STORY BY FERN BRODKIN
For 21st Century Media
Lake Street Dive is not an overnight success story. The band was together for nine years before their video of the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back” went viral, catapulting them to the next level.
The YouTube video, which now has had nearly 2.5 million views, took a while to catch on.
“It spent a lot of time up online, lost in anonymity before anything happened to it,” said Mike Olson, a.k.a. McDuck, in a phone interview from his hotel room in Asheville, N.C., where the band was to perform that evening.
The irony is that the band members were oblivious to what was going on. They were holed up in a recording studio in rural Maine that had no Internet or cell phone service at the time the video started to explode.
“So imagine our surprise…” continues McDuck, the band’s guitarist and trumpet player. “We’re leaving the studio — Great North Sound Society – and we’re driving back into civilization and everyone’s turning on their phones and all of a sudden you hear ‘ping, ping’ — you know, all the little notifications going off. And everyone looks at their phone and says ‘oh my God. What’s happening?’ Our manager (is) saying ‘have you guys seen this?’ Friends are saying ‘I saw your video re-tweeted by Kevin Bacon.’
“So we had no idea it was blowing up,” explains McDuck. “We went to Maine with no pressure, no expectations, with a very small fan base. We left Maine two weeks later with a YouTube video that had a million hits. It was pretty cool, actually,” he laughs.
In the crazy, competitive world known as the music business, sometimes luck like that can be your best friend. But would their new fans adapt to the realization that the band has a more filled-out sound live and on recordings and also played predominately original music?
“Really, the stripped down video is a way for us to showcase what the best parts of the band are, in our opinion… We’ve never felt like we needed to do more produced videos to reflect what a person would see live. We were of the opinion, that hopefully if someone sees that very stripped-down version of the band they will see what’s important to us, like the fact that Rachael (Price) is a knockout singer, that we work really hard on our background vocal singing… that’s part of the arrangement that comes through on the simple videos… and so they show up to a gig thinking ‘great, I’m gonna hear a lot of great singing,’ and then hopefully they will be even more taken with the full band sound — the sound of a bigger rock production.”
Since “Bad Self Portraits” (Signature Sounds Recording, 2014) released in February, the band has experienced further growth. Previously most everyone coming to shows found out about the band through the video, but since then they’ve had more exposure.
“I don’t know if all bands experience this, but people love to tell us… where they (first) heard of us, why they’re at the show. It’s pretty diverse nowadays how people heard of us — it’s either a friend turned them on to us or they saw us on ‘The Colbert Report’ or on Letterman or they saw us on the ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ concert film… but for the longest time the only thing that people said was they saw the ‘I Want You Back’ video on YouTube.”
The band is now enjoying the perks of their increased popularity.
“(On) the album release tour we did in the spring, the four of us were driving around with one crew person in a Sprinter Van doing crazy drives between, like, Minneapolis and Seattle. Sleeping practically on top of one another in hotel rooms. Playing great shows, playing to really excited crowds. But it was a slog. It was a nine-week tour driving ourselves.
“Here at the end of the year we’re not (playing) quite as many days in a row because we’re concerned about our longevity. We’re touring on a bus. We have a three-person crew now.”
McDuck adds: “This year has been a really significant year as far as our growth, but it’s also really cool to reflect on what the different individual scenes have meant to us over the 10 years as a band. We played Milkboy in Ardmore a handful of times… (Philadelphia) is (an) example of one of these cities (where) we have a lot of history in the last 10 years playing to no one, playing to empty rooms, playing tiny venues. And over a really long, natural progression people started showing up. And venues started taking notice. We started selling tickets in advance instead of having to call friends and family and say ‘please come tonight.’
“The YouTube video, the sort of meteoric success of this year, has (enabled us to) play great shows in cities we’ve never been before, but it’s more satisfying for a place like Philly and Asheville, and certainly Boston and New York, where it seems like we’ve really paid our dues and really put in a lot of effort to build a scene for ourselves. We are very excited to play two nights at Union Transfer.”
IF YOU GO
What: Lake Street Dive
Where: Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia.
When: Tuesday, Nov. 18 and Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 8).
Tickets: $20 and are available at www.utphilly.com or by calling (215) 232-2100.