The Lumineers stand by strength of their songs on new album
By Naila Francis
It’s only been three months since The Lumineers released its self-titled debut album.
In that time, the Denver-based outfit has opened for Brandi Carlile, appeared on “Conan” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and been pegged by multiple music tastemakers, from WXPN to VH1 —
which is touting the band as part of its “You Oughta Know” franchise through August — as artists to watch.
Combine that with impressive album sales and the high-charting success of rugged, foot-stomping lead single “Ho Hey,” the video for which became a viral sensation when it was published in March, and it’s no wonder drummer Jeremiah Fraites is struggling to absorb such good fortune.
“The tours have been just astounding and people’s response — with so many of them knowing the lyrics of ‘the hits’ and the deeper tracks — it’s been really crazy,” he says. “It’s all been happening at such breakneck speeds, it’s been hard to process.”
Even now, he says he’s pinching himself knowing he and vocalist/guitarist Wesley Schultz and cellist Neyla Pekarek will soon be opening for string band ace Old Crow Medicine Show before heading overseas with The Civil Wars.
“That’s one thing that I’m truly honored about … because they’ve been doing this way longer than we have, and they don’t often ask bands to tour as openers for them,” says Fraites, who performs Friday with his bandmates as part of the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden and then returns to Philadelphia Aug. 4 to open for Old Crow Medicine Show at the Electric Factory.
“We really haven’t played with that many bands. The album’s only been out for three months. We did a two-month tour and played with some smaller bands like Y La Bamba from Portland, so it’s exciting to start playing with more bands.”
The trio’s seemingly overnight success is relative. Fraites and Schultz started writing music together in 2007 — they met growing up in the same Ramsey, N.J., neighborhood, where Schultz was best friends with Fraites’ older brother Josh — and for a time gave it a go in New York City, trying on different sounds in whatever time they could find away from their day jobs.
Eventually, they gravitated toward the acoustic folk-rock that would make their debut an earnest affair that veers between billowing, feel-good Americana and plaintive introspection. To avoid being swallowed by the city’s cutthroat music scene, the guys moved to Denver, where they found Pekarek, who also plays mandolin and piano, through a Craigslist ad they placed seeking a cellist.
As they honed their sound, they began to develop a reputation for spirited live performances involving audience sing-alongs and rollicking call-and-response numbers. But even with a burgeoning fan base, and a preview EP, “Tracks from the Attic,” preceding April’s eponymous release, Fraites never expected the band’s music to be so widely embraced.
“The last thing you want to do is be overconfident in anything you’re doing because you’re bound to fall short, but I guess in my own head, I knew how good it was,” he says of the album. “I knew how long it took to make. Some of these songs were four to five years in the works because we never had a deadline when writing these songs.”
Most of the tracks he and Schultz had initially recorded themselves in a home studio before they were given the opportunity to make an album at the legendary Bear Creek Studio in Washington. There, working with Pekarek and a few other musicians, they strove to retain some of the ragged imperfection of their demos.
“Our EP was a demo quality and we liked the way it sounded,” says Fraites. “It took us four or five years to find our humility and find our vulnerability and we stand behind that, having that vulnerable sound and letting it all hang out. We thought, if someone can play any of these songs on just a guitar or just a piano, then it’s probably a good song. Then we loved dressing them up with drums, cello, violin … but we really liked that raw quality.”
They were mindful, too, of creating something that felt cohesive.
“I think it’s an album you can listen to on an long drive. It’s not just a hodgepodge stringing of miscellaneous tracks,” says Fraites. “It really has an album feel to it, where you can listen from track one to track 12, which to me is what I’m the most proud about.”
The love songs, lust songs — the slyly humorous “Classy Girls” imagines a bar exchange between a pretty girl and a guy bent on one thing — and story songs carry an optimistic undercurrent even amid more somber moments. The trio knows a lot about pain — Josh, Fraites’ brother, died of a heroin overdose at 19 — but dangle hope and inspiration, even if faintly and sometimes stubbornly, from the starkness of self-reflection.
“I think I know how dark it can get,” says Fraites. “I know the depths of misery and grief. Having been down at the bottom of that abyss, that allows me to really appreciate when times are good. Years ago, we did write more depressing songs that were about darker stuff. We thought if we were serious, people would listen to us. But that’s what we love about this genre — it can be uplifting at times. It’s really about trying to make yourself better.”
– The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer