NPR

The Lumineers: Chasing Big Dreams Out West

The Denver folk ensemble The Lumineers has released its self-titled debut album. From left: Wes Schultz, Neyla Pekarek and Jeremiah Fraites. (Courtesy of the artist)

The Denver folk group The Lumineers was founded in 2002 by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, who grew up together in the New Jersey suburb of Ramsey. In its early days, the band had its sights on nearby New York as the gateway to success.

"I remember one of our friends and musical acquaintances on the East Coast said the first rule of being a band is, you make the nearest, largest city your mecca," Fraites tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "We took that as gospel: 'Let's go to New York City every other week, time and time again, and things will get going for us.' "

That momentum never quite came. As grateful as Schultz was to the band's few New York fans, he grew frustrated promoting shows only to have the same handful of people come out each time. "I think we just thought that if we could go somewhere where we could afford to work on music and tour, that's probably the solution — and don't worry about all the other details," he says. "And that's why Denver made sense."

The band released its self-titled debut in April. In press for the album, the band has referenced a quote from a 1992 New York Times article: "I spend a lot of time on my drawings, and it turns out real good 'cause I've been practicing a lot." The speaker is a 9-year-old Schultz, quoted in a piece about a Beethoven impersonator visiting his school. Schultz says that when a friend dug up the article a few years ago and sent it to him, it reminded him how long he'd wanted to be an artist.

"That was pretty surreal to read that, because I kind of felt crazy at the time pursuing music, kind of questioning whether or not I was just doing it out of being stubborn," Schultz says. "It was kind of reassuring to see that I did have some intention with that, even at an early age."

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

RAZ: Here's a band we predict you'll be hearing a lot more of this year, the Denver-based group called the Lumineers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

RAZ: Their new album is self-titled. And this song, their new single, is called "Ho Hey."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

THE LUMINEERS: (Singing) I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweetheart. I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweet...

RAZ: When we got their CD in the mail, it included a quote from lead singer Wesley Schultz. It was published in The New York Times back in 1992 when Wesley was just 9 years old. And here's the quote. It says: I spend a lot of time on my drawings, and it turns out real good because I've been practicing a lot. Well, the article was about a musician. He was visiting Wesley's school at the time. Anyway, that quote was about wanting to be an artist. And a few years ago, a friend of Wesley's dug it up and sent it to him.

WESLEY SCHULTZ: It was kind of reassuring to see that I did have some intention with that, even at an early age.

RAZ: When Wesley got the quote, he'd been living in New York - this was a few years ago - and he and his childhood friend Jeremiah Fraites were both working odd jobs and struggling to make it as a band. And that's when they wrote this song.

SCHULTZ: I remember, Jer, you came over and we worked on a little bit and our neighbor told us to stop playing because it was really loud. But...

JEREMIAH FRAITES: Yeah. We ran through the songs maybe a minute. And then door-knocking ensued about a minute and a half later. And that was our one practice day in Brooklyn at Wes' apartment.

RAZ: What about the story behind the song. Is it - is there any truth to it?

SCHULTZ: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I've been trying to do it right.

SCHULTZ: I've gotten my heart broken pretty good and...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I've been living a lonely life.

SCHULTZ: ...just reflecting on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I've been sleeping here instead.

SCHULTZ: And...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I've been sleeping in my bed.

I've been sleeping in my bed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I've been sleeping in my bed.

SCHULTZ: It just alluded to the fact that you're on your own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I don't know where I belong. I don't know where I went wrong. But I can write a song.

SCHULTZ: It was the one thing that I thought I could do all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I belong with you, you belong with me...

SCHULTZ: And it might dig me out of this hole.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) ...you're my sweet heart.

RAZ: You, guys, you grew up - you've known each other since you were kids - grew up in New Jersey in a suburb called Ramsey. Wesley, you were actually childhood friends with Jeremiah's older brother Josh. He was your best friend, right?

SCHULTZ: Yeah. Growing up, we spent a lot of time together often in silence just drawing. We took classes together. I still have the notepad. I think you do, too, Jer...

FRAITES: Yeah.

SCHULTZ: ...this yellow notepad from our classes that we worked on together and spent a lot of time over each other's houses and things like that.

RAZ: Josh, your brother, he died 10 years ago, tragically died of a drug overdose when he was just 19. And the two of you got together and, I guess, started playing music as sort of a way to figure how to cope with this?

FRAITES: Well, it's not that nicely of a package. I think the reality is that when that happened, I think, in a sense, I grew up overnight. I don't think that we would necessarily be here talking to you if he hadn't died. I don't know where I would be. I think that I'd still be making music, but I think that it really drastically altered my trajectory for the rest of my life.

