The Lumineers: ‘You lose the art to a song when it gets chopped up and molested’

After scoring an unexpected smash with Ho Hey, the pressure was on for the Denver folk-rockers second album. Singer Wesley Schultz explains how he avoided the sophomore slump

When the Lumineers single Ho Hey was released in the summer of 2012, it topped the charts, became a cultural touchstone and jolted singer Wesley Schultz, drummer Jeremiah Fraites and cellist Neyla Pekarek to worldwide fame. I remember going back home to Denver after coming off of our tour and the globe was reacting to the music in a way we werent aware of because were in this bubble, says Schultz while on a brief respite from their current tour in San Diego. A friend of mine was like, Whats it like being in one of the biggest bands in the world? I thought he was joking, but then I realized he was actually serious. We were getting exposed to so much more of the world than we realized or were prepared for. It caught us a little off guard.

The trio were regarded as an overnight success, but Schultz and Fraites had collaborated for over a decade before anyone took notice like the Grammys, when they were nominated best new artist in 2013. At first we were like, New artist? says Schultz. Its funny because when you look at that category its always bands who have been doing it for a while. Youre just new to the masses. Schultz also says that despite years of struggle, he never set out to write a hit. If you listen to Ho Hey or any song on our first album if we wanted to write a hit, we wouldnt have written those, Schultz says.

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The band attempted to maintain the same frame of mind when making their second record, Cleopatra. Released in April, it peaked at No 1 on the Billboard album charts, while the video for lead single Ophelia has already collected 11m views on YouTube. No easy feat considering the band was expected to match their initial success of Ho Hey. Yeah, there was pressure, but the pressure was to write a good record we felt great about from top to bottom, not to chase hits or desperately stay a part of the cultural fabric Schultz says.

He adds that the band had declined to allow their second single <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GFvUCcljkM” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Stubborn Love to be edited down for top 40 radio. We were protective of what we made, says Schultz. Theres art to a song, and you lose that when it gets chopped up and molested. We figured wed take our chances and thin out the herd for people who actually want to hear our album. Desperately trying to remain relevant is a short-term solution. Ho Hey and Stubborn Love were our icebreakers to the world. Its like if youre at a bar, those songs were like our opening lines when meeting a girl. You still have to back it up.

After an intense round of touring in support of the debut album, the band took just two weeks off, then spent the better part of a year crafting Cleopatra. Schultz says he much prefers songwriting to performing live. Performing for us was very difficult at first, he admits. Personally, its not easy for me. My first two years of being on stage, I couldnt really eat the whole day. Id try to find shakes or something that was liquid that I could drink it, because the anxiety was so great I couldnt really handle [food]. Now Im glad to say that I only get like that 10 minutes before going on, as opposed to 14 hours.

The bulk of the writing work on Cleopatra took place in a small house in the same Denver neighborhood where the band had enjoyed their initial breakthrough. (Before that, Schultz and Fraites struggled for years in New York City working a series of odd jobs before retreating to the Rockies and joining the burgeoning local music scene.) A lot of Cleopatra began, weirdly enough, as voice memos on our phone, says Schultz. We had all of these little snippets we collected during our three or four years on tour; just little sections of songs. The band became so obsessed with the recording process that during one six week span in the studio they only took three days off. For me, afterwards the high wears off and then theres a hangover from it and you wonder if you were delusional the entire time and it sucks.

Fortunately, their obsession paid off, dispelling the notion that their resounding success was a flash in the pan success for good. I think this record is better than the first, says Schultz, who knows that thing could have played out very differently. Ive seen really great records fly under the radar. Youre lucky to make a good album every once in a while and you just hope it gets heard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jun/19/the-lumineers-cleopatra-new-album-ho-hey

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