HigherGround Music
Lake Street Dive

Higher Ground & evenko Present

Lake Street Dive

River Whyless

Friday, June 16, 2017

Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 7:30 pm

Ben and Jerry's Concerts on The Green at Shelburne Museum

Shelburne, VT

$40 advance, plus $4 day of show

This event is all ages

Children 12 and under are FREE! Glass, pets, & outside alcohol are prohibited. Blankets and food are permitted. All events are rain or shine. All dates, acts, and ticket prices subject to change without notice. Presented by 104.7 The Point

Lake Street Dive
Lake Street Dive
A "side pony," the hairstyle that Lake Street Dive's Nonesuch debut is named after, is the kind of one-sided Cubism-worthy 'do that requires unwavering self-confidence to pull off. The foursome is not referring to the demure, swept-to-the-side fashion Taylor Swift occasionally sports, but more the outré look of, say, Napoleon Dynamite's friend Deb. However, a side pony, for them, is really a metaphor for their philosophy and personality as a band, one that seamlessly incorporates R&B, pop, '60s-era rock, and soul into a unique, dance-party-ready mix. As bassist Bridget Kearney puts it, "When we were settling on the album title, that one just stuck out to us as embodying the band's spirit. We've always been this somewhat uncategorizable, weird, outlying genre-less band. That's the statement we wanted to make with this record: be yourself."

Guitarist and trumpeter Michael "McDuck" Olson echoes her sentiment: "It came to mean something larger to us than the original image. The line, 'I'm just living my life, I rock a side pony' has a literal connotation: 'Don't judge me for my silly hairstyle.' But it has also come to mean anything you're doing for the sheer joy of it. We have always 'rocked our side pony.' Now we have a convenient phrase for it."

The members of Lake Street Dive—named after an avenue of seedy bars in Olson's native Minneapolis—met in 2004 as students at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Powerhouse singer Rachael Price fronted the quartet and drummer Michael Calabrese filled out the rhythm section. Though they were all studying jazz, their work together took an altogether different shape, informed by their love of classic pop, particularly from the '60s, when pop could mean the Beatles, the Supremes, Dusty Springfield, or the Beach Boys. They recognized the virtuosity—and timelessness—in the efforts of studio musicians like Muscle Shoals' legendary Swampers and L.A.'s Wrecking Crew. Similarly, their original repertoire combined musical sophistication with an easy going groove.

For several years, the group was a part-time proposition, with everyone living in different cities. (Calabrese and Olson eventually returned to Boston, while Price and Kearney migrated to Brooklyn.) In 2012, Lake Street Dive became a full-time combo after a YouTube video of the quartet acoustically performing the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back" on a suburban Boston street corner went viral. The arrangement was slowed-down and torchy, a little melancholic, more late-night New Orleans jazz than AM radio pop, and upwards of three million people were enchanted by it.

Producer T Bone Burnett, as impressed as everyone else, invited Lake Street Dive to perform on the 2013 Another Day, Another Time concert event he curated at New York City's Town Hall to celebrate the Coen brothers' folk revival-themed movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. Lake Street Dive made the most of its one-song slot, with its performance of the Olson-penned "You Go Down Smooth," garnering morning-after acclaim from the New Yorker, the Daily News, and the New York Times. The band looked striking too, like a retro lounge band that could have sprung from the surreal imagination of David Lynch. That star-making moment has been preserved on the Nonesuch soundtrack to Showtime's documentary of the concert.

Side Pony, recorded in the winter of 2015, has an exhilarating feel from start to finish. For listeners familiar with Lake Street Dive, it's a natural evolution of the band's sound. The arrangements offer a knowing nod to the past while the lyrics tackle the pitfalls of modern romance in a manner that's often more playful than rueful. And Price's vocals have a teasing swagger to them. Neither her heart nor her hairstyle will be messed with.