SCHULTZ: Yeah. He played pretty mean guitar too.

RAZ: Josh?

SCHULTZ: Yeah. He played - he had a Slash guitar that...

FRAITES: Yeah, Slash's Snakepit guitar.

SCHULTZ: ...we would use for our first few gigs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD SEA")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I stood alone upon the platform in vain.

RAZ: You, guys, a lot of your stories are about your journey - because you started in New York, you were in Brooklyn, and then you left. You decided that New York wasn't the place for you. You sing about it in one of your songs. It's called "Dead Sea."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEAD SEA")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) I headed west. I was a man on the move. New York had lied to me, and I needed the truth. Oh, I need somebody...

RAZ: New York had lied to me, and I needed the truth. What was the lie?

SCHULTZ: Well, I remember one of our friends and musical acquaintances on the East Coast said the first rule of being a band, I think, is to make the nearest, largest city your mecca and you work on that. I took that as gospel. Like, you know, let's go to New York City time and time again every other week and things will get going for us.

RAZ: And it just didn't work out?

FRAITES: Yeah. I think we just saw the same people coming out - and we thank them to this day from the bottom of my heart.

SCHULTZ: And I was so sick of making those e-vites too - using evite.com to try to get people out. It's just - so I think we just thought that if we could go somewhere where we could afford to work on music and tour, that that's probably the solution. I mean, don't worry about how like, all the other details. And that's why Denver made sense.

RAZ: You - when you got to Denver, you put an ad in Craigslist looking for a cellist. The first person who responded is in fact your cellist.

SCHULTZ: Neyla.

RAZ: Neyla.

SCHULTZ: Yeah. I think I still have the voicemail she left.

RAZ: What happened when she showed up? Did she - did you ask her to practice or rehearse or something or, you know, give you a...

FRAITES: Yeah. I remember she showed up, and I remember Wes and I were very excited - almost giddy with excitement. She walked into our house and...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) Charlie boy...

FRAITES: I think we played "Charlie Boy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) ...don't go to war...

FRAITES: And I think I was looking at Wes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

FRAITES: Oh, man. This is sweet, you know, and...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

FRAITES: ...she nailed the notes perfectly, and it sounded wonderful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) Lillian...

FRAITES: We said, wow, this is a pretty cool sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARLIE BOY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) ...don't hang your head...

FRAITES: Really, the rest is sort of history. I mean, the - she played the cello, mandolin, even electric bass at times and piano. Yeah. I think that's truly when The Lumineers was forged.

RAZ: I'm speaking with Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of the band The Lumineers. Their new self-titled debut album is out now. Let's get to another track on the record. This one's called "Big Parade."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) Lovely girl, won't you stay, won't you stay, stay with me. All my life, I was blind, I was blind. Now, I see. Lovely girl...

RAZ: On this track, "Big Parade," you're doing this sort of thing that you do all over the record, this energetic...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) All my life, I was blind...

RAZ: ...stomp and clap kind of sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) ...now I see.

RAZ: Shouting choruses, call and respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) He says, I'm in love, I'm in love...

RAZ: How carefully do you craft those moments?

SCHULTZ: I think we worked on it incessantly.

FRAITES: Yeah. I think another turning point was, in New York, we heard Exile on Main St. And I was shocked at how it just immediately got me. And I loved the raggedy, raw sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) And oh my my oh hey hey...

FRAITES: Something that I really appreciated about that sound and some of the things that we do now are in an effort to capture the flaws and the warts and all.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG PARADE")

FRAITES: We just love that stuff because it sounded so real.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

RAZ: You guys are just about to launch a national tour. You're going to go to the U.K. and Ireland, you're going to tour with The Civil Wars, who've been on this program - a great band. What does it - what's it feel like, you know, having taken this risk, leaving New York, moving to Denver not even knowing what was going to happen, and now people are really - you're starting to get national attention for your music.

FRAITES: Yeah. It feels really, really good. Wes was working as a coffee barista. And I was a barback at some crappy hometown bar. And we were ready to take the dive.

SCHULTZ: Yeah. I felt crazy for a while. Like, maybe I was just being super stubborn at pursuing this just to be different or something. There's a level of validation that is nice to have so you can move on and just not worry about feeling like you might be crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

RAZ: That's Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites. They're the cofounders of the band The Lumineers. Their self-titled debut album is out now. You can hear a few tracks at our website, nprmusic.org. Wesley, Jeremiah, thank you so much. And good luck this year.

SCHULTZ: Thanks for having us.

FRAITES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HO HEY")

LUMINEERS: (Singing) Took the bus to Chinatown, hey, I'll be standing on Canal, ho, and Bowery, hey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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