One of the great success stories of the last few years has got to be Denver-based alternative folk trio the Lumineers. Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar), Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano) and Neyla Pekarek (cello, backup vocals) arrived on the national scene in 2012 with chart-topping singles like “Ho Hey,” “Stubborn Love” and “Submarines” off their self-titled debut album. Their musical journeys took them from appearances on the Grammys telecast and Saturday Night Live to capturing the attention and praise of President Barack Obama. The trio’s newly released follow-up album, Cleopatra, continues their path of songs and stories––and a No. 1 Alternative and Triple A single “Ophelia”––with a lyrical and humanistic bent.
Music Connection: I’ve been enjoying your new release Cleopatra. What’s the story behind making it?
Wesley Schultz: We spent a lot of time waiting to make the new record because of the success of our first album. It’s a blessing and a curse, but mostly a blessing. It became something where we were really eager to write and record new music. But we also got really lucky with the opportunity to play all the countries and places we ended up playing. So, it required a lot of patience, and we hoped we still had the ability to write songs. You spend so much time away from it you worry that it’s like a muscle that’s atrophied.
MC: Interesting. So, you’re busy working your current material and playing live. Yet you hope you have the ability to revisit that songwriting process once again?
Schultz: You know we tried really hard to write while we were on the road. We actually had a mobile rig built that was, like a little transformer in a case that you open up and it’s a full-on studio, set up in the green room in each venue we played. But it put unnecessary pressure on us to write so we ended up mostly getting the ideas for songs recorded with the voice memo feature on our phones. All that energy we put into making that mobile rig went into something much simpler that we already had in our pocket. It was kinda funny, but I think we just wanted to feel like we were being creative on the road. We were trying, but it’s a lot easier for us to go at something over and over steadily versus visiting something a few minutes or hours a day. We stay pretty busy each day when we’re on the road.
MC: Is there such a thing as a typical day on tour?
Schultz: Well it seems to have changed from the first three-year album cycle which was you wake up really early and either have a flight or an interview. And then you go to a radio station and play there. And then come back eat something real quick and then do a sound check. And then string your guitar, play the show and rinse and repeat. I think this time around we’ve got a little more time to enjoy some of the perks and have more time for writing as well.
Overall, we’ve surrounded ourselves with a great group of people now. When you’re just starting, your sound and lighting crew, tour manager all tend to be pretty fluid for a while until you dial it in. And then all those people become the ones you lean and depend on. Once that’s in place it becomes more like a family and I think it results in people playing better shows too.
MC: You are originally from New Jersey and you moved to Denver. Can you talk about that?
Schultz: My co-songwriter Jeremiah and myself grew up in a place called Ramsey, New Jersey. We grew up about a mile apart. About seven years ago we moved to Denver. I had moved to New York for a little while but quickly realized New York City was hard to make it, with the cost of living being too high. We moved on to Denver, which was a great landing spot, but it wasn’t by design.
MC: What attracted you to Denver?
Schultz: It was simple math, you know? We knew what the rent was gonna be and we had friends out there. And they said we could move in with them and it was half of what we were paying in New York.
MC: And has the Denver scene been influential in what you do?
Schultz: Yeah, it’s where we met our cello player Neyla. We met our keyboard player Stelth Ulvang there. He hooked us up with our first show in Denver when we first moved there. It was a house party with a couple other bands. I actually met my wife there who was hosting the house party.
So, Denver welcomed us into the fold immediately. There was just a different vibe there than in New York. I remember sitting down with a couple people from that scene and them sharing information on how to tour on the West Coast; where to stay and play house shows. That was a new concept to me because in New York there weren’t a whole lot of people touring that I knew. And there weren’t a whole lot of people helping each other out. It was mostly you play the clubs and maybe an open mic. But this was more far-thinking than that.