Posted September 26, 2016 by Jeff in Tunes

Lake Street Dive: Inspiration at the Drop of a Needle

Lake Street Dive photo by Danny Clinch
Lake Street Dive photo by Danny Clinch

Side Pony, the title of Lake Street Dive’s latest album, serves as a metaphor for the band’s eclectic approach. The group incorporates R&B, pop, ’60s-era rock, and soul into “a unique, dance-party-ready mix.” Nashville-based producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, The Secret Sisters) produced the album. Guitarist and trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson recently phoned us from a Nashville tour stop.

Talk about how the four of your first met. You all went to school together, right?
That’s correct. We were at the New England Conservatory of Music together in Boston. We got together to play one day and things clicked. 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.

Did you find you had similar influences?
That’s what helped us bond early on. As jazz students, when you get together you listen to records—mostly jazz records. When the four of us were together, we listened to the Beatles, Paul Simon, the Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Motown records and Muscle Shoals records. It was funny how long it took us to figure out that that was the musical direction we wanted to go in. We played music that was far more jazz-influenced early on.

Did you originally talk about playing country music?
It’s somewhat apocryphal. The original impetus was that we had hoped to make music that would be at home in a dive bar as opposed to the hallowed halls of conservatory jazz. Jazz grew up in bars too. It was an attempt to get back to our musical roots in that sense as well. It was the dive bar thing that attracted us.

Can you still play dive bars?
Occasionally. It’s not all Ryman Auditorium.

What inspired you to cover the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”?
We have always loved learning cover songs, especially early on when our music was a weird jazz hybrid. Because when our music was just a weird hybrid, cover songs provided a gateway drug for new fans. If they hear a cover song at a show they remember that. Hopefully they remember the original music as well. I don’t necessarily remember why we chose that tune. I think we chose it because it had such a strong bass line. We have played songs with bass, trumpet, vocals and no guitar, so it’s important to have strong musical elements in the song. The bass line to “I Want You Back” is iconic. It’s one of the most recognizable bass lines in pop music. That translated to well to our bass and trumpet incarnation. Slowing it down wasn’t a super conscious thing. We didn’t slow it down to set us apart or garner 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. To take a cover and make it our own felt more genuine. The day we recorded that video, it was a throwaway. We were trying to capture performances of other songs as well. Our friend who was taking the video said it wasn’t working and had us play that to get us back in the groove. That was the song that ended up having that magic. We’re eternally grateful to him for that.

Did you intend to do something differently with Side Pony?
We didn’t necessarily say we had to do something different. We recorded Bad Self Portraits many years ago and had to sit on it. There was inherent growth between the recordings of these two records, and we had the help of Nonesuch Records behind us. Any departure or growth was purely the natural product of a band that plays most nights of the year. The songwriting was 85 percent us writing tunes and using the same process. The remaining material was written at the urging of Dave Cobb, our producer. We spent two weeks and recorded all these tunes. We could have been done after those first two weeks. We went to Australia and did two additional two weeks. We had a great record in the band, but Dave said he wanted us to stretch ourselves 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. 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 a 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.

Dave Cobb encouraged you to scour the dollar bins at used record shops and then spin them in the studio.
He brought a turntable into the studio. He wanted us to find the cheapest record with the most hilarious cover art. We’d just drop the needle and see where that got us. We did that for a couple of days. The sample we used on “Call Off Your Dogs” came off a Major Lance record that was really warped. 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.

You cut this album last year. Have you started thinking of where the next album will go yet?
We have definitely begun thinking about it. 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. 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 and knowing what each other are into. We started doing that in a more concrete way. We don’t know where or who but the musical preparation we’re involved in right now is setting the ball in motion, that’s for sure.



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].