The Lumineers are the ones responsible for that song you can't get out of your head -- you know, the "ho!" "hey!" one. Folk rock has been enjoying a nice comeback of late with the mainstream success of bands like Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters And Men and, of course, The Lumineers.
The group started off with just two members, Wesley Schultz (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) in New Jersey. After trying out the New York City scene, however, the two packed up shop and moved to Denver, where they found a home for themselves and their music. Cellist Neyla Pekarek came on board in 2010 and was later joined by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Ben Wahamaki (bass) in 2012.
The group has been enjoying a giddy amount of success off of its debut album, which peaked at number two on Billboard, has been certified gold in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, and even went platinum in Ireland.
At Coachella last year, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" was arguably the most sought-after song of the weekend and we are willing to bet that voices will be lost Sunday when everyone howls together the simple words of the Lumineers: "I belong with you, you belong with me, you're my sweatheart..."
The Huffington Post spoke with frontman Wes Schultz about what Tom Petty has to do with The Lumineers, why the group leaves New York and which Jay-Z lyric inspires him.
HuffPost: This is your first time at Coachella. What have you heard?
Wesley Schultz: Neyla, our cello player, has been and she came back pretty haggard. She said it was one the best times she'd had in a long time. She had face paint on and was pretty out of her mind for a few days. We have waited a long time to play any festival, let alone something as great as Coachella.
How different has Denver been from New York creatively?
They are two very different cities. In the New York scene, like any other major city, there are tons of layers within it. The New York scene that I was a part of wasn’t much of a scene, it was a lot of bands vying for their friends to come out to shows and then the friends would kind of leave as soon as their set was done. So it was a tough way to see new bands or see new things.
But in Denver, it's actually cool to stick around and see other people's bands and hear their music. At first I was suspicious of people -- like, what did they want? They were being so generous with their time. I was from New Jersey and kept thinking they're being way too nice.
So you're the jaded East Coaster.
I didn’t even realize I was the jaded East Coaster until I got to Denver and when I'd say, 'how are you doing?' People would actually respond with how they were doing. It was eye-opening. But I guess it was something that I always wanted but didn’t know about. I think I was pretty frustrated in New York. I was grateful for the fans that were coming out, but at some point, a friend said, 'you realize that the same 10 people have come out to every show?' The New York scene is pretty tough. It’s a rich man's game and I didn’t have any money.
Do you still live in Denver now?
I love living here. I've been here for three years and have just found it to be home right away. There are a lot of transplants, so you have people who are in the same boat and open to meeting new people. Sometimes in the bigger cities on the Coast, it feels like everyone is jaded ... and it's almost like they are serving time. I love New York and I've spent some time in LA, but people ask, "How long you been here?" almost like you're in prison.
Did you always want to make music your profession?
I always wanted to do something artistic. I just found myself wanting to be creative every day -- to have that outlet. I wanted to draw and be a visual artist. Now I'm playing music, but I think it was always that outlet that felt really nice. It felt good to have that purpose.
Was there someone who helped influence you in that artistic direction or was it always within you?
I think it was a lot internally. I was introverted and I liked doing things in silence by myself. But I remember I had a guitar teacher (this was later in playing music) who said, 'if you want to do this, you can do this. It's whether or not you want to.' And I thought of that Cat Stevens line, "if you want, you can marry." When you're young you think, if I'm lucky enough to fall in love and get married to my soul mate … but then as you get older, some of the romance goes away and you realize that people often decide to get married, people often decide to be something.
I think he was just trying to conceptualize it for me because I was in love with the idea of being a musician. He was just making sure that I knew there were consequences. He'll check in with me every now and again and ask, 'are you happy? are you alright?' I think what he was getting at was, you can do this. You'll probably be poor the rest of your life, but if you like it, it's totally great. That had a big influence on me. It's kind of like how Jay-Z said, 'this is the life I chose, or rather, the life that chose me.' I always related a lot to the idea of choice as opposed to the artist who says if you take my guitar, pen and paper away, I'd just die. I would find things to do. I always want to feel purpose. But I just really like this.
How different is the dynamic now with Neyla, Ben and Stelth as part of the group, as opposed to when it was just you and Jeremiah? Does it just feel like a completely different chapter?
