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College internships can run the gamut. They can lead you into a career or dissuade you from pursuing one altogether. In 2004, while still attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson, and drummer Mike Calabrese joined forces to perform as what they dubbed a “free country band,” where they intended to play country music in an improvised, avant-garde style. As it goes with many college-years experiments, it didn’t stick, but the fervid foursome pushed forward in continuing to develop their own sound. They quickly graduated to a bona fide band cultivating a buzz with infectious concerts, creative covers, and complex, groovy originals. Through their mutual influences and complimentary counterpoints, their sound matured into a harmonious fusion, as if Berry Gordy produced the Beatles in Nashville’s RCA Studio.
If starting a band and shaping their sound was an internship and bachelor’s degree, self-releasing records and organizing U.S. tours would be their master’s and doctorate. They self-released 2007’s In This Episode... and 2008’s Promises, Promises before joining Signature Sounds, who put out 2010’s Lake Street Dive and 2014’s Bad Self Portraits. (The latter slotted them on the Billboard charts—No. 18 in the 200 and No. 5 in Top Rock Albums.) They then signed to Nonesuch, where they’ve dropped three more albums—most notably 2016’s Side Pony, which put them atop the Top Rock Albums chart, while 2021’s Obviously netted them their highest single, with “Hypotheticals” hitting No. 2 on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart.
And while the band has continued to evolve, experiment, and expand their signature sound, they have kept to their core identity—having fun. They seem never to miss a Halloween dress-up show, and still aren’t gun-shy about covering classics and making them their own. Setlists are often littered with audience requests and reinterpretations of the Beatles, Hall & Oates, George Michael, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis, Shania Twain, the Pointer Sisters, the Jackson Five, the Kinks, Steely Dan, Annie Lennox, Sly & the Family Stone, and countless others.
The afternoon before their second consecutive sellout at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney and James Cornelison welcomed PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a casual gear chat. Kearney explained how she uses a pair of octave pedals through her standup double bass, and what she’s doing with four tuners! Plus, she explains what restarted her slow-burn courtship with electric bass. Then, Cornelison walks us through his setup, which includes leftover pieces from cofounding guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson and a ratty pickup bought off a former PG staffer. It both honors the band’s catalog and carves his own musical fingerprint.