Singer Price agrees: "We're the happy breakup band. We like to write about our lives and real things but we always like music that makes you dance and lifts you up. And those things don't need to be separate from one another. A sad song doesn't need to be in a minor key and slow. That's something we try to blend and do as much as possible." The album track "Spectacular Failure," she notes, is sort of a "cheerful parody" of a hapless lothario. "The story and specifics aren't true but it was inspired by a real person who we turned into this mythical, terrible character."

Side Pony is produced by the eclectic Nashville-based Dave Cobb, whose credits include Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and the Secret Sisters. Cobb's working method was to keep the recording fast and loose, as live-in-the-studio as possible, and to embrace the unorthodox.

This provided Lake Street Dive with a welcome challenge: an opportunity to experiment with sound and arrangements and to collaborate on songwriting in a way the band had never attempted before. For earlier discs, the band members each wrote their own material and by the time they'd all arrive in the studio, the songs would have been meticulously arranged—and then the group would simply record them.

But Cobb encouraged them to bring only the most basic demos. The band showed up in Nashville with a lot of ideas, 28 songs, for their first session, and quickly discarded more than half. After a break from recording to go tour Australia, the process took an even more freewheeling turn as the band labored collectively to come up with the final cuts for the disc, including the title track, the infectious sing-along "Hell Yeah," and the early '70s-styles funk of "Can't Stop."

At one point, Cobb encouraged the band to scour the dollar bins at used record shops, and then spin their finds in the studio, dropping the needle at random in search of inspiration. "Can't Stop," in particular, grew out of that exercise, spurred on by the wobbly sound of a warped old soul record they'd unearthed.

Kearney explains, "Dave wanted us to come without any preconceived idea of how we were going to do the songs, so we made only campfire-style sketch demos—me, McDuck, and Mike strumming guitar and all of us singing the melody. We could then easily slow a song down, change the chorus to minor—we could make some pretty broad strokes in the studio, just following a much more intuitive approach to finishing a song." She deadpans, "We used to be stiffer, more analytical conservatory kids. Now we like to use our conservatory skills for good, not evil."

Calabrese adds, "We would be working on a tune, trying stuff out, and Dave would stop us in the middle of the song and say, 'Let's try it this way instead.' His process was mercurial, changing direction quickly, going from 'we don't have anything' to 'we've got it!'" He continues, "We weren't always so sure. But then we'd listen to a comp and we'd agree that he'd heard something we hadn't. That's what good producers do: they capture lightning in a bottle."

Price says, "We realized working in the studio this way that we each have our own strengths: Bridget is a really fantastic lyricist. She's fast and she can come up with a lot of ideas. McDuck is the same way with harmony, with changes and chords. He can come up with a lot of options in a short period of time. It was great to see, through this particular recording process, how beautifully our individual strengths complement each other."
River Whyless
"We stopped clinging to our individual visions," says Ryan O'Keefe. "All our songs and ideas got thrown into one pot from which anyone and everyone was free to draw."

"Nobody felt as though they were compromising because it was all completely new and unexplored territory," adds Daniel Shearin.

"We were mashing songs together," says Halli Anderson. "We were co-writing choruses and trading verses and switching instruments."

"There was an energy," adds Alex McWalters. "And the songs just kept coming."

When River Whyless set out to write We All The Light (out August 26th on Roll Call Records), its three original members – O'Keefe, Anderson and McWalters – were already accustomed to "collaborating" with each other. Collaboration is a word often used to glamorize a much less appealing process: compromise. By definition, compromise requires mutual concessions. It means one must listen at least as much as one speaks. It's a give and take, a back and forth, an amendment of individual visions for the sake of something greater. With We All The Light, River Whyless bought into that process.

In O'Keefe and Anderson the Asheville, NC band already had two accomplished songwriters. In McWalters, an idiosyncratic percussionist. They were accustomed to the slog of progress, to the necessary but often arduous give and take that ensures only the very best ideas survive. But when Shearin joined the band in 2012, River Whyless acquired not only an accomplished bass player and multi-instrumentalist, but also a third singer/songwriter. The new dynamic added yet another strong personality to an already potent lot, and the result was a period of creative gestation wherein the band's four distinct musical voices struggled to coalesce into a single vision. In short, River Whyless worked for three years to compile a couple albums' worth of songs that everybody liked, but not everybody loved.  

