Boston retro rock band Lake Street Dive just released their seventh album, Obviously. Drummer Mike Calabrese recently sat down with staff writer and on-air host Meghan Hockridge. They talked about making the new album and answered some listener questions.
YOU HAVE THIS NEW ALBUM OUT, OBVIOUSLY, LET’S DIVE INTO THAT, YOU RECORDED IT A YEAR AGO, IN FEBRUARY RIGHT?
Mike Calabrese: Correct, we came home from the final day of recording and 5 days later it was lockdown.
WOW, WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING IT DONE RIGHT BEFORE THIS CRAZY TIME AND NOT HAVING IT OUT UNTIL NOW AND WAITING THROUGH THIS INSANE PERIOD?
MC: You put it well! We were glad to have gotten it done, A couple of days later, and we wouldn’t have the album for you, most likely. So that was good. I mean, sitting on it was tough, but amidst everything else that was tough, it paled in comparison. It’s something you work on for a long time and you want to release it. But at the same time we got into a mode where we were like, “how are we gonna make money? how are we gonna survive this?”
And also, look at what’s going on in the world, let’s put this in perspective. So it was tough, but we were glad we got it done. We had plenty of time to perfect the graphic design and stuff. Definitely enough time for planning a rollout so in the end. Everything happens for reasons, and so here we are and everything’s fine.
I WANTED TO TALK A BIT ABOUT HOW IT WAS WORKING WITH MIKE ELIZONDO. I HAD SEEN THAT YOUR LAST RECORD, FREE YOURSELF UP, WAS SELF-PRODUCED. SO WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH A PRODUCER FOR THIS ONE AND PARTICULARLY SOMEONE WHO HAS WORKED WITH SO MANY DIFFERENT INCREDIBLE ARTISTS?
MC: It was fantastic, on one level. On just the pragmatic side of things there’s the element of, you know, we sent him thirty five demos of songs that we made touring over the course of the previous year, and he was like “alright these are the eleven that the record should be.” So we were like “great!” ‘Cause that’s discussions and meetings and tears and fights, not really, but just deciding on songs to do can be a pain in the neck. We are still believers in the idea of an album, start to finish you wanna listen to the whole thing, and it’s an experience in and of itself it’s not just a bunch of songs thrown together.
So there was that side of it, but there was also the side where, you know as it turns out, he’s a trained jazz bassist, that’s how he got his start, and then he kind of left the jazz world and went pop, hip-hop and pop, and that really parallels, to a large extent, to what we did. Where it differs is our expertise went into the songwriting, playing, putting on a show, and his expertise went into the recording process, production elements, and also knowledge of the studio, which is something that as a musician you have experience with, but there’s always a gap between you and the wealth of knowledge you need to run an operation. And also, the knowledge you have from making so many records and an eclectic array of records.
So going into it with him was a great relief and it was also really exciting because he knew what we were capable of and he was really able to highlight those elements and put it all into the right package.
I SAW IN AN INTERVIEW WITH RACHAEL PRICE THAT ONE OF THE REASONS YOU WERE DRAWN TO WORKING WITH MIKE ELIZONDO WAS BECAUSE OF HIS WORK WITH A LOT OF HIP-HOP ARTISTS. SONICALLY, HIP-HOP HAS A LOT OF SPECIFIC ELEMENTS REGARDING THE RHYTHM SECTION, SO I WANTED TO ASK YOU SPECIFICALLY, KNOWING THAT GOING INTO IT, DID THAT CHANGE YOUR APPROACH WHILE MAKING THE SONGS, OR WAS IT SOMETHING THAT CAME OF IT MORE AFTER THE FACT?
MC: You know, it wasn’t like we went to Mike and were like “hey we know you’ve done so much hip-hop, can you do that to us?” In the end, we’re not a hip-hop band. But it kind of just came out, and it came out in a couple of different ways. The main way is that back in the day, when singles were first transmitted over airwaves, if they were coming through the speakers and you turned the volume down to where you could almost not hear it, the last two things that you hear before it goes silent were the vocals and the snare drum or the backbeat.
You might not necessarily notice it all the time, but the groove and the vocals need to be spot on. And I think that that’s definitely a specific function in hip hop, the drums and the vocals are really the crux of it, everything else kind of frames it. But that’s kind of an ethos in terms of record making, so we knew that going into it. I mean Rachael has been talking about the vocal sound on Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple for the better part of a decade being like “that’s what I want my voice to sound like!” And I don’t know why we didn’t ask Mike before then. But the other thing was I knew that the drums would sound awesome on this record.
With those two things firmly set in place, when those two things are doing the heavy lifting in terms of making mood and feel, everything else that goes around that, you can really massage the atmosphere you want. And that’s just how he thinks, not just his hip-hop records but his pop records as well, it’s a theme of what he does.
THIS RECORD, TO ME, SEEMS TO INCLUDE A LOT MORE MATURE THEMES, IN DIFFERENT SONGS LIKE “BEING A WOMAN” AND “MAKING DO,” KIND OF TOUCHING ON MORE BROAD ISSUES. DO YOU THINK THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT WAS INTENTIONAL GOING INTO THE PROJECT, OR SOMETHING THAT JUST CAME OUT, OR EVEN JUST A PROCESS OF NATURALLY MATURING OVER TIME?
MC: I mean, it’s a combination of all those things. For instance, I am married now with kids, and so hopefully I’ll never write another break-up song. I’m counting on not. When you’re writing songs and you’re not writing them about love anymore -- at least in that regard, I could write about love in other ways -- you look around and if you’re going to write a song maybe different things come up, or maybe you get ideas for songs just because you’re in a different world now. With “Making Do,” I kind of had to write that song, Bridget wrote some of that too, because music is a form of expression.
