Fourteen years in, rock-pop-soul group Lake Street Dive celebrates its first top 10 album on the Billboard 200, as Free Yourself Up arrives at No. 8 on the chart dated May 19. “We’re completely stoked,” says the band’s standup bassist Bridget Kearney. Further, the album gave the act its biggest week yet in terms of equivalent album units earned, and traditional album sales, bowing with 32,000 units (of which 30,000 where in sales), in the tracking week ending may 10, according to Nielsen Music.
Billboard caught up with Kearney after the five-piece act kicked off of its six-month tour May 6 in Kingston, New York. The following day, the band made a visit to The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, where they performed the set’s lead single “Good Kisser,” which has given the act its highest-charting song ever on the Adult Alternative Songs tally (it climbs 18-12).
Congratulations on the success of Free Yourself Up! What was your reaction to the news?
We heard that it was doing well in pre-sales and then the momentum picked up in the first week after the album had come out. We do what we can on the front side of things and work hard on the music and put our hearts into it, so it felt good to see people reacting this way to it. We’re completely stoked.
You took a more political approach with some of the songs on this album, especially “Shame Shame Shame,” “I Can Change” and “Baby Don’t Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts.” Why did you guys choose to go that route?
That development is kind of two-fold. One reason is we’re a little older and more mature, and we’re also looking more at the world outside of ourselves than we were in our teens and twenties. And then another reason is the time that we’re existing in right now. We crossed this threshold where (the news) was something that we were all obsessing over and concerned about and reflecting on in a way that we hadn’t in the past.
As a writer, you always want what you’re singing about to be something that you genuinely feel strongly about, and that was how we were feeling when we made this album. It’s been cool to see the reactions at shows because we’ve never done that before and didn’t know how the crowd would react. For “Shame Shame Shame,” there’s a part at the end where we say “change is coming oh yeah”—that’s meant to be an empowering chorus that people can sing along to and now we’re seeing that at shows.
Lake Street Dive has been recording music together for about 14 years now. How do you think the band has changed since you began recording together? Have things gotten easier? More challenging?
With the exception of Akie (Bermiss), who’s new, the four of us started the band in music school together and I think we still, and will always be, students of music. So there’s always something new to obsess over as students of music. There might be a new style we want to explore, or music production, which was something we did on this record that was new. We were really invigorated by that process (of self-producing) and by having the playground of the studio all to ourselves. I think it’s an avenue that we’ll continue to explore for our next couple of records because we had so much fun doing it and we still have a lot more things we’d love to experiment with.
Was this your first time self-producing a record? What was that process like?
Our first album that we made 14 years ago was technically self-produced because we didn’t have a producer on hand. We were in the beginning stages of recording music. This was our first time after working with a couple of producers who were great. Sam Kassirer made Bad Self Portraits with us and then Dave Cobb made Side Pony with us. So we got to watch them and see the kind of techniques that they were using and then take those ideas and go in the studio without a producer and try our own hand at it.
I think we were nervous at first about our inexperience and that we might not all agree on where things should go. Sometimes having a producer in there is helpful for being the deciding vote on things. But we were surprised at how easy it was to work together in that way. Having a collaborative team meant we could hand things off to one another. It was so nice to not be a solo artist making all those decisions, and be able to defer to the wisdom of the group in times of need.
That sounds like something very unique to Lake Street Dive. That collaborative dynamic couldn’t work with many other bands because there’s always a frontman or leader that would call the shots.
We’re really lucky to have landed in this equality that we have. It’s always been that way. We’ve tried to continue along that path, and fortunately, we all believe in each other and are fans of one another’s musicianship. And of course in our 14 years of being a band we’ve discovered certain secrets to our balance—our astrological signs all match with one another, for example.
You guys recently added a fifth member to the band—Akie Bermiss. What has it been like having him in the band? Is he a permanent fixture?
We’ve pretty much invited him to stay forever. He’s only been with us for the last year so certainly he was jumping into a situation where there was a lot of inside jokes to be caught up on and a familiarity, both personally and musically, that would be challenging for anyone. But he just magically fit in so perfectly.
Outside of your cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One,” which Akie is performing on the tour, are there any other new songs or covers you’ll play?
We’re just focusing on these new songs and figuring out the way that they work well together on this leg of the tour. I’m sure later in the summer and fall we’ll be doing some different stuff. We actually have a bunch of new songs that aren’t on Free Yourself Up, so at some point we’ll bring those into the rotation. Then we have a couple other cover possibilities in the works that we’ve experimented with in rehearsals.
Can you share any?
Maybe I should save it. I’ll just say this much: Bowie.
At the Brooklyn Steel show on May 10, Rachael mentioned that you all are involved with an organization called HeadCount. How did you get involved with that?
We’ve had HeadCount come to our shows for a couple of years now. They have a table set up and people can register to vote right then and there. And after the show they’ll come up to us and say how many people registered to vote at our show. It’s awesome that there’s a concrete step that’s being taken at the show right there. It feels even better to have them on board now that we have this aspect to our music that’s relating to that too. They’re doing great work.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.