Another year, another auspicious marker on the timeline of Lake Street Drive's nascent world domination.
"Side Pony," its first release on Nonesuch Records — a tastefully hip Warner Music Group subsidiary that counts the Black Keys, Robert Plant, and David Byrne among its artists — will be released on Feb. 19. Then comes a tour that will see the quartet, whose members started playing together as undergrads at New England Conservatory in 2004, play big-deal venues like New York's Beacon Theatre and, on March 23, Boston's House of Blues.
"We've entered a bigger arena, and so some of it is a little daunting, but on the same note, we've been feeling these jolts of excitement for a couple years now at the beginning of every year," says drummer Mike Calabrese.
The milestones have come fast and furious for the group, which also includes vocalist Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, and trumpeter-guitarist Mike "McDuck" Olson. They blend elements from Motown, classic soul, and British Invasion rock into a winning sound that's high-energy and highly musical. After working in relative obscurity for years and releasing two albums independently, Lake Street Dive signed with Northampton-based label Signature Sounds Recordings, releasing albums in 2011 and 2014 that paved the way for its ongoing breakthrough. The fancy affiliation with Nonesuch was announced in October.
"It's become a really well-oiled machine, and it's almost been a blur. It's not just us in a van sort of screwing around anymore. It's pretty serious. We employ people now," says Calabrese.
"Side Pony" was produced by veteran helmsman Dave Cobb at Nashville's famous Sound Emporium studios. It's the glossiest, most radio-friendly effort the band has yet authored, but it still sounds very much like a Lake Street Dive album. Olson plays more guitar than in the past, and the warm glow of a Fender Rhodes keyboard heats tracks like "Can't Stop," which rides on a Curtis Mayfield groove. Lead-off single "Call Off Your Dogs" is paced by a funky guitar figure and a touch of disco synth colorings on the chorus. But its energy, and Price's confident vocals, are pure Lake Street Dive.
"We wanted to make sure that we sound like us, playing like we do live," Price says, noting that much of the record was cut by the band live in a room, without headphones. "But then we also did a lot of things with keyboard sounds and extra things, and background vocals to play with different sounds and change the sonic space."
Calabrese says more time and a bigger recording budget meant the band could realize a meatier sound with this record. "We just had more to work with sonically, and idea-wise. There were a couple times when Dave would be in there with us, even tracking, and he would just fill in maybe an acoustic guitar part. But everything [else] is us."
The heavy-gigging band is enjoying the fruits of its ongoing labors. "Bad Self Portraits," released in February 2014 after sitting in the can for over a year due to a contract dispute, was reviewed favorably in Rolling Stone and propelled two more years of heavy touring. There've already been several big homecoming moments, with sold-out shows at the Sinclair and the Roxy and a triumphant set at Boston Calling in 2014. The upcoming House of Blues date will be its biggest headlining show in town.
"It's a work in progress for sure, as far as dealing with the pressure — and the excitement, as well. Having this much excitement built up when you're getting success can also be a lot to handle," Price says. "We just are in a completely different position as a band than even two years ago, as far as supporting ourselves and how it would grow."
It's only recently, Price says, that Lake Street Dive's increasing popularity has translated to a degree of added security, such that its members can realistically envision what things might look like for the band five or 10 years down the road.
"Now we can kind of look at it with a lot more assurance as something that we can really dedicate ourselves to fully. It's something we always were emotionally invested in and we want to have it last forever, but realistically we didn't know what that would look like. Now we sort of do."
Lake Street Dive
At House of Blues, March 23. Resale tickets: $120 and up. 800-653-8000, www.livenation.com