Rachael Rising: A Q&A with Lake Street Dive’s powerful frontwoman

  • Lake Street Dive, The Green River Festival, 2013 Douglas Mason 

  • Rachael Price, Amourasaurus, 2016 OLIVER SCOTT

  • Lake Street Dive, Amourasaurus, 2016 —Oliver Scott

For the Bulletin
Thursday, July 06, 2017

Her deep, sultry voice inevitably gets her compared to the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse or labeled as “blue-eyed soul,” but Rachael Price, the 31-year-old frontwoman of Lake Street Dive (LSD), has a sound and a stage presence all her own. Inspired by everyone from Paul Simon to Prince, the band — also featuring Mike Calabrese on drums, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike “McDuck” Olson on guitar and trumpet — first met when they were students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston in the early 2000s. They eventually made their way to Northampton, where they joined up with Jim Olsen, co-founder of Signature Sounds Recordings, which released their self-titled record in 2010, followed by their albums “Fun Machine” (2012) and “Bad Self Portraits” (2014).

Since then, LSD has earned, oh, a few more fans, including music legend T-Bone Burnett and television host Stephen Colbert (they performed on his “Late Show” in June), and now, with a fifth studio album under their belt — “Side Pony,” by Nonesuch Records, including tracks “Call Off Your Dogs” and “I Don’t Care About You” — they’re coming back to the area to play at The Green River Festival. In anticipation of their big show on Saturday, July 15, we caught up with Price — a Tennessee native who now lives in New York — to talk about her Green River roots, girls who rock and the Hollywood movie star she’s likened to most.

Where are you right now? Are you on the road with Lake Street Dive?

“Yes, we’re in Birmingham, Alabama. We’re on tour.”

I know that you went to the New England Conservatory, but what is your connection to the Pioneer Valley?

“Our initial connection was being on Signature Sounds. It made it feel like a second home town for us, and it’s always felt that way. Jim Olsen, who runs the label, is just an encouraging person. They took us on when nobody knew who we were and put out some of our most successful records [like] ‘Fun Machine,’ which was our EP of covers we did with them. So, yeah, we love them.”

Can you tell me a little bit about your history with the Green River Festival?

“We sent [Jim] our record, and he didn’t want to release it. He was like, ‘I’m not interested.’ And then he booked us at Green River Fest, which was a really nice thing to do, and we played an afternoon set, and it went really well. After that set — he’d seen us live — he was like, ‘OK, I get it now. I’d like to put out your record.’... It was our self-titled record, so it’s just called ‘Lake Street Dive.’ I don’t think he disliked it. I think he was like, ‘I’m not really sure if this fits with what was on the label,’ because it is more of a folk-leaning label stylistically. But we really liked the label, and I think he liked the band because he booked us at the festival that same year, and then he saw us, and everything sort of clipped into place.”

When was the last time that you came to the area, and what do you do when you’re here?

“We were there last year for Amourasaurus, which we do in conjunction with Signature. We stay right in town in Northampton. We’ve stayed at Hotel Northampton, but sometimes I like to stay with my manager because she lives close by. Her name’s Emily Lichter. I go and eat breakfast at The Green Bean. We always go to Ye Ol’ Watering Hole afterwards because everyone’s really obsessed with the fresh grapefruit-juice cocktail. And I like to get in a walk — some type of nice nature walk because there are so many beautiful spots.”

What do you like about The Green River Festival? I’ve been reading so much obnoxious stuff about the Fyre Festival and Coachella — how’s this one different?

“Well, Green River is sort of like a perfect festival: It’s only a few stages, and you don’t feel like you’re competing with the other bands to get a crowd; it feels like a community of musicians coming together to all put on a great set for everybody, and that’s how I think a festival should feel. Everybody gets to enjoy all the music, including the bands — that’s one of the reasons why we like playing festivals, because we can hear other music that’s really good.”

Have you ever gone on one of the hot-air balloon rides?

“I haven’t gone on a balloon ride, and I’m waiting to be asked, to be brought on a balloon ride. I would like to do it. I’m not afraid of heights.”

So what are you excited to perform this time?

“We should have some new songs, like brand-brand new songs that we just learned, so if that’s in the mix, I’m going to be very excited to sing them. I don’t know what they are. We just started learning a bunch of new material, and we’ll be putting it into the mix this summer. All of our new material that we’re working on are co-writes, so everybody’s kind of writing with each other — it’s super fun.”

There has been a lot of press on you lately, and it’s interesting to see how people describe the sound of the band: Some say you’re part of the soul-revivalist movement; one writer described you as “blue-eyed soul.” What do you make of these genre descriptions?

