dive may seem like an overnight success, you guys have been grinding since 2004. What advice would you give bands who may feel discouraged by the current landscape?
MCDUCK: We get asked this all the time, and unfortunately, the landscape changes so rapidly that our “successes” could probably never be replicated; for example, when we started making YouTube videos, it was sort of a new-ish thing for bands to do. Now YouTube is in some ways less important than a format like Instagram, which is more geared toward instant gratification and scrolling through many posts, not sitting in front of a 3 and 1/2 minute video. The one thing that will always be the same, however, is that if music is going to be your career, it must also be your life. Quit your job. Quit your other bands. Focus all your energy on one thing for as long as you can before you starve, and after it starts picking up and you’re not eating mustard sandwiches anymore, keep focusing all your energy on that one thing. Then one day the momentum may be enough that you can think about other things again…but even then, the focus must always be on living breathing eating drinking music. It is unlike any other profession in that way.
SANDS: Did being a Youtube sensation with your Jackson 5 video cheapen the experience at all when you were initially taking off?
MCDUCK: No. It was integral to taking off, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. Besides, we posted it ourselves; we are in a profession where self-promotion is necessary. How could doing our job cheapen our job?
SANDS: How does all that buzz affect the band’s mindset? How do you deal with that pressure?
MCDUCK: For all the buzz it seems like we have, we’re not Taylor Swift. We all still live pretty normal lives, when we get to go home, and on show days, if we’re wandering around town, it’s not like we’re getting mobbed in coffee shops. We also know each other so well, all our flaws and the things that make us infinitely human, so just by looking around and checking in from time to time reminds us of our own humanity. I can imagine being a solo artist would have it’s challenges, because the “buzz” and the “pressure” are all about that person as an individual. But for a band, you can always remember yourself and each other as individuals, and the rest of the world melts away pretty fast.
SANDS: What’s the band’s goal when you step on stage each night?
MCDUCK: We just need to have fun. If we’re having fun, playing together like we used to when we were confined to dirty, loud bars, then the audience has fun too.
SANDS: Would you rather be on stage or in a studio?
MCDUCK: One without the other would be a limited, one-sided career. They cannot exist in a vacuum, especially for a band like us, who admire artists whose live shows are intentionally different statements than their recordings. We need to play live shows to advance our career, and to check in with the energy that can only come from a crowd of fans, but we also need the introspection and the art-centric focus and quite of the studio, which we love equally, for its unique opportunity it presents to leave a lasting impact on the rich tradition of recorded music. It’s pretty awesome to be able to do both, honestly.
Lake Street Dive plays Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Sept. 8.