The Lumineers frontman Wesley Schultz is torn. Speaking from his home in Denver, Colorado, the singer and guitarist cannot decide whether lockdown has been good or bad for him. “Being gone two or three hundred days a year — home is exotic,” he muses. “Now I have been home so long, the road has become exotic again.”
His band, with drummer Jeremiah Fraites (Jer to his friends) is known for a few things: energetic live shows, folksy Americana and the inescapable 2012 single Ho Hey. In recent years, the pair have developed further, contributing music to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and Game Of Thrones, and delving deeper into personal matters on each successive album.
But they have spent much of the past year and a half stuck at home like the rest of us. “Collectively, as a band — and as a country — it has been really hard to put into words,” Schultz offers. “Everybody has been through a collective trauma.”
The Lumineers came straight off touring their third album, titled III, and into lockdown. Despite living for much of the year only a short drive from each other in Denver, they were forced to swap ideas for their next album remotely, through voice notes and phone calls.
“That’s what is so weird about this time,” he recalls. “He was actually in Denver the whole time, but everybody was being super cautious, so we didn’t get together for five or six months after the tour ended. It was very difficult at the beginning.”
The first months of lockdown saw The Lumineers find other musical outlets. Schultz recorded a covers album entitled Vignettes, featuring songs by a roll call of his heroes, including Springsteen and Dylan. Fraites completed an album of intimate piano-centric instrumentals that had been in the works for about a decade.
The band are also releasing an EP, Live From The Last Night Of Tour, through Decca Records, recorded in March 2020 in Milwaukee, weeks before lockdown began. “It was like dipping your feet back into creativity in a much easier way than diving right into a record,” he says. “The way we make records is so… we pour everything into it and you holler yourself out. This is more like, I would show up, we’d pick a couple of songs and sing them.
“Jer made his own beautiful solo record of instrumental songs and I think that helped us to wade back into the waters. Then we started making our demos for the next record after that. I feel that’s been the highlight, aside from the fact that I had a daughter in March. So new life in a time where it felt really, really dire for the last couple of years.”
Schultz is excited at the prospect of a full return to normality, but remains cautious in his optimism. “It’s like you have been through something that has resulted in PTSD,” he half-laughs. “You don’t know what to count on any more.”
“Even just playing shows, I am really looking forward to it, but I will believe it when I see it. “I am finally starting to see it a little bit but I don’t trust that much any more. I’m not taking anything for granted at the moment. I hope all these dates happen.”
Schultz already had a son, Lenny, born in 2018, with his wife Brandy, before they welcomed their daughter during the pandemic. “It was a mixed bag,” he confesses of the lockdown. “But I can say, my son — who is now three — I got to witness two of the most important years of his life, they say, with development. And I felt so lucky for that. I got to wake up with him every day and take a lot of care of him.
“Whereas he would come on the road and on tour with us — his first steps were in Japan, in a hotel in Kyoto. His life was travelling with me and I didn’t see him a ton, because we were so busy. In that way, it was a huge, huge blessing and one that you didn’t feel that guilty about, because there was nothing to be done.”
The Lumineers have recorded a new record which does not yet have a release date or title. But Schultz says it will take the band away from the overt storytelling of their previous records, and take influence from Neil Young, Kurt Cobain and Sir Ray Davies.
“Album three got super personal,” he admits. “It reminded me of the Harry Potter books, where they start and sound really innocent, and they become darker and darker. This record is very different for a couple of reasons. It certainly is personal, but it’s vulnerable in a different way.”
He pauses to gather his thoughts. “We played it for the guy who ended up being our music video director for our first single — and he was listening to it and his girlfriend walked in and she said, ‘Oh, this is a vibe’. It’s more of a feeling you get, rather than leaning in to hear what the story is. It is trying to cast a spell and send a feeling out to the listener.”
Lockdown has prompted The Lumineers to look back at their 20 years in music. “I wouldn’t have chosen for it to be this way,” Schultz explains when asked about their ascent. “It required a lot of patience. I was about 30 when we got a break.” However, there were some benefits to delayed gratification. “To have that was a blessing in disguise,” he continues. “Because I was more formed and I could say no to things that I wasn’t comfortable with. Small example, but if you have album art you want to use and you are 30 or 20, you are going to have a different level of willingness to fight for it.”
Schultz points to a framed image behind him on the wall. It’s the cover of The Lumineers’ eponymous debut album — a black and white childhood photograph of his mother holding a parasol as his grandmother looks on. Live From The Last Night Of The Tour is out now. The Lumineers tour the UK and Europe in early 2022.
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