“I think at this point we accept it all. The fact of the matter is, we do write songs in all different styles. Somebody will write a song and come to the band and be like, ‘I’m hearing a Prince treatment on this,’ and someone will be like, ‘This is kind of like a David Bowie thing,’ or ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Paul Simon,’ or, ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Motown.’ We try to connect the dots by the fact that it’s the four of us always playing the songs. So yeah, we just sort of nod our heads and say, ‘Sure, that’s our genre,’ and then we just don’t really think about it in terms of what we do.”

LSD did a lot of covers together early on – songs like Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl.” What do you like about doing covers?

“Well, covers are a great learning experiment because when you choose a great pop song ... and then you pick apart those elements and try to recreate it in a way that’s unique, you learn a lot about what makes a successful pop song. We’ve been doing a Prince cover of a song called ‘When You Were Mine’ that I really love singing.”

It seems like you really love performing. You’re a great frontwoman.

“Oh yeah, completely. It’s my joy.”

What’s your connection to former Fanny frontwoman June Millington and her rock camp for girls, The Institute for Musical Arts? You’ve done events out there in Goshen, right?

“Yeah, our manager, she’s on the board there, and she’s really close with June and Ann [Hackler] who run the camp, super-involved, so she got us involved. She told us about it, and we went there, and it’s just a really special, magical place. I’ve taught a couple weekend-long vocal workshops there, and we’ve done fundraisers for them.”

When you do a vocal workshop, what are you trying to convey to these girls who are hoping to be songwriters or rockstars or whatever they’re trying to be?

“I think I’m just trying to spread the joy of singing, [and show] that it’s a worthwhile companion to invest in. It’s a good friendship to have. [The voice is] a very vulnerable, emotional instrument to utilize, but can be very empowering, so whether or not you’re pursuing a career as a singer or it’s just something that you do that brings you happiness, I’m just trying to get people to connect with themselves in that way.”

It is scary to get up on stage and belt it out. As far as your stage presence, do you feel like early on you modeled it on anyone in particular?

“If I was going to pick one performer, I would pick Judy Garland… the way that she sort of is inside of her body and herself when you watch her perform. I think she’s the one who had the most effect — not on the way that I sing stylistically, but on the way that I perform onstage.”

Interesting. In addition to LSD, I know you have a side project going, Rachael & Vilray. [Also at the Green River Fest, Price will be performing with Brooklyn musician Vilray on Sunday, July 16.] What can you say about it?

“It’s really exciting — I’m singing jazz again, which I haven’t done in a long time, and Vilray and I are doing a set at Green River which was a complete surprise. Jim saw us play and was like, ‘Why don’t you guys perform?’ So that’ll be our biggest show ever. And yeah, I’m excited about it.”

What’s the song that people love the most that you sing with LSD?

“The song that people love the most…  I don’t know, there’s a few. ‘Seventeen’ comes to mind. People often tell me that they really connect to that song. And everybody has a different idea of what it’s about; they interpret the lyrics slightly differently. I know exactly what it’s about because I’ve talked to Bridget, who wrote the words about it, but it’s like that thing where you meet somebody, and you know that you would have been attracted to them when you were 17, but you’re too smart now, and you know what kind of person they are, which is not the best. And you’re kind of bummed that you didn’t just meet them then and have that fun experience with them because now you can’t because you know too much.”

I have to ask: Do people ever confuse you for Scarlett Johansson?

“They don’t confuse me, but I am often told by people that I resemble her. I get the comment a lot.”

Have you ever thought about doing any acting?

“I’ve been approached but I’m not really super... I mean I’m not uninterested in it, I’m definitely not uninterested in, you know, being in a musical or something because I grew up listening to that stuff, and that’s an art form that really intrigues me, but otherwise not too much.”

Favorite musical?

“That’s too hard. I like the movie version of ‘Hello Dolly’ because Barbra Streisand is so incredible in it, and growing up I really loved the movie ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’ but, like, it’s problematic in its storyline. (In the 1954 movie musical, which the New York Times called “one of the most cheerfully disreputable movie musicals ever made,” a bunch of backwoodsmen, lonely for female company, kidnap some local lasses.) I really love musicals, like the movie musicals of Doris Day and Judy Garland. ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is maybe a favorite. Let’s say that.”

So just thinking about the trajectory you’ve been on, what’s the smallest venue you’ve ever played, and what’s the biggest?

“We’ve definitely played every size room. We played a show to zero people once; no one came. That was in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was at this place called The Evening Muse. We played for the opening band, and they played a set for us, and it was actually super fun and we had a great time; it really didn’t get us down. If that happened today, I don’t think we would have weathered it with the same sort of excitement, but we were just like, ‘Alright, no one’s here tonight, and you still gotta play a show.’ The biggest show that we’ve ever done was just last October at Radio City.”

What was that like?

“Crazy. It was totally wild. Leading up to it, I was nervous that we didn’t have a show to fill a space that big — and it was really rewarding to realize that we did.”