The past few months have been awfully busy for indie-folk trio The Lumineers.
They released their debut album at the beginning of April, shot their first official music video and performed on national television for the first time on “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”. They performed at South by Southwest last month and are currently selling out shows around the country.
All the while they’ve received critical praise, finding themselves compared to popular indie bands like Mumford and Sons.
While it seems that The Lumineers have come out of nowhere to great success, the truth is that they have been working hard for a long time to earn it.
“I’ve been at this for a while, and I know what it’s like to not have success, so it feels really good,” says lead singer and guitarist Wes Schulz. “But I’m definitely taking it in stride, because it’s been a slow climb,” he adds with a laugh.
Like many musical acts before them, The Lumineers were brought together by tragedy. Schultz and his friend Jeremiah Fraites started the group back in 2002 after Fraites’s brother – who was also Schultz’s good friend – died of an overdose. They began writing and performing to cope with their grief.
Eventually Schultz became frustrated; he was working long hours to pay the rent and felt that he had less and less time to devote to music. “I got to the point where I saw I either had to move somewhere where I could afford this or just stop,” he says.
Ultimately they chose the former, deciding to move to Denver with friends who could who could offer them practice space and a place to stay. They packed up their things and headed for an adventure out west.
Denver turned out to be the perfect place for the band, as the music scene there welcomed them with open arms. Schultz and Fraites found contacts, received advice from fellow musicians and even found another band member. They placed an ad on Craigslist for a cellist, and, soon enough, classically trained Neyla Pekarek joined the group.
“It’s a community that prides itself on helping each other out, as opposed to the constant competitive dog-eat-dog mentality of New York,” Schultz says
The group really started gaining momentum in December when their single, “Ho Hey,” was featured in an episode of the CW Network’s “Hart of Dixie”. The band and crew expected the song to just play in the background, and looked at it as a way to get some money for a new van.
Instead, the song was featured rather extensively at the end of an episode. A quick Tumblr search after the episode found a slew of fans of the show’s star, Rachel Bilson, demanding more information about the song. “It kind of all took off from there,” says Schulz. “We just shook our heads in disbelief.”
Two months later, the band members themselves could not believe their growing popularity; their Facebook page added 7,000 fans between December and February. This newfound fan base did not have long to wait for new material. The self-titled debut album three years in the making finally dropped in April, to Schultz’s relief.
“It just feels really good, because we were really waiting and anticipating for that album to come out for a long time,” he says. “It’s like a secret you want to tell everyone. You want to have everyone listen to it, but you can’t have everyone listen to it, and you just wait and wring your hands in anticipation.”
The band wrote something like 50 songs, but settled on the 11 that they thought would work best for their live shows. “There might be some that are good for driving, but they’re not good to watch,” Schultz explained.
In fact, the band’s live show is receiving as much praise as the album. It’s obvious even from a simple YouTube clip that the group easily breaks down the wall between the performers and audience, persuading fans to sing and dance along.
“We spent years trying to write complicated stuff, and put our heads down, and powered through a gig,” Schulz recalls. “And [we] played the best we could, and thought that would be what people wanted. Neither us nor the audience really enjoyed that much.”
They experimented with several different styles before they found the stomping, rollicking sound heard on the album. “We liken it to a bunch of sailors on a ship, arm-in-arm. It’s very primal,” says Schulz.
Right now, Schultz is just glad to have bigger crowds to perform to. “That’s really exciting, because there have been a lot of empty rooms too,” he says. “If you have too much show and not good music, then that’s just a schtick. When you have just good music, that’s not going to be very engaging. So we’re just trying to marry the two.”
In the end, Schultz and his band mates are just thankful to see their hard work starting to pay off at last. “It’s all very, very surreal,” he says. “Bob Dylan said ‘There’s no success like failure and that failure’s no success at all.’ That’s what I’m thinking right now.”