Jeremiah and I write the songs and we will continue to do that, but I think now there's a big difference in how they're performed live. The energy that’s brought to some of those songs takes things on an unexpected turn with Ben, Stelth and Neyla. Especially having a female presence in the band. I always think of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. I remember Stevie Nicks wanted to join the group and Tom Petty said, 'well, we'd love to Stevie, but there are no girls in the Heartbreakers.' I felt like that about my band.
We had these sort of dumbed-down, sing-along unison parts like we were sailors on a ship or something. It was very masculine. And Neyla came in singing with this chipmunk-y, innocent sound. It's funny because there's stuff you never plan and it ends having a really nice feel.
What is your creative process like as a band? How do you develop a song?
Jer and I write the music together. I write the lyrics and then both of us come together and work on melodies, chord progressions and structure. We usually sit down together once we have some ideas on our own, and then work them out on a piano.
What do you do to confront writer's block? Or how do you get out of periods of feeling uninspired?
I feel like that right now. There's this one quote that always comes to mind, and it goes, 'the young artist waits for inspiration and the old artist goes to work.' We believe a lot in just showing up. Just trying. And instead of waiting around or doing mushrooms in the park, we would rather go to work and write every day if we can. We are going to have a mobile recording studio with us soon. Kind of inspired by Lil Wayne [laughs], who had a separate bus that was a recording studio. We can lay down ideas and work on them because that’s kind of how we work. We end up recording stuff and then in post, we mix and match it all up. We Frankenstein almost every song.
The Lumineers were nominated for two Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album. I imagine that was a really exciting time. What was the experience like for you?
We were asked to come to the nomination special, so we were clued in that we probably wanted to show up to this because something good will happen. We figured we would be nominated for something, but we were really surprised.
At the same time, I think it's such a hit-or-miss thing. A lot of bands make records and I hope that they all think they deserve to be nominated for Album of the Year. Because you really need to believe in what you do. Period. I felt that for like eight or 10 years. I would think "this is the greatest song I've ever written," and then when I look back I think, "wow, that was terrible." So now it’s nice to have some outside feedback. I think we sold 10,000 records in our first week. And then I came home to a platinum album. We sold over a million albums. It's just been an amazing snowball kind of year.
Speaking of, your song "Ho Hey" has been a smash hit. Everyone walks around humming it. Did you have a feeling that that song would break out? Is there a story behind writing it?
That song drove us crazy a little bit. I wrote the bulk of it when I was still in Brooklyn and it was so simple, but every time we tried to record it, we didn't feel like we were capturing it. So we thought we would just make it a live song and never put it on the record. It just didn’t work. You ever make a meal and then try to recreate it and it just kind of sucks? It was hard to recreate. We didn’t even want to put the 'hos' and 'heys' in there because we thought it would be kind of annoying to the listener. We eventually ended up recording it with some layered stomps and claps and shouts -- almost like Queen's 'We Will Rock You.' We wanted that chucky sound to reproduce what a crowd would do.
Was that the element it was missing all along?
I think part of it was just allowing those 'hos' and 'heys' to be in the song because that was the glue. We are a band that prides itself on writing songs and we might get labeled as a band that uses a schtick to get you to listen. I didn't like that. At the end of the day, the song would have been good enough without it, but I decided it was worth keeping in. And the rest is history.
There was a lot of hesitation because we take what we do to heart and we believe in it, and then it ended up blowing up. It's like feeling that your album is 11 kids and everyone is just paying attention to the one kid. That’s why selling a bunch of copies of this album meant a lot, not because of what it means financially, but because it wasn't just the one song that people were buying. I have been counting my blessings.
What singers or groups are you listening to currently?
I have been listening a ton to Father John Misty. I bumped into him at this local burger joint in Denver and told him that I really liked his record. I had listened to it a couple times but then I really started listening to it. I'm just enamored with his lyrics. I listen to a lot of Bill Withers and he's got some echoes of that on his record. I listen to it nonstop.
Lastly, what is your biggest hope as an artist?
Remembering what got us here and being aware of how fickle it all is. We have been given a great fortune and a great year. Every band works hard, but not every band gets a break. So a lot of responsibility comes with that. I take it seriously because I think there are a lot of distractions and a lot of people who will tell you to just go sit on a beach somewhere. I see that happen to bands who have a good year after many bad years. But we enjoy what we do and want to continue to do it. We didn't work hard not to work hard. Pretty simple.
Check out HuffPost LA's complete coverage of Coachella 2013 here.
Click through photos and listen to The Lumineer's music below:
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