As any bar owner will tell you, getting people in the door is half the battle. Brooklyn-based quartet Lake Street Dive had toiled away for eight years, playing soul, jazz and blues filtered through a pop prism in dive bars to dive-bar crowds.

Then, three years ago, actor Kevin Bacon tweeted his appreciation for the “awesome” YouTube video of the foursome’s acoustic jazz remake of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back, which appears alongside George Michael, Hall & Oates and Wings covers on their 2012 EP, Fun Machine.

Filmed on a street corner, the rendition showcases singer Rachael Price’s gorgeously soulful vocals and the dexterity of Lake Street Dive, named after the bar district in guitarist/horn player Mike Olson’s home town of Minneapolis.

“I remember the video had 30,000 views — nothing special — and then Kevin Bacon tweeted it and a week later it was at 800,000 views, ” Price, 29, recalls over the phone from New York.

“Crazy. And then all our shows right after that sold out immediately. We had never played sold-out shows before that.”

Kevin Bacon Tweeting his appreciation for Lake Street Dive's youtube video.



Bacon’s seal of approval may have brought music lovers to the party but it was their treasure trove of originals that has made Lake Street Dive one of the hottest “new” acts in the US.

Price, who’s originally from Hendersonville, Tennessee, says things have picked up “dramatically”— whether that refers to performing on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman’s late-night television shows or being invited to play at this month’s Perth International Arts Festival.

“Until two years ago we were only playing in dive bars and mostly in cities that were a four-hour drive from us, ” she says. “We only occasionally ventured to other parts of the country.

“Now, we’ve probably driven across the country a dozen times in the past couple of years, playing shows in all the cities along the way.

“Everyone’s making a living, which is new, and there’s people at all the shows. It’s very different.”

Hailing from different parts of the US, the four members of Lake Street Dive were studying jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2004 when Olson — a “comically grumpy” fellow nicknamed McDuck after Disney’s Scrooge McDuck — pulled them together to play shows in local venues.

“Boston has a really big Americana scene — like folk, bluegrass, country and the mixture of that — and I think that played a role in our sound, ” Price recalls. “There was a big audience for that. It was strange and very sparse sounding when we first formed. We didn’t even have guitar in the band.

“Over the time, we played gigs and saw what people responded to and we figured out creative ways to make it sound a lot bigger than four people.”

While Price’s voice stars, Lake Street Dive utilise four-part harmonies and all four members are songwriters.

“Everybody writes separately and when we get together and learn a song, we arrange them then, so they change quite a lot from inception to reality, ” Price explains.

Double bass player Bridget Kearney (from Iowa) wrote the wonderful Bad Self Portraits, the title track of their third studio album released last year, with the lead singer’s voice in mind. “I thought it was a hit (when I first heard it), ” Price laughs. “I thought it was amazing.”

Mavis Staples has sung the song in concert with Lake Street Dive, a real pinch-yourself moment for Price who cites the gospel legend as a major influence alongside Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Nicks, Sam Cooke and Ella Fitzgerald.

The rapid rise of the band, which also includes Philadelphian drummer Mike Calabrese, from virtual unknowns playing local bars to international touring sensations hasn’t been without speed bumps.

Price was signed to a solo deal with a minor label which refused to let her release music with Lake Street Dive. Kearney has described the label as effectively holding Price’s voice hostage.

“It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, ” the singer says.

“They wanted me to be a solo artist and I had no interest in being a solo artist.”

They finally “made a deal” with the label, clearing the way for the release of Bad Self Portraits.

Lake Street Dive came to Australia early this month, where Price has family. Her mother was born in Mt Barker, WA, while her American musician father Tom Price worked here until 1988 before taking the family back to the US. He co-wrote and produced Billy Field’s chart-topping 1981 album, Bad Habits.

Their street-corner cover of I Want You Back now has more than 2.8 million views and it’s unlikely they’ll play any shows in dive bars soon.

“I don’t know if we miss it, ” Price laughs. “We try to bring the same energy that we did when we played those dive bars to the shows now.”

‘Everybody writes separately and when we get together and learn a song, we arrange them then, so they change quite a lot from inception to reality.’

Lake Street Dive visited the Chevron Festival Gardens earlier this month.


© The West Australian

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