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Lake Street Dive's McDuck talks songwriting and moving to Charleston

Feeling free in West Ashley

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Mike "McDuck" Olson is a colorful onstage dresser, but he's arguably the member of Lake Street Dive most able to blend into a crowd. So it's feasible that local fans may have filled their plate at the new Whole Foods' hot bar right next to a driving force behind their favorite band, and never been the wiser.

The band first visited town together in 2012, performing at the Pour House. The city became a regular stop on the Boston-and-New York-based band's touring schedule.

"I love Charleston so much that I moved here two-and-a-half years ago," reveals McDuck, over the phone with City Paper. "I have a house in West Ashley. My wife and I met in Boston, but when we started our family, we needed a change of pace. We found the people to be lovely, the food scene is a knockout, and the pace of life is more up our alley than in the Northeast."

Lake Street Dive may visit 100 cities a year, so McDuck didn't have to rely on Conde Nast's annual lists when choosing where to land.

"We found Charleston to be the perfect mix of that slower Southern thing — no disrespect — and everything that a really cosmopolitan city has to offer," he explains. "We absolutely love it."

The positive benefit for concert attendees is a relaxed, well-rested band. Now that McDuck lives here, Lake Street Dive carefully schedules an off-day either before or after a show in town. You may find singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, or drummer Mike Calabrese hanging on Folly Beach or posted up at Lewis Barbecue.

When the band plays the Music Hall this Saturday, they'll also have new permanent member, keyboardist Akie Bermiss — skeptical fans should pull up Akie's stunning cover of Shania Twain's "You're Still the One" at the band's Red Rocks headlining gig in September.

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Bermiss toured with the band after their 2016 release, Side Pony, and plays and contributes to 2018's Free Yourself Up.

"It proved to be so inspiring to play with him that [not having him] would have felt like a real step backwards," says McDuck. "Last spring as we started to tour Free Yourself Up, we realized it was all just via his good graces that he had continued to do all these things for us. Without any kind of formal declaration, we sat him down and said, 'What do you want, and does that include being a member of the band?' Fortunately, it did."

The addition of Bermiss changed how the band writes and plays. "It's freed us all up," says McDuck, referencing the band's album title. "It opens some doors. It's hard to do certain types of harmonic gestures with just bass and guitar — things that require a lot of the sustained chords that you can have on a synthesizer."

With a third melodic instrument onstage, McDuck says he's taking greater risks, including playing more lead guitar, "rather than just churning out chords."

"The overall addition of Akie has been nothing but beneficial, from a production and a live standpoint," McDuck says. "And he brings a good vibe and is just super fun to hang out with."

Joining a band as tight — musically and personally — as Lake Street Dive is no small feat. The group has always maintained a 'friends and fun first' mentality, clearly seen in social media feeds that date back to a prolific Vine channel in 2013 that featured their creative antics on tour. That closeness is most evident in their "wildly collaborative" songwriting — Rachael's lyrics about love and love lost sound genuinely hers, but they're often written by other members of the band.

"Mike and I talk extensively about what it's like to write from a woman's perspective," says McDuck. "We're writing to each other and for each other and with each other, and writing lyrics for Rachael as a human and as our friend. We want to be as genuine as possible with the tools at our disposal, and her voice is tool number one."

Almost all of Lake Street Dive's songs are officially cowritten, allowing for each member's strengths to shine.

"Even though Rachael is an incredibly versatile singer, we've all learned what we like to hear her sing," McDuck explains. "We know that Bridget plays bass virtuosoly, so we write these crazy basslines, or if we throw in a bar of three or bar of five, we know that Mike's not going to drop the time."

The collective mind-meld works. Fans who fell in love with the band's 2010 eponymous debut, or their 2012 breakthrough EP of covers, Fun Machine, haven't been driven away by a changing or more commercialized sound. The 10 songs on Free Yourself Up sound as if they could have originated a decade ago. The recordings are more polished, but the spirit and soulful, tight vibe that defines Lake Street Dive is still pure and free.

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