Lake Street Dive still writes love songs, but their new work is also a response to Trump's America.
Lake Street Dive still makes love songs, but that’s not all it makes anymore. For 14 years, the band has made its name by singing conventional, relationship-oriented subject songs in classic-borderline-retro forms. It has let its technical chops subtly signal the band’s jazz leanings, and singer Rachael Price’s voice can silence all doubts. Last year’s LP Free Yourself Up and EP Freak Yourself Out stayed in Lake Street Dive’s lane as they focused on relationships as well, but on these recordings, the current social climate finds its way into the songs, and timelessness is no way to hide from the times we live in.
The band is currently touring with a stop in New Orleans on Friday at The Civic Theater.
Lake Street Dive originated in Boston in 2004, and it has adamantly avoided commitment to a single genre. Its latest batch of music aligns with the band’s classic pop love song brand, but the songs also steps into a more socially aware atmosphere following the election of Donald Trump in 2016. This social climate politicized the band to a point where it couldn’t simply sing about falling in and out of love without letting the contentious, foreboding world they live in become part of their songs.
Mike “McDuck” Olson notes that their new music has been “resonating with young people who are becoming socially aware and politically aware in this bizarre-o world environment that we live in.” These songs have helped Lake Street Dive find a growing fan base with younger listeners who are learning how to comprehend an increasingly ugly world at the same time that they’re experiencing love and heartbreak with youthful intensity.
Free Yourself Up begins with the lines, “Hard times, hard times / When I really need somebody to hold me tight,” which succinctly sums up the balance Lake Street Dive strikes on this album. The new songs reflect frustration and but also reflect a dedication to change. The songs speak to the world and the heart at the same time, particularly in a song like “I Can Change.” Price sings, “That history continues to keep us from a world we wanna see / I am scared that I won’t get it right / But fear won’t rule my heart tonight,” and the lines speak to a general self-improvement, social and political frustration, and frustration in interpersonal relationships.
“We are still red-blooded humans, and are still in love with the people that we love, and that is still gonna come out in song,” Olson says. “We still experience heartbreak, and that is going to come out in our music, too.”
These social messages are not always incredibly overt in their new batch of work, but songs like “Shame, Shame, Shame,” shade the rest of the work, including the love songs, politically. The song begins, “Little hands hold the gavel,” a nod to jokes made about Trump’s small hands, and the rest of the song reflects deep disappointment in his inadequacy as a leader and hate he’s spread. The band has little history with being so directly political, but according to Olson, the band decided that it seemed “disingenuous to continue to focus exclusively on the sugar-coated love song because there’s more going on than that.”
Their music is finding its audience right now because it offers an example of the balance between being frustrated with the world and finding solace and interpersonal hurt in our individual lives, not prioritizing one over the other. That focus on balance is what has kept Lake Street Dive alive as a band for so long. The members are all very different people and offer very different skill sets, but these differences have helped them flourish long term. Even when looking at things such as Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and astrological signs, they find that all mediums yield similar results: that they are very different, but strike complimentary balance.
This balance interpersonal balance also sets a good example. In an extremely polarized and vitriolic social, political atmosphere, an example of interpersonal difference finding harmonious, enduring balance is important. “We have very distinct personalities, distinct work ethics, distinct methods,” Olson says. “They all work together very harmoniously, and that has somehow allowed us to function for an insane amount of time as a functional musical, creative unit.”