Recently Charleston Grit had the pleasure of chatting with Lake Street Dive guitarist Mike McDuck” Olson about their latest album, their upcoming show at the Music Farm June 8th, and Hometeam BBQ—naturally.
Lake Street Dive exploded into the public eye in 2012 with a cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back.” The YouTube video shows off lead singer Rachael Price’s powerhouse vocals and put the band’s fun-loving vibe on full display; it went viral immediately and now boasts over three million views. Since then, they’ve released two full length albums—Bad Self Portraits and this year’s Side Pony—and they have established themselves as a perennial force in the music world.
The band formed while the members attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts, this is where Mike Olson’s nickname, McDuck, was born. Like most college nicknames it has long forgotten origins, but it came about out of necessity (there are two Mikes in Lake Street Dive) and has stuck around ever since. Lake Street Dive is still very much the same jazzy four-piece that formed in Boston, with one Mike and one McDuck, but quite a lot has changed for the band and there is evidence of that all over their new album Side Pony.
The album was the band’s first on the renowned record label Nonesuch Records and was produced by Nashville heavyweight Dave Cobb who has produced the likes of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton, among many others. To top it all off, the album was recorded in the legendary Sound Emporium Studio, which has cranked out countless hit records over its decades long life. When the band showed up to record even they were a bit star struck.
Guitarist Mike Olson
McDuck recalls the day they showed up at the Sound Emporium. “On the first day we were like oh…you’re this guy…and you worked with these guys?! Can we hold off on the record for a bit so you can tell us stories about all of our heroes?” After working through the shock and awe they got to work on Side Pony and it’s clear that working in such hallowed halls with the likes of Dave Cobb inspired the band to turn out a spectacular album.
All four members of Lake Street Dive are talented song writers, which led to a backlog of nearly 25 songs as work began on Side Pony. To start whittling things down Dave Cobb had the group do what anyone does when searching for simplicity—head to the woods. The band spent a weekend around a campfire recording completely stripped down acoustic versions of the songs they had on the table for Side Pony. “We recorded around a single microphone, no background harmonies, completely barebones, and that’s what we sent to Dave. From those he chose the strongest songs, ones that don’t rely on great production or great live performance.”
The band spent the first half of their recording session building those songs back up from their core. The second half of their time at the Sound Emporium was spent doing something that may seem obvious but was still uncharted territory for Lake Street Dive—writing songs collaboratively. With four great song writers in the band, the M.O. had always been to write independently and perform together. Dave Cobb challenged them to put their creative energy together to see what comes out. He had them write songs collaboratively and create new sounds in the process. Dave’s innovation pushed the band to approach their creative process from a new direction. He had them go to record stores together and buy as many records as they could to draw inspiration.
They listened together, were inspired together then they sat down and made music, truly together. The new collaborative effort was a refreshing success and cranked out big bold songs, “Can’t Stop” being one of them. The song is a triumphant 70’s disco/soul celebration that actually includes a sample from their record store research, and one can only imagine that it would bring the house down in concert.
“It was a really interesting process in terms of the song writing process, but it also got us interested in working that way in the future. We’re already talking about writing collaboratively for future records.”
Follow Lake Street Dive on Instagram @lakestreetdive
The June 8th show at the Music Farm will bring Lake Street Dive’s new mojo to you live and direct, it promises to be a great show. And, it will actually be a homecoming for McDuck, a newly minted Charleston resident. When asked if the band had any favorite spots in town, a not so subtle ploy to casually “run into” them after the show, Mike said that he “just can’t seem to stop eating Hometeam BBQ,” a sentiment that many of us can sympathize with. With the West Ashley location so close to his home, he hasn’t made it to their new downtown location, but being just a hop and a skip away from the Music Farm McDuck may not be able to resist the temptation. Whether you’ll get to see Lake Street Dive enjoying some wings and a Gamechanger Wednesday night is yet to be seen, but you can for sure catch them at the Music Farm at 8:00 p.m. on June 8th. Doors are at 7 p.m., don’t be late.