In an attempt to stay relevant and trendy, we have decided to shamelessly do our own Throwback Thursday by showcasing pieces we did of bands that have recently gained increased exposure from the musical world. Today, we present an interview with Mike Olsen from ETTG darlings Lake Street Dive. Before they were featured in Rolling Stone, supporting The Avett Brothers, and selling out venues across the United States, we here at Ear to the Ground shared their sound with our hip audience. Check out this throwback piece from May of 2013.
Lake Street Dive is an easy band to love. I was particularly taken by the awesome use of horns in a relatively simple folk/rock/pop setup. I had to know who was behind that sound. After looking up the band, I reached out to trumpet player (the first brass interview we’ve had on the site!) Mike Olsen (who also plays guitar) about the band and his role in it. Enjoy!
1) Tell us a little about Lake Street Dive? How long have you all been together?
LSD has been a band for nine or more years. We toured very little back then, and played regional shows, mostly Boston and New York for a long while, but since last fall, we’ve been full time, which is awesome. The story has it that we formed initially to be a “Free Country” band, you know, country music played like free jazz, but that’s totally ridiculous. I just wanted a bar band, and finally, we have it.
2) We saw you recently did some shows at SXSW. How was it this year? What was the highlight for you personally?
SXSW is so insane in intense, I frankly find it to be too much. My favorite part is always getting out of town once we’re done playing. However, he had a good official showcase this year finally, and our unofficial one, the Brooklyn Country Cantina, was super fun, got to hang out and listen to some of our Brooklyn music scene friends, which is always cool.
3) So you play both guitar and trumpet. How did you get your start on those instruments and which do you prefer?
My parents started me on trumpet back in third grade. They play saxophone and flute, and they figured someone in the family should make money on Easter Sunday, which is why they gave me a brass instrument. Guitar came after I graduated from college, so obviously there is a major discrepancy between how many practice hours I have on the two instruments, but frankly, it’s a good thing I can play both at an LSD since I get frustrated with both so easily. As the only horn player in the band, the rest of them don’t quite get the “chop fatigue” that can result from too many songs in a row that I play trumpet on, so it’s nice to be able to put the horn down and pick up the guitar, which is super fun to just bang on for a while. Of course, I don’t have the facility on it that I do on trumpet, so once I get sick of just playing chords, I get to pick up the horn again. It’s an awesome balance.
4) I’ll be honest, I wanted to interview you purely on your trumpet playing chops! Can you tell us a little about your trumpet background? Did you spend some time learning technical jazz, or is that just something that comes out from the overall sound of LSD?
I’ve had a pretty wide range of training. My dad teaches and plays jazz, so he and I used to play over Aebersold records all the time together. After a while, I joined a local Twin Cities big band full of old men that had been playing the same book of music from back when the band was gigging in dance halls, literally during the swing era, which was a real education all to itself. However, I was learning classical music with my private teachers, and did short stints in orchestras, and continued doing so in college, at the University of Wisconsin, although I played in the jazz bands there too. I had never really had much patience for legit music, so when I transferred to the New England Conservatory (which is where I met the rest of LSD) I was glad to be able to focus, for the first time ever, strictly on improvising.
5) For aspiring horn players out there, whose string-playing friends don’t think they have a place, what advice do you have on incorporating brass with traditional 4 and 5 piece bands?
You have to be able to multi task on the horn. It’s not enough to just be a great improviser, since then you would do a lot of standing around waiting for an open section, or for the singer to stop singing. You almost have to learn how to comp, or play the role of a lead guitar player, someone who plays supporting lines, parts, harmonies, leads, counter melodies, solos, the works. Blend is also so important, especially with your singer. If I had stuck out too much, and stole focus from Rachael, LSD’s singer and obvious main attraction, it would be far too much to try and make sense of at any given time, since she is so dyadic, everyone in the band is. I spend my time with the trumpet figuring out ways to fold myself into what Rachael is doing, or ways to be a single unit with Bridget, on the bass, and to always make sure I’m subservient to the sound of the band. This is NOT a traditional trumpet role, but it is mine with LSD.
6) Did you write the horn part for “Clear a Space?” Can you tell us a little about how you write parts for brass?
As I recall, Mike Calabrese, our drummer, had more to do with the writing of that bass line than just about anyone else, next to Bridget, who put into notes what Mike was coming up with. No, that is another example of a moment where I needed to function as an extension of the bass part, to give support rather than steal attention. I’d be crazy if I had come up with that part, it’s so intervalic and goes through so much of the song, it’s a real blow for the face/chops. What trumpet played would intentionally do that to him or herself?? Generally speaking, when I come up with a part for myself that isn’t strictly in line with the bass or vocals, I draw most of my inspiration on 60s soul horn writing. Those parts, even though they’re usually written for a full section of horns, is so idiosyncratic and hip, that it totally fixes the sound of the band in an earlier era, and when appropriate, kicks the tune up a notch.
7) What do you all have planned in the coming year? Do you plan on an extended tour?
2013 is essentially ALL touring. We just got off an almost 7 week tour, which was really long. We get a week, at most, off at any given time, then it’s back out for a month or so. Summertime is festival time, of course, and we are going to be hitting a ton of great festivals, then heading off to Europe for the first time this coming fall. It’s a ton of work, of course, but we have a great booking and management team, and they’re keeping us busy playing great venues for great crowds. Hopefully it’s all going somewhere!
8) What would you like our readers to know about your career and/or LSD’s music?
LSD’s music is traditionally so difficult to summarize and categorize, I know everyone has heard this a million times, no band wants to put their music into a stylistic box, but nothing quite fits every little niche of LSD’s songs. It’s pop-y and fun, that’s sort of what I want everyone to know, and that it’s worth checking out live, when possible. I like our recordings, but nothing compares to our live shows. Check out lakestreetdive.com for our calendar, to see when we’re in a city near you. I hope no one regrets it!