Carole King’s “Tapestry” continues to weave its own spell 50 years after the landmark album was released on Feb. 10, 1971. To mark the anniversary, Variety turned to a group that has proudly worn its Carole King influence on its collective sleeve, asking if the members would pick out a song from the half-century-old pop blockbuster to perform in honor of the occasion.
The band happily obliged, with singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney and keyboardist Akie Bermiss assembling on the eve of the occasion at our behest to put down an exclusive iPhone version of “So Far Away,” one of the many tracks from “Tapestry” that stands out as an individual classic in the canon of singer-songwriters. Watch the video, above.
“Tapestry” is “a masterwork of American music,” says Bermiss, the newest addition to the band. “If you want to learn how songs go, there’s the Gershwins and there’s Jerome Kern, and then when you get to the ’60s and ‘70s, right up there at the top is Carole King.”
Down from a quintet to a trio for this rendering, Lake Street Dive didn’t take a lot of time to whip up a group arrangement of the number, since Price has already been singing it on her own time throughout quarantine, with its theme of isolation fitting the times, even if the lyrics’ specific nod to being on the road doesn’t quite apply at the moment.
“I’ve been playing this song, like, every day in quarantine for eight months,” says Price. “It’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It really soothes me. I’m in love with every song on ‘Tapestry,’ but as a singer, I think there’s just something perfect about ‘So Far Away’ that makes it feels so good to sing. As a touring musician, there are a lot of relatable lyrics, and not a lot of people can write about touring in a way that doesn’t feel a little bit contrived. There’s nothing trite about this song — it captures the feeling of touring and feeling really lonely so well.”
One of the most powerful young frontwomen in pop, Price had a chance to sing with King on two occasions in 2019, when she stepped in to join the veteran singer and the Roots as a backup singer on a “Tonight Show” appearance and also at a Central Park gig.
Singing with King “was the thrill of my life,” says Price. Did she get fangirl moments in? “I did… The best moment for me was while we were at (the Jimmy) Fallon (show), and they said, ‘Come into the green room. She wants to go over the background vocal parts.’ I was standing over her, watching her hands play piano, as she was giving me notes about which harmonies to sing (on ‘It’s Too Late’). She’s wonderful and kind — and she’s a very enthusiastic person. What really came across to me is that she’s so like grateful for the songs that she’s written, which was something I hadn’t necessarily observed in a songwriter before: them expressing gratitude openly about their songs and how good these songs have been to them. She was like, ‘I’m so happy about the song, and I can’t believe it’s here and I wrote it and it’s still doing all this stuff for me.’ That was a really beautiful thing to see.”
It’s no secret to fans that all the members of Lake Street Dive have serious chops, as would befit a group whose original members met and formed the band while attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Price and Kearney work with music students themselves now when they’re not recording or on the road, and they have a way of working “Tapestry” into their lesson plans.
“With younger vocal students that I have, this is probably the first record I tell them to go to when they want to learn repertoire,” says Price. “They’re like, ‘What song should I sing?’ And I say, ‘You should learn anything off of “Tapestry.” But you should learn Carole King’s singing (generally), too.’ I think she’s such an important singer — and maybe not always really thought of as that particularly, because she’s so known for her songwriting, but to me she has one of the most pure, emotional voices I’ve ever heard.”
Adds Kearney, “I think that, consciously, I’ve written things that are like, ‘I’m trying to do something as good as Carole King right now.’ Actually, we were just doing a workshop the other night for University of Iowa, and I was using our song ‘Bad Self-Portraits’ and saying, ‘This was a song that I wrote when I was really into Carole King and her piano playing, and the way she orchestrates things that become part of the band arrangement within her piano style.’
“I have known Carole King songs for a long time,” Kearney continues, “and then in 2012, when her memoir came out, I read it and that was kind of what reintroduced me to her music. It was accompanied by an album of demos of hers. I was really struck by how much of the song and all the instrumental parts were just in her original conception of each song. The way she would orchestrate the piano part to just include like a vision of what the whole song could become was really inspiring to me.
“So she’s just a big influence, especially for us as a band that aspires to make songs that are both emotionally powerful and very memorable, singable, hummable, danceable, but also contain some kind of advanced harmony and musical techniques. She’s someone that did that and does that so seamlessly that she manages to get in these more complex, richer harmonic elements, but still in a song that anybody can sing right back to you.”
Says Price, “The beauty of the whole album is that it does sound like a great spontaneous session is happening. But if you learn a Carole King song, you realize that it’s actually a lot more complicated than it sounds. That’s one of her strengths.” Notes Kearney, “She’s not a songwriter that just says, ‘Okay, I’ve written a verse. Now I will copy-paste that throughout the rest of the song.’ Each verse will include its own subtle variations that are guiding the emotion and the flow of the song and the storytelling.”
For Bermiss, digging into “Tapestry” involved a case of petty theft. “I stole the record from my parents when I went to school,” he says. “Because if you’re a piano player and you’re a singer and you’re a songwriter, basically Carole King is hitting on all cylinders on that record. And it’s so formative, how to blend the craft of composition and voice and emotion into one cohesive thing. It sounds effortless. So that was just one that I kind of lifted from my parents. And I still haven’t given it back, and I refuse to.”
To judge how well the students have lifted from the master, beyond this cover, there is Lake Street Dive’s next full-length set of original material, the band’s sixth, “Obviously,” produced by Mike Elizondo. It comes out March 12 on Nonesuch and is available for pre-order. The album track “Making Do” came out late last year (hear it here) and has been followed by the single “Nobody’s Stopping You Now” (listen here).