Prior to talking with Jeremiah Fraites from The Lumineers, I had two somewhat discordant points of reference for this band, aside from hearing the sublimely stick-in-your-head-catchy “Ho, Hey” on the radio. One is that my friend’s 16 year-old daughter, a young lady who’s rapidly developing a distinct taste in music, says she really likes “Ho, Hey”; the other is that another friend, after hearing I was interviewing The Lumineers, excitedly told me that they are his “new favorite band.”
I get the feeling that The Lumineers are quickly becoming the favorite new band of many music fans.
I asked Jeremiah if he thought that the move from the East Coast to Denver had played any part in the band’s recent rise on the music scene
Jeremiah laughed. “I’m not sure that we’re getting any more attention now,” So, I inquired about whether he thought that relocating – from an uber-urban setting to a city set in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains – altered the band’s musical path.
“Being in Denver allowed us to eliminate a lot of distractions and just get to work,” he explains. “It didn’t change our musical style. It just let us to continue what we were doing before.”
After arriving in Denver – so the web site bio says – Wesley and Jeremiah put out a Craigslist bid for a cello player. “Why a cellist?” I asked. “We were drawn to that sound and thought it would be interesting,” he explained. “And maybe give us a slightly softer edge.”
After a few listens to the band’s recently released, self-titled record, I had some immediate impressions. One is that the music is melodic and embodies some of the best components of 60s folk mixed while also seeming very current.
And my second impression is that the lyrics are absolutely killer.
I asked Jeremiah to describe the songwriting process. “Wesley and I treat it like a day job,” he told me. “It is an extensive process, where we write things and then show each other these snippets.”
I wondered if either he or Wesley is influenced by other artists when they are composing. “Wes is influenced by bands he grew up with … like Leonard Cohen, Dylan, Talking Heads. But we come up with distinct songs that we hear in our heads, and we work very deliberately on creating them,” he said.
When I mentioned that the lyrics are very personal and powerful and asked if any of the songs are based on real stories, Jeremiah explained that I’d have to ask Wesley. “He’s writes all the lyrics,” he says, “and I’m his biggest fan.” But he continues by saying that both of them “believe in the power of songs” and described a good composition as being “cinematic.”
Jeremiah finds it ironic that one of the strengths of The Lumineers’ songs is the stories they tell. “When we first started working together on music – 6 or 7 years ago – I never thought I’d be in a band that had strong lyrics,” he says. “I thought there was nothing left to say.”
Speaking of something to say, the band’s song “Ho, Hey” is both lyrically compelling and extraordinarily appealing. And, for me, part of the appeal is the chant-like repetition of the word “Ho” at the start of the line and “Hey” at the end. This, however, was less a deliberately employed songwriting tool and more just an on-the-spot whim.
“We used to play this open mic in Denver and that song took shape there,” Jeremiah said. “We just decided to fill those little spaces with some sort of visceral noise.”
“We spent almost three months recording it,” Jeremiah explains, “and we didn’t always include the ‘hos’ and ‘heys’. It’s like you get so close to your own creation that it’s hard to be objective.”
“We even started to think that people might find the ‘hos’ and ‘heys’ annoying. But, in the end, we kept them in.”
I looked at The Lumineers’ tour schedule on their site and we talked about the hefty number of shows they’d be playing in the next several months. “Yeah,” he laughed, “we have something like 117 appearances between now and the end of the year.”
I asked Jeremiah if they are ever star struck when the band is on a bill with some of the legends of contemporary music? “You don’t get as close to the other artists as some people might think,” he explains. “But, yeah, if I saw Thom Yorke or David Byrne, I’d be star struck.”
“As for how it affects our performance, we basically just do our thing,” he says. “And if we open for a band that draws a different audience, we see that as an opportunity to play for people who might not otherwise hear us.”
When the band is traveling, what do they listen to? “We like a lot of NPR programs – Radio Lab and This American Life, especially,” Jeremiah answered. “We also listen to all kinds of music – from classical to Bon Iver to local bands that we know.”
Are there new songs in the works? I asked. “We are writing while we’re on the road,” he says, “just chipping away at some songs. We just want to write music that is uplifting and makes us feel – for that hour or so that we’re onstage – like better people.”
And the name, The Lumineers. Where did that come from?
“The band name was given to us. We were playing at a place in Jersey City – the Lucky Seven – and the MC introduced that way.” I laughed and told Jeremiah that, when I googled “lumineers”, I was linked to a site selling dental veneers. “We hope to get big enough soon to show up before that on a search.”
And, really, he added, why would it be considered unusual that this band name was bestowed on them?
“You don’t get to pick your name when you’re born.”
The Lumineers hit the Marina Stage at the XPoNential Music Festival on Friday at 6:10.
Wesley Schultz – main vocals, guitar
Jeremiah Fraites – drums
Neyla Pekarek – cello, vocals
Stelth Ulvang – piano, accordion, mandolin, guitar
Ben Wahamaki – bass