Lake Street Dive recorded their first CD after they won a prize in the 2009 international John Lennon Songwriting Contest.
It all started in 2004. The group — singer Rachael Price, trumpeter and guitarist Michael “McDuck” Olson, drummer Mike Calabrese and bassist Bridget Kearney, then all jazz students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston — formed as a side project between academic rehearsals and concerts.
It was Olson who first proposed the idea of the four as a unit — he even had the name in mind.
For most of them, it would be their first attempt at writing song lyrics, but the instrumental portion came more naturally.
“And the rest was history,” Kearney said.
The four-piece multigenre band is set to play at 8:15 p.m. Friday in the Amphitheater.
Attempting to create a stylistic focus proved challenging at first.
With a base in the world of jazz, improvisation came naturally to the group, but it also left them with several different threads that needed to be woven together.
“Some of it was kind of folky, some it was kind of was somewhat avant-garde,” Kearney said. “It was really a weird mix of music. The main thing was we enjoyed being around each other, enjoyed each other’s musicianship, which got us over the hump of not being a good band for a while.”
Soon enough, they were on the upswing. Lake Street Dive established their reputation at small shows around Boston. In the meantime, they were trying their hand at contest submissions — including the John Lennon competition. A contender and eventual finalist in the “jazz” category, Lake Street Dive won the opportunity to print 1,000 CDs for free. The resulting demo was the product of their very first studio sessions.
“That’s a record that we don’t sell anymore because we were still in our sort of early stages,” Kearney said. “It was a good learning experience and kept us going for a while.”
Now, they’ve moved out of the bounds of pure jazz, but the genre still remains at the core of their song structure, especially in Price’s vocals.
“We’re improvisers; it’s the way that we approach music,” Kearney said. “Even if we are writing a song that’s outside of the stylistic bounds of jazz, we’re still playing it a way that’s improvisational and is different every time we play it. That is one of the things that keeps performing exciting for us, and hopefully keeps the performances exciting for the audiences, as well.”
The group gravitates toward a similar process when creating new music, which begins with solitary writing and concludes in “workshopping” the arrangements they’ve created.
“(On) our next album we’re working toward, we’re doing a lot of co-writing, which is a new thing for us,” Kearney said. “After 13 years, we finally decided we’d try writing together.”
Kearney said the cohesion of the band members is the primary reason for their success. Being able to operate as a unit on stage every night with her “exciting and powerful” bandmates has given Kearney motivation to stay in tune with fans.
“Everyone is pretty dynamic and exciting on stage,” she said. “That’s certainly one thing that keeps me going, is being able to look around at my bandmates and see that they’re really deep in the music and kind of try to vibe off of that.”
In the past, the band didn’t expect the amount of recognition they’ve received. Like Kearney said, “our music was pretty weird when we started.”
“I never thought that we would reach such a large audience,” Kearney said. “Mostly it’s just encouraging, especially the way we came to this position. We never really had to make any artistic sacrifices. Eventually the audience came around to us. We never really had to dumb it down or anything to try and seek this fame.”