"Baffling” is the word Jeremiah Fraites uses to describe The Lumineers’ positive reception on their 12-city European tour that ended last month. That humility is a common trait among Fraites and bandmates Wesley Schultz and Neyla Pekarek, despite having just received two Grammy nominations (Best New Artist and Best Americana Album) for their eponymous debut studio LP.
The Denver-based folk-rock group is on the first leg of a winter tour, opening for the Dave Matthews Band in four cities, and slated to perform on the first "Saturday Night Live" episode of the new year (Jan. 13, 2013).
But The Lumineers’ apparent overnight success was actually a long road with quite a few speed bumps. While touring in 2010, their van was broken into and all of their instruments were stolen just before a show. Undeterred, The Lumineers finished their tour; they borrowed instruments and recalled having to deal with “creeps who had cellos” in every city. Fraites said they had one of their best performances ever immediately after reporting the robbery, and Schultz added that the lyrics to the group's song "Slow it Down" have evolved into reflecting the incident. The line “smashed in my car window, didn’t touch the stereo” is a fitting metaphor for the fact that though their instruments were stolen, their music didn’t stop.
This care-free enthusiasm and small-town vibe has struck a nerve with the band's devoted fan base. When the venue of a recent concert filled to capacity, The Lumineers went outside and played in the parking lot for those who got turned away. Schultz never fails to thank the audience for showing up, reminding fans that a few years ago, they couldn't pay people to listen to their music.
HuffPost Entertainment spoke to The Lumineers in advance of their recent performance at iHeartRadio's New York theater about the band's Grammy nominations and their reaction to artists like Grizzly Bear and Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, who recently disparaged the awards. They also discussed working on a second album, touring with Dave Matthews, their unreleased music video for ‘Stubborn Love” and Fraites’ trademark suspenders.
While on tour with Dave Matthews, what’s your interaction been like with the band?
Fraites: It’s been really cool. He’s been, for me, demystified as a celebrity and as a super icon in the sense that, he’s really cool, you can tell he’s a normal guy that broke big with huge success. He actually comes out and introduces us. I guess Dave Matthews Band had some bad experiences when they opened for some really big bands like Dylan and the Rolling Stones and the crowds were really unruly to them. So, I think, by Dave, himself coming out and introducing The Lumineers, gives us credibility already to the people that are there. 'Cause they’re huge arenas and we’re going on first, and it’ll be half-empty when we start. And maybe 5,000 to 8,000 more people shuffle in. But I think that definitely helps the crowd enjoy us more.
What was the filming process like for "Stubborn Love," and how will the video compare to "Ho Hey"?
Pekarek: Yea, we were only in it for a second, which is nice, because we’re so busy. Not that we weren’t involved, but our friend Isaac Ravishankara, he’s making it. It’s a really great concept, we saw just some shots of it – it’s really warm lighting. There’s a little girl in the video, named Tallulah, she’s absolutely beautiful. We filmed our portion of it in L.A. a couple weeks ago, just kind of busking on the street. ‘Ho Hey’ was a full day of filming, 16 hours and we’re in the shots a lot. So, it was nice to have a video that didn’t just feature us.
How were you received by audiences on your European tour?
Fraites: It seems to be going just as well over there, as it is over here, which is kind of baffling.
Why is it baffling?
Fraites: Well, I don’t know. [Laughs] It’s just crazy that it’s gotten this big.
Schultz: Well we set it up here for a long time here, y’know? We were playing a lot of these cities before anything happened. Where as there, we just step into a new country. There’s no connection there [Europe]. Where as, if you go to Portland a bunch of times and you know all these venues, it almost makes sense, even though it some ways it explodes. At least you’ve visited it. I think in that way, it is baffling for sure.
A year or two ago, you played in local bars for free, and now you have two Grammy nominations. Do you feel any challenges or expectations you need to fill?
Pekarek: No, I don’t think we play the shows all that different now than we did then. We were really passionate about what we did then, and we feel the same now. It’s people’s first time seeing us in a lot of those places, and you don’t want to disappoint anybody.
But in terms of making another record, do you feel you need to outdo your first album?
Fraites: It’s crippling. It’s crippling. We can’t sleep at night. [Laughs] No, there’s a lot of time. I think we can take our time. Luckily the people who have really helped guide this band have preached a lot of smart things to us and one of the things was just to get into a short term deal, so we’re not under any time constraints to put out another record. We can do it completely on our own terms. I think that helps a lot, it’s really hard when you have someone breathing down your neck saying, “We need another single, we need the album done.” We don’t have to deal with that, which was a smart thing to do ahead of time.
Are part of the lyrics to "Slow it Down" about your instruments being stolen?
Schultz: Well, no actually not. It’s kind of evolved into that. There’s a beautiful thing about music, where the lyrics can change meaning for you, even as a songwriter. It took on a new meaning. Originally it was just that somebody broke into a car I had in Brooklyn and they stole my E-ZPass. Smashed my window just for an E-ZPass. It was the dead of winter, I drove back to New Jersey to practice with Jer or record or something. It began as that, and we got robbed about a year and change ago in L.A. in broad daylight. And we were able to continue that tour that night and the rest of it – a little over two weeks of the tour we had left. Everybody just lent us instruments, and lent us a hand basically the whole way through. I mean, every city we went to, we had to find a new cello. We had to deal with creeps that had cellos. [Laughs]
Fraites: I think it was cool, that line “smashed in my car window didn’t touch the stereo,” was kind of this fitting metaphor – you didn’t touch the stereo, sort of, you didn’t steal the music. When we got instruments stolen in Los Angeles, we drove to the LAPD and then we literally drove from there to a house show and played probably one of the best shows we’ve ever played, on borrowed stuff. And it just reminded us of why we do it.
Grizzly Bear expressed some angst about not being nominated for a Grammy and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver basically said he hates the awards. Does that cause you to have any reservations about the nominations?
Fraites: For me, if we win, I don’t want to do anything different. And if we lose, I don’t want to feel sad about it. I want to try to maintain a personal kind of barometer or compass and know our own value. If we win, that would be amazing, but if we don’t win, I don’t want to feel like, this was all for nothing. It’s been a great year, we still have a great album and we still have a lot more music to write. I don’t want to get too effected by the whole process, if I can. But talk is cheap, so. We’ll see what happens.
What’s with the suspenders?
Fraites: When I was in high school, my friend’s brother asked him when you go on stage,' what kind of superhero are you?' I had never really played music that much, so I decided to create my own little uh ...
Your own little superhero outfit?
Fraites: Yeah, outfit, yeah. [Laughs]