ABOVE: THE LUMINEERS. IMAGE COURTESY OF SCARLET PAGE
Now that it’s nearly over, it’s safe to say 2012 has been a dream for folk-rockers The Lumineers. Following the debut of their self-titled album in April, band members Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites, and Neyla Pekarek have played countless sold-out shows and seen their first single (“Ho Hey“) go viral—and they just received two Grammy nominations, too. Not too shabby for a band whose Americana-influenced, gospel-rock style music took nearly a decade to get noticed. Regardless of this year’s events, The Lumineers haven’t been fazed by their success; they are gracious, kind and grateful for every opportunity that they’ve been given.
The Denver-based (by way of New Jersey) band may have just blown up this year, but band members Schultz and Fraites have been playing together since they were teenagers, when Josh Fraites, Jeremiah’s brother and Schultz’s best friend, died from a drug overdose. To deal with their grief, the two band members began making music together and playing gigs throughout the New York City area until they relocated to Denver, where they added Pekarek to the mix.
We spoke with lead singer Wesley Schultz about opening for Dave Matthews, Grammy nominations, and what 2013 has in store for The Lumineers.
ILANA KAPLAN: You guys were just nominated for two Grammys. That’s a huge deal. How did it feel to hear that? Did you ever expect to hear yourself nominated for a Grammy?
WESLEY SCHULTZ: Well, that’s kind of a hard question to answer. I think that it feels really good to be recognized in a sense of being nominated for Grammys and things like that, but part of it is, we spent a lot of time on our own making music: seven or eight years and nobody really paid attention. It feels good. We also learned to not pay too much attention to things like that, and I think it made us stronger.
KAPLAN: Did you guys ever go under a different moniker?
SCHULTZ: For part of it, yeah we did. We had a few terrible names. Eventually, we were given the name “The Lumineers.” We had some pretty bad ones.
KAPLAN: What were some of them?
SCHULTZ: The last one was just “Wesley Jeremiah,” just our two first names. Before that, our first name was “Free Beer.” We were just trying to get people out at the shows basically.
KAPLAN: Well, that’s a way to do it.
SCHULTZ: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. A lot of people enjoyed it. It’s really hard to name yourself, it’s really easy to name someone else.
KAPLAN: How long was your debut album in the works for?
SCHULTZ: It took about a little over three years from when we started writing songs for it until it was finally released. Every song had a different lifespan, as far as how long it took to write. Once we got finished and went in to record it, it takes about 10 months to put it out, in addition to how long it took to write it. It was a long process, and it took a lot of patience. You grow really cold towards the songs, and you become a little detached from them because you’re so tired of working on them and hearing them. We made a lot of decisions. We weren’t compromising on this record. We weren’t making decisions based around the record company or radio’s needs or any outside influence in that way. It’s a pretty great thing to have a record that at the end of the day you’re not totally sick of and you’re actually proud of. We’re pretty lucky, because a lot of bands come out with their first record on a label and they’re forced to make decisions they might not stand behind because someone’s telling them it’s a good idea. We didn’t have to do that. I think that’s one of the things I’m most thankful for.
KAPLAN: Cool. What are your plans for 2013?
SCHULTZ: [laughs] A lot of touring. That’s pretty much it.
KAPLAN: I saw those tour dates online. Are you working on new music?
SCHULTZ: Yeah, yeah. It took us a long time to write the first one. I think we’re pretty aware of the fact that we can’t just sit down, write a record, and then it’s done; it takes a long time. I’m trying to write every day if I can. I think the idea is to try and chip away at it as opposed to just sit down one day and then turn it on like a flick of a switch and expect everything to happen. We started doing that, and we’ve already incorporated at least one new song into our set-list. It’s a duet between Neyla and I. It doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s being well received. I think it’s a good song.
KAPLAN: You’re opening for Dave Matthews. How did that happen?
SCHULTZ: [laughs] You tell me! I really don’t know. I think people think we’re more connected than we are. We do get asked to go on tour, but I think it’s conversations behind closed doors between managers talking about terms and whether or not it’s even possible. I was excited because I saw Dave Matthews at West Point when I was 16. He made me want to pick up a guitar. It’s a special thing for me to be a part of this. He kind of inspired me from the beginning.
KAPLAN: What’s the most meaningful track on your album to you?
SCHULTZ: It seems to change a lot. Right now, it’s “Slow It Down.” That’s the song that we recorded in our home studio in Denver, CO. Every day, our two other roommates would go to work, and Jer and I would clear out the dining room, move the table and all of the chairs, and set up our recording studio. We would record in a hurry and put it all back together. It was a really special time. When we went into the recording studio, we said, “This is the version we want to use, it’s all one take.” I think it was the second take we did of the song. I think you could hear birds in the background. It was a special moment and they said, “No, it’s not going to sound right, it wasn’t done in a professional studio,” and they laughed. What does that even mean? I think that’s been our attitude all along; we just believe in stuff. We believe in ourselves and in our material. It’s cool because that’s a track that made the album, and it’s a track people say that they enjoy listening to.
KAPLAN: What’s been the hardest part of being in the band and trying to make it?
SCHULTZ: I think the hardest part is waiting, you know? I think, to be fair, if we would have gotten a big break early on, it would have been wasted on us. All of that perseverance you often learn by failing. We went from barely being able to book anywhere to being nominated for Grammys. It’s a snowball effect that happens to a lot of bands. I think the hardest part is having a side job: bussing tables, bartending, and waiting tables to make ends meet. Sometimes they are really worth doing, because one day things might actually work out in your favor.
THE LUMINEERS WILL PLAY TONIGHT WITH DAVE MATTHEWS BAND AT THE BARCLAYS CENTER IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.