I was like “I need to say this, and I need people to hear it and know that I’m thinking it, and maybe they won’t feel so alone” you know that’s one of the reasons you write music, to begin with. There was that but also, like I said before, Mike Elizondo could’ve just as easily not picked “Making Do” or not picked “Being a Woman.” Whether or not he was like, “oh we should have songs about these subjects,” maybe the fact of the matter is when songs are very honest and they’re very bare, there’s an undeniable truth to them, and I think those are the songs you really wanna hear, or at least we do, maybe Mike does as well. So I think partially it is about growing up and just having different things to say.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE NOW THAT AKIE BERMISS IS AN OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE BAND FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THIS RECORD? WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HIM IN THE WRITING AND RECORDING PROCESS?
MC: It was great! Like peas and carrots. It was kind of the last testing ground. That’s not the right word, but there are all these factors to whether or not a new member is going to stick. At first, it was just, “hey let’s tour with a keyboard player” and we found Akie and it was like okay he’s really good at being on tour. He’s nice and considerate, he’s a good tour person. And that’s a big thing, if you can’t handle touring, you’ll ruin it for everyone else. And of course, he’s playing his butt off, singing his butt off.
And then it was like, “it’s just really nice collaborating with you in general, do you have any music you wanna share?” ‘Cause we’d been touring as a band, it feels like a band, “do you want to write as a band?” and he had stuff that he introduced, and he brought in the song that, every time I hear it just kills me, on the record, which is “Anymore.” That song he just brought in he was like “here” and we were like “oh my god thank you for this,'' and he was like, you know, “thank you!” and so it was another step in terms of growing together with him, and now he’s just that much more incorporated for the better of everyone involved. It was really natural, really fun. It’s cool cause now there’s a new voice in the writing of the band, but it still sounds like Lake Street Dive, so that’s just evidence that it’s working.
AND THAT’S NO SMALL FEAT! I MEAN YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN A BAND, JUST THE FOUR OF YOU, FOR SO LONG, ADDING A MEMBER COULD REALLY BE HIT OR MISS I FEEL LIKE.
MC: Yeah absolutely, and to put it bluntly, it was up to him right? Not that we were like “let’s see if you’ve got what it takes to be in our band” but from day one it was trial by fire, we sent him the recordings, we were like “this is a setlist we normally do” he learned the tunes, we had never played with him, and he just started touring with us and we were like “great job!” and it got better! So really all the credit should go to him for that for sure.
WHAT IS ONE SONG THAT YOU ARE MOST EXCITED TO PLAY LIVE, WITH A LIVE AUDIENCE, WHEN THAT IS POSSIBLE AGAIN?
MC: Hmm, that’s a good question. I am most excited, in kind of a terrified way, to see how we pull off “Sarah” actually. It’s the last song on the record, and it’s all acapella. If we do it at all, however we figure out doing it will be exciting. That song was really hard to record for us. It’s pretty low in my register, to get down to those bass notes, and getting an effect on Rachael’s vocals, and all that stuff. But I’m excited to at least try. The rest of ‘em, I mean I’m just excited to play a show with any of these songs. I mean I’ll play by myself on a stage at this point just to get in front of people.
SO I’VE GOT SOME LISTENER QUESTIONS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA. THIS ONE IS FROM KARA LESSELS ON INSTAGRAM: WHAT’S FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR?
MC: Oh, my personal favorite is mint chip. And I don’t go for that white mint chip thing, it’s gotta be dyed green. I know it’s not actually turning out that color from the mint, but yeah mint chip for sure. It adds to the experience.
YES EXACTLY, YOU EAT WITH YOUR EYES AS WELL. THIS ONE IS FROM CORAL MOONS: WHAT BANDS HAVING YOU BEEN LISTENING TO DURING QUARANTINE?
MC: Oh, let me check my playlist! Oh you know it’s been funny, this has been a time for a lot of reacquainting myself with a lot of people we went to school with, and they’ve been putting out music while they’ve not been doing much else, and these are all alumni friends of ours. Our good friend Alec Spiegelman, in New York, went to school for sax with us. But now he’s singing and writing and producing his own stuff which is great. Will Graefe, a really good friend of ours, he’s doing some great stuff. Yeah check out those guys, Alec Spiegelman and Will Graefe, they’re both great.
WE’VE GOT A QUESTION FROM OUR MUSIC COORDINATOR, TATUM JENKINS! SHE SAID “MY PARENTS LOVE YOUR MUSIC! HOW DO YOUR PARENTS FEEL ABOUT YOUR MUSIC, AND DO THEY HAVE ANY FAVORITE SONGS?”
MC: Oh, my parents are super fans of the band, which is great, I mean it can get weird sometimes. But I know my dad is very vocal about how he loves the song “Hush Money,” on the record, he likes political stuff I guess. And my mom likes “Sarah,” which is nice because I wrote that one. So yeah those are the two.
WE’VE GOT ONE MORE FROM MIKE WITCHER: HOW DID YOU GUYS COME UP WITH THE IDEA TO DO THE HALL AND OATES COVER OF “RICH GIRL”?
MC: We were doing a long drive in a tour bus, and listening to a playlist, and “Rich Girl” came on, it was my mix I believe, and Rachael was like “who is this?” and I was like “have you never heard of Hall and Oates?” Turns out she knew a bunch of their songs, just didn’t know it was them. When Rachael hears a song that she knows she can just sing the crap out of we just say “okay.”
Lake Street Dive’s seventh album, Obviously, is out now.