From a young age, New Orleans-based blues/roots/soul singer and songwriter Colin Lake heard tales of the magic of New Orleans from his parents.
“They would come home from Jazz Fest and go, ‘You gotta go to New Orleans one day!’ And as a little kid I’d be like, ‘Why are my parents acting so weird?’” Lake says.
Lake finally understood the hype when he made the pilgrimage from Portland to New Orleans in 2008 and experienced the city’s inseparable relation to its music. “I had this kind of epiphany when I was seeing brass bands on the street and realized that people here are so eager to soak up music and feel the music instead of just see it.”
Lake had already quit his job to pursue music full time in Portland, so in 2009 he packed up his car and embarked on a one-way solo tour that ended in the Crescent City. The musician says moving to New Orleans “stemmed from a hunch that I could maybe tap into a piece of New Orleans and it would make me better personally and musically.”
Settled in New Orleans, Lake quickly established himself as a talented new artist as he cut his teeth playing with some of the finest roots players in town and got a crash course in the city’s musicianship.
In addition to NOLA’s music scene, Lake found himself becoming acquainted with colorful aspects of New Orleans life.
He remembers his first apartment on Montegut Street in the Bywater where he shared electricity with his neighbor through an extension cord and often came home to find another appliance gone, sold off by his crack-addict landlord for drug money. Still, he was able to convince his then-girlfriend (now-wife) to make the trek from Texas to New Orleans to visit him and support his early days as a solo musician. “It’s pretty amazing that she would visit me then and think “Hmm, I think it could be a good idea to move here and settle down with this guy.”
From the beginning of his music career, Lake focused on writing quality songs best experienced in a live setting. His move to New Orleans, a city where audiences are more accustomed to dancing and drinking than sitting and listening, required Lake to adopt a rowdier performance style he says. But Lake was up for the challenge.
“I originally got into music to be a solo performer, to embrace the challenge of commanding a stage by myself and getting the audience to buy into what I was doing,” the musician adds.
And Lake says he enjoys the solo shows just as much as playing with his full band, and makes a point of playing by himself on the road when he can’t get the full band out for a tour. His ace band features seasoned pros from the local roots-rock scene and often includes a horn section for a little extra New Orleans swagger.
Lake’s latest studio effort, One Thing That’s For Sure, features what many would argue are his strongest songs to date, with an exceptionally polished sound thanks to Parlor Recording Studios producer Eric Heigle. Starting in 2013, Lake worked with his band and a bevy of top-tier guest artists to record the songs he had been testing out on stages across town. The result is a collection of joyous songs that celebrate love and life with a soulful, bluesy sound that seems tailor-made for sunny Louisiana fests. Lake credits the strength of the album’s material to his patient songwriting process.
“I don’t write too quickly, so I’ll finish a tune, bring it to the band and we’ll put it in the middle of a set to start trying it out,” Lake says. “We’ll play it and say, ‘Alright how can we make that better?’ and then work from there.”
One Thing That’s For Sure features vocals from some of Lake’s local friends whom he’s met through his years in NOLA, including Sasha Masakowski, Maggie Koerner and Topsy Chapman. Luther Dickinson, guitarist of the world-famous North Mississippi All-Stars, also makes an appearance on the album with a one-take slide guitar solo.
The years of hard work in the studio and on stage paid off for Lake, six years after trusting a hunch and taking a huge risk, the musician says his personal and professional life have never been better. A busy spring has included several acclaimed performances, the local release of his new record and the purchase of his first home with his wife.
A high point was when Lake played on the second Friday of Jazz Fest this year, opening the Blues Tent at the Fairgrounds before a packed crowd (which included his family), giving his mom the surreal experience of seeing her son play at Jazz Fest. Lake spent the rest of the day signing autographs and watching as fans bought his new album, making it one of the top ten bestsellers of Jazz Fest. That night he took the stage at the House of Blues and played to a packed room of friends and family for an exceptional show where Lake says he felt “the loosest I’ve felt on stage in a year.”
With everything feeling just right, one thing’s for sure: Colin Lake has found that musical home he was looking for.
Lake will play two free shows this weekend: Friday at Tipitina’s and Saturday at The New Orleans Oyster Festival. His latest album, One Thing That’s For Sure, is available now at Louisiana Music Factory and will be released nationally on iTunes on July 10. Stay updated with all of Colin’s upcoming shows by visiting his website and Facebook page.