By Mark Jordan
IT’S BEEN A WHIRLWIND few weeks for Denver folk-rock trio The Lumineers since the release last month of their self-titled debut album.
The band, augmented to five pieces on the road, played 63 shows in 49 days, culminating two weeks ago in their national TV debut on Conan O’brien’s TBS late-night show, says band singer guitarist Wesley Schultz.
“It was kind of surreal to be a part of something we already were fans of,” says Schultz, who puts the band’s upcoming spot on National Public Radio in the same league. “I think we’re all just finally coming up for air and turning back to our full selves and getting ready for this next tour.”
For The Lumineers, who perform Wednesday at the Hi-tone Café, the sudden rush of exposure is disconcerting but welcome, the culmination of a long musical journey that has finally paid off with the release of the record.
“I think why it feels really good is that we’re really passionate about doing things our own way and not compromising on things, and that’s a really hard thing to pull off when you’re doing your first record,” says Schultz, pointing to the band’s insistence on completely remixing before its release. “We spent about five years failing, just not really successfully touring or making any money at it and working a lot of side jobs. When you finally get an opportunity, the instinct is to just go along with whatever the person giving you the opportunity suggests, but we were lucky that we were able to stay true.”
Schultz and bandmate Jeremiah Fraites first started playing together in 2005, but the roots of the collaboration go back much further. Growing up in Ramsey, N.J., outside of New York City, Schultz’s best friend was Jeremiah’s older brother, Joshua. After Joshua died in 2002 at age 19 from a drug overdose, Schultz and Fraites consoled themselves by making music.
After awhile of trying to make their way in New York, high rents drove the pair to relocate to Denver. There, one of the first things they did was place an ad on Craigslist looking for a cellist. Denver native Neyla Pekarek was the first to respond, and Schultz says she has become an indispensable component of the group’s sound, adding to not just strings but also piano and mandolin.
“It was good that she worked out because I don’t know if we had a lot of other options at the time,” says Schultz, joking that the crowds started showing up only when she joined. “She adds a lot of things, both tangible and intangible. … She just has this can’t-keep-her- down mentality. She’s such a pro about bouncing back and putting on a smile and putting on a show.”
The warm acoustic vibe of The Lumineers has earned the group comparisons to such other folk throwbacks as Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, but Schultz doesn’t see the band as strictly traditional.
“I think we just try to write good songs,” he says. “When you have a cello or a mandolin on some songs or acoustic guitars, you immediately think that it’s folk, Americana, roots or whatever you want to call it.
“We’re just trying to make songs that resonate, and I think you can play them on a number of instruments. We just happen to be using real piano and acoustic guitars.”