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At the Kettlehouse, Lake Street Dive’s evolution tackles political tensions, social change

Lake Street Dive at the Kettlehouse Amphitheatre in Missoula on Sept. 23, 2021. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

Mike Calabrese of Lake Street Dive did not become a drummer out of fate, coming from a family of musicians that lacked someone to keep time; the role was trusted upon him.

“They say nature abhors a vacuum, there were no drummers in the family.”

It wasn’t until his Uncle Larry gave him his first drum kit that his love for music grew into a passion that would eventually lead him to form Lake Street Dive, along with fellow members Rachael Price (vocals), Mike “McDuck” Olson (guitar, trumpet), Bridget Kearney (bass) and while attending New England Conservatory for music, as well as Keyboardist Akie Bermiss who joined the band in 2017.

By blending a variety of genres including pop, rock, R&B, and jazz, Lake Street Dive has risen to become of the most primer alternative rock bands with their most recent album Obviously, topping charts at No. 1 on Americana/Folk, No. 2 on Current Rock Albums and No. 2 on Current Alternative Albums, as well as No. 5 on Billboard’s Top Album chart.

Since the release of their debut album in 2010, the band has worked to release an additional 5 studio albums, all of which stay true to their ability to develop a unique sound by utilizing

Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

Obviously stands apart in the band’s discography because it ushers in a new sense of adulthood, with lyrics that reflect the political and social tension of late 2019 and 2020. The second track on the album, “Hush Money,” speaks on buying women’s silence, along with “Being a Woman,” which describes the harsh reality of life for women in a patriarchal society.

For Calabrese, the album marks a transition as band members begin to settle down and raise children, while also allowing them to create music that continually allows them to speak their opinions and attitudes.

“I feel like typically how we go about writing music in any context or any year, it really revolves around what the writer is going through. When we first started the band when we were 18 there were a lot of sarcastic songs about people we were dating and breakups, things like that, just because that’s your attitude at that age, that develops when you’re older,” said Calabrese. “You’re awakening in an age when you’re becoming an adult and entering into another period in your life and the stuff you are writing about, is still personal, but part of becoming an adult is the realization that what affects you personally is actually what is affecting a lot of people personally.”

Calabrese also expressed the sense of responsibility the band feels to create songs that speak to social justice due to their large audience.

“Especially when we feel like we are sharing these sentiments with a lot of people who either listen to our music or a lot of people in general, those are the kinds of things that inspire us to write a song in the first place. I think for this album it was just the right time, while we were recording we didn’t know a pandemic was going to happen that was going to expose deeper and further inequalities and social unrest, but we certainly knew what we were seeing at the time and it seemed like a continuation of that.”

The band has seen growth beyond just age and attitude however. Lake Street Dive teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Mike Elizondo to expand and diversify their sound even further.

Elizondo, who has both produced and collaborated with Eminem and Dr. Dre, helped the band develop tracks that reflect more of R&B and hip hop influences.

“We were still very much entrenched in this more traditional or old-school idea that a song is a song, a song is a composition, and can be played by one person accompanying themselves on guitar and be just as clear of a composition as when you add a full band or a huge album production with strings and a bunch of electronic instruments. We also noticed that in terms of production, really the producers of a certain genre were hitting the nail on the head at least in terms of what we thought was pushing music forward was in the hip hop and R&B realm. This tracks from what we were originally inspired by in the first place, everything we listened to that got us into music in the first place was R&B and songs of an era that gradually evolved into what you see now as modern R&B and hip hop.”

Akie Bermiss with Lake Street Dive. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, interrupted this process and presented its own set of challenges for the songwriters.

“The problem with being creative is that you need space to do it, both physically and emotionally to do it, at least I do, personally. While Covid gave people a lot of time to be alone and be creative, for me I was home and I had children so it was nice to be home and focus on that. But for the rest of us, in general, it was a pretty uninspiring time because it was so harrowing watching what was happening.”

After almost a year-and-a-half of deep quarantine, Lake Street Dive is back on tour and played the Kettlehouse Amphitheatre on Thursday. But the transition from the pandemic has been difficult as the band has adapted back to a normal touring schedule.

The biggest hurdle is we are just so rusty. I tell people it’s just like riding the bike, except it’s rusted over for over a year and a half. You know how to do it, it just doesn’t feel as smooth at first and doesn’t sound the best, it’s kind of squeaky. That said, I’ll take a squeaky set of music for people that are really hungry to get out there and hear music and hear us any day over being stuck at home because of a virus.