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A “side pony,” the hairstyle that Lake Street Dive’s Nonesuch debut is named after, is the kind of one-sided Cubism-worthy ’do that requires unwavering self-confidence to pull off. The foursome is not referring to the demure, swept-to-the-side fashion Taylor Swift occasionally sports, but more the outré look of, say, Napoleon Dynamite’s friend Deb. However, a side pony, for them, is really a metaphor for their philosophy and personality as a band, one that seamlessly incorporates R&B, pop, ’60s-era rock, and soul into a unique, dance-party-ready mix. As bassist Bridget Kearney puts it, “When we were settling on the album title, that one just stuck out to us as embodying the band’s spirit. We’ve always been this somewhat uncategorizable, weird, outlying genre-less band. That’s the statement we wanted to make with this record: be yourself.”
Guitarist and trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson echoes her sentiment: “It came to mean something larger to us than the original image. The line, ‘I’m just living my life, I rock a side pony’ has a literal connotation: ‘Don’t judge me for my silly hairstyle.’ But it has also come to mean anything you’re doing for the sheer joy of it. We have always ‘rocked our side pony.’ Now we have a convenient phrase for it.”
The members of Lake Street Dive—named after an avenue of seedy bars in Olson’s native Minneapolis—met in 2004 as students at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. Powerhouse singer Rachael Price fronted the quartet and drummer Michael Calabrese filled out the rhythm section. Though they were all studying jazz, their work together took an altogether different shape, informed by their love of classic pop, particularly from the ’60s, when pop could mean the Beatles, the Supremes, Dusty Springfield, or the Beach Boys. They recognized the virtuosity—and timelessness—in the efforts of studio musicians like Muscle Shoals’ legendary Swampers and L.A.’s Wrecking Crew. Similarly, their original repertoire combined musical sophistication with an easy going groove.