Mike Calabrese
Photo by Emily Lichter

Hello MD! Lake Street Dive is coming to the end of the first tour cycle for Free Yourself Up, our latest album on Nonesuch, and we’ve been fortunate enough to keep the band’s growth steady.

Everything is bigger—the shows (Red Rocks headline), the sounds (breaking sticks), and the tours (150 days this year). This is new territory for us, so for the first time in our fourteen years as a band I’ve had to create some better habits in order to handle the physical demands of the gig. One of these is a good warm-up. It’s now an obsessive pleasure of mine, doing something before the show that’s ritualistic, focusing, and helps you stay relaxed but powerful while performing.

In the first “OTB” I wrote, I related how weightlifting has changed the game for me both physically and mentally while on tour. It’s a discipline that can also teach you a lot about properly warming up. Science tells us that strength doesn’t have as much to do with muscle size as it does the quality of muscle engagement by the brain. With consistent training, you can lift heavy weight without being huge. Similarly, with drums, you don’t need to be an athlete to play for ninety minutes a night at full throttle. All you might need is a clearer path between your brain and your hands.

Putting a lot of weight on your back, like in a squat, requires a lot of control. Lifting it up and down requires a lot of coordination. Both require proper communication between the mind and body. You start this communication in the warm-up. Before putting any weight on a barbell you run the movement many times, pretending it’s at max: low volume but complete engagement. This brings blood into your muscles and alertness to your nerves, preparing your body to exert the utmost of your strength once the full weight is applied. It also means you won’t wear yourself out before you need to perform a heavy movement.

You can apply this warm-up concept to the drums. I grab a pair of brushes and sit at my tiny travel kit. I set my phone on the rack tom and play along to an album over its built-in speakers (lately it’s been Ctrl by SZA—consistent tempos, diverse feels). It’s so quiet; I’m lucky if I can hear the hi-hat and snare parts. This fully engages my listening. Then I have to apply a ton of control to my hands and feet by playing coordinated grooves at low volumes. The most important piece is to pretend I’m on stage, playing as intensely and appropriately as the song demands, i.e., running the movement. After thirty minutes, I’m ready.

Since starting this warm-up method, I’ve played shows with more power, efficiency, creativity and attention, and I’m never dead or in pain when I leave the stage. Try putting away the chop book, picking up something light, and focusing on the mind. I think you’ll be surprised.

These days I’m into my Zildjian Avedis and Sweet lines 18″ Avedis crash and 22″ Avedis ride. Left side hi-hat is a 16″ K Sweet top with a K Sweet crash on the bottom.

Watch live performance clips and interview here: 

For tour dates and more, visit: www.lakestreetdive.com.