How To Create A Song: Lake Street Dive Style

The band Lake Street Dive struggled in its early days to use its jazz education without scaring off audiences. For inspiration, they turned to another band, known for transforming the sound of pop.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're hearing throughout today's program from Lake Street Dive. The music group has two men, two women, and we'll talk here with them about how to create a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GO DOWN SMOOTH")

LAKE STREET DIVE: (Singing) Would it be true to say that I ordered you? Or was it you that ordered me?

INSKEEP: Like this one. They use jazz instrumentation, more or less - trumpet, stand-up bass, guitar, some drums, voice. They play pop and soul, and draw big following.

LAKE STREET DIVE: (Singing) That you might be my problem, not my love.

INSKEEP: These musicians, all in the neighborhood of 30, met at the New England Conservatory of Music. The founder, Mike Olson, tried the experimental jazz that their education encouraged.

MIKE OLSON: And we would just go blah la la la la. So it was like - it was just - it was a - it was a free-jazz sandwich.

INSKEEP: Until they had an epiphany.

OLSON: That's not what people want to listen to.

INSKEEP: The music had no hook, as it's said in pop music. So they listened and learned from other musicians. An old Beatles song inspired Lake Street Dive's new song, "You Go Down Smooth," even though their creation sounds nothing like the Beatles.

OLSON: So, "You Go Down Smooth" is based on, "Got to Get You into My Life." Paul says, that this song is like an ode to smoking pot. But veiled, you know. It's not like, "I love marijuana."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Did I tell you I need you, every single day of my life? Got to get you into my life.

OLSON: So I wanted to see if I could write a song that was a veiled ode to some vice. "You Go Down Smooth" is kind of like this - it could be about drinking but it could also just be about, you know, being a love song.

LAKE STREET DIVE: (Singing) And I'm afraid to need you so. And I'm too sober not to know.

INSKEEP: The group is Lake Street Dive, and we're hearing parts of our conversation with them throughout today's program.

LAKE STREET DIVE: (Singing) Cause you go down smooth.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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Lake Street Dive And The Chemistry Of Harmony

Lake Street Dive's latest album is Bad Self Portraits. i i

Lake Street Dive's latest album is Bad Self Portraits. Jarrod McCabe/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Jarrod McCabe/Courtesy of the artist
Lake Street Dive's latest album is Bad Self Portraits.

Lake Street Dive's latest album is Bad Self Portraits.

Jarrod McCabe/Courtesy of the artist

More With Lake Street Dive

Listen to the Story: On Songwriting

Listen to the Story: Sold-Out Crowds

Lake Street Dive is two men and two women, all in the neighborhood of 30, who met at the New England Conservatory of Music. As a group they use jazz instrumentation, more or less — trumpet, stand-up bass, guitar, some drums — but they play pop and soul, and draw a big following doing it. In fact, a video of them performing on a Boston street corner has been viewed more than 2 million times.

"If you put background vocals on anything, people are excited about it," drummer Mike Calabrese says, referring to the lush vocal arrangements that dominate the band's latest album, Bad Self Portraits. "There's something about humans singing in harmony that is just inherently joyful."

The members of Lake Street Dive spoke with NPR's Steve Inskeep throughout Monday's episode of Morning Edition, touching on their early shows (in which the other bands were sometimes the only audience members) and how they found their pop sound after an experiment with free jazz. Hear more of their stories at the audio links.

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