It wasn't till the band decamped to Maine in the summer of 2015 that We All The Light began to take shape. Set up in a woodshed, the only objective was to start fresh. New songs, new ideas. The slate was clean, and their minds, coerced by creative desperation, were open. Every morning, before entering the woodshed, they helped Joe, their host, haul cedar logs across the property. Joe was building another shed. It seemed an apt metaphor. The logs were large, and it took four people to haul them, and the ground was uneven. But it wasn't complicated, as long as there was communication. One log at a time, piece by piece. This made sense to them. There was a newfound clarity. Compromise developed into actual collaboration.

In an attempt to further explore the virtues of collaboration, the band enlisted, for the first time, an outside producer.

Enter Justin Ringle, a musician and producer who was, ironically, accustomed to running his own show. Having written and self-produced five successful albums as the lead singer/songwriter behind Horse Feathers, Ringle had every right to expect a certain level of autonomy while working on We All The Light. But what proved Ringle's greatest asset, aside from the obvious musical prowess his resume displays, was not necessarily his ability to impose his own creative vision. Rather, it was his ability to listen, to adapt and improvise, to effectively apprehend the level of complexity with which a band comprised of three songwriters and one discriminating percussionist tends to express itself. Ringle, embracing the collaborative spirit, understood that his job involved as much emotional orchestration as it did musical. He recognized how much love the band members had for each other and for their craft, and how that love, more than anything else, was the band's greatest weakness; how the care and concern, expressed in different ways, was the thing that so often impeded their progress.

Ringle and the band worked with engineer Kevin Ratterman (who also mixed the album) in La La Land, a studio in Louisville, KY, where the album's sonic foundation was recorded to tape. Then the group decamped again, this time to Ringle's home in Astoria, Oregon, where they built a studio in the living room. Here is where they explored what Ringle recognized as the band's strongest common denominator: its growing interest in global music. At its core, We All The Light is still very much a folk album. The global music influence is subtle, but significant in that it ties the record together, if not sonically, then spiritually. Which is not to say We All The Light is a religious album. It's not that explicit. But it was music created outside the United States—of Africa and India and Asia—that inspired the band to experiment, to explore, and, most importantly, to have some fun. In "Kalangala," for example, a track that includes tabla and kalimba, the band's three songwriters sing in unison: "Here we are unbound," a line that seems an apt encapsulation of the album's musical and emotional attitude.

With three superlative singers and songwriters in O'Keefe, Anderson and Shearin, River Whyless consciously worked to blur the designation of a lead singer on We All The Light, deftly blending the three voices throughout the record. The trio's vocals intertwine and layer together with gorgeous harmonies, rarely working alone. The vocal synergy is in many ways another instrument on We All The Light, adding additional colors and textures to the sonically adventurous mix.

The band's music has already gained fans in the press. NPR Music's Bob Boilen says the "immensely talented band from Asheville, N.C., was my favorite discovery at this year's Americana Music Festival. River Whyless builds its music around fiddle, guitar and harmonies, with imagination and textures that set the band apart from many of its acoustic and folk-based peers." Paste called their self-titled EP one of the best of 2015, saying "sometimes it can be hard to stand out in the crowd when you're producing experimental folk rock. Plenty of groups are capable of harmonizing well and turning simplistic rhythms into infectious anthems, but it's rare to find artists who can evoke as much emotion as River Whyless." River Whyless will make their Newport Folk Festival debut this summer, and also return to the Americana Music Festival in Nashville.

We All The Light is an album about heeding the need to adapt, to change, and, yes, to relinquish. It's about submitting to the pains of compromise in order to honor the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's about taking to heart the virtues of equality and learning how much more complicated that can be in practice than in theory. But also how rewarding.
Venue Information:
Ben and Jerry's Concerts on The Green at Shelburne Museum
6000 Shelburne Rd
Shelburne, VT, 05482