Foto-© Universal Music

Die US-amerikanische Band The Lumineers waren eine der ersten Bands, die mit Folk- und Country-Einflüssen die Grenzen zum Pop verschwimmen ließen und damit ein Massenpublikum weltweit ansprachen. Von ihren ersten beiden Alben The Lumineers (2012) und Cleopatra (2016) verkauften sie mehrere Millionen Exemplare und erhielten weltweit mehr als 50 Platinauszeichnungen. Der Song Ho Hey landete auf dem Soundtrack zu Silver Linings und wurde weltweit ein Hit. Jetzt brachte die Band um die Songwriter Wesley Schultz und Jeremiah Fraites mit III ein neues Konzeptalbum raus, für das sie erneut mit Musiker und Produzent Simone Felice von den Felice Brothers zusammenarbeiteten. Wir trafen Wesley und Jeremiah in Berlin zum Interview und befragten sie nach dem Entstehungsprozess zum Album, den Einflüssen dazu und der perfekten Bedroomdisco.

When did you have the initial idea to do this concept album?
Wesley: We tried doing this years ago and I found the small CDs. It never really worked out. This was probably 12 years ago. Since then there wasn’t really the right material or songs to do this. The idea was always kicking around. We had these characters between Gloria, Jimmy and Junior later. It was an invitation to say: “Maybe you can finally do this thing that you’ve been wanting to do and it all makes sense.” We didn’t want to force it on an album that didn’t really add up for a listener.

Would you say it was a creative challenge? How was the creative process?
Wesley: It was almost like taking something that you already had and getting creative with it once again. We wrote the record separately. We finished and then sequenced them. It seemed like this album could be put in 3 parts….almost like 3 acts in a play or 3 chapters in a book. The initial concept was “love, loss and crimes”: The first could be about love, then loss and the last crime. We looked at the theme and songs and none of them added up that way. But then the characters emerged, and it made perfect sense. It wasn’t at all that we sat down and said: “Let’s write a concept record and start with Gloria.” There was no pre-planning in that way.

What did your label say when you told them: “We got this new idea about doing a concept album?”
Wesley: I think they liked the idea. I think that the costs of all the videos was something that they didn’t love because it means that you spend money without any guarantee that you get anything back. They were slightly supportive, but we basically financed it ourselves. Then they were ok with it because we were the ones taking it into risk and we were ok with that. I felt like since we started working together and making together 14 years ago, we always put things on credit cards and just bought the instruments we needed and tried to have no excuses for whatever we were going for. Don’t blame it on the fact someone didn’t help you, just help yourself. It was once again one of those things where we were trying to help ourselves and just did it the way we wanted to do it. Once we did it, they have been really supportive just initially there was a little bit of hesitation.

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Could you explain a bit the creative process for the whole concept album: with whom did you collaborate for the videos?
Wesley: It was done in two phases. I sat down with our creative director and said: “Hey, we have this album and want to make music videos. Can you help me make storyboard this?” It was probably a dozen slides with the various explanations like this is chapter one, here is what we want the characters to look and feel like, here is what it is based on the songs etc. The second phase was finding a director. There is this movie called Super Dark Times and I really loved it. The director was Kevin Philips, he has been the director of photography on our last albums and did a couple of music videos. We got along with him very well. Then the time came when Jer and I were talking: “Who can do this well? Who would be the man for the job?” Jer watched Super Dark Times and I asked him: “Do you like it, do you hate it, do you love it?” We both really love what Kevin did in its natural way. We had to convince him to do all the videos. We didn’t want to hire 10 music video directors. He was taking a big-time commitment, a lot of energy. We went from 12 slides to about a 120. He checked in and asked: “Can this character do this? Is this ok?” It reminded me of watching Game of Thrones. There is the guy who writes the books, George R. R. Martin, and then there are these TV writers. I am sure they check in with each other. But the first guy has the roles in his head how the characters behave and the parameters. It was a little bit like that on a much smaller scale. And he did a wonderful job. We are heading to the TIFF, the Toronoto International Film Festival in a couple of days because the short film got in to that. We didn’t really know how significant TIFF was. It went from this small ambitious project to this big project. It’s being looked at the way, we only could have dreamed.

Foto-© Danny Clinch
Foto-© Danny Clinch

Since you mentioned Game of Thrones: Are you big fans of the TV show? How was for it for you to write a song for the show?
Wesley: I wish we could have acted on it!
Jeremiah: To do this song Nightshade was a lot of fun. It reminds me of a song on our new album, called Salt and Sea. Both were written for someone else. If you heard the album, Nightshade takes some parts from Jimmy Sparks, which could be a little confusing for fans. Nightshade was really cool because we had this opportunity knowing the show Game of Thrones and being big fans of it. How do you write a song for that? It seemed like the show has rules how the music should sound. That was cool to work on that. I forget what was first Nightshade or Jimmy – probably Jimmy?
Wesley: Yeah, that was one of the first ideas we ever recorded together. We started writing music in 2005 together. I think you were at the university. We never used the song until now.

This is interesting that you publish ideas that you had years ago. Was there a special reason behind that?
Wesley: I think it wasn’t a good enough song. It didn’t have any of the lyrics, it didn’t have a bridge or a chorus or anything just this great melody. We kept joking that if Jack White wants to produce a song, I think we would bring him this Jimmy Sparks song. It has this dark vibe; it has this riff rock. I bet he would understand what to do with it. The honest answer is that it wasn’t ready. I feel like that it is a skill knowing when it is not fully cooked and not releasing it until it is. Once it is, you can’t go back.
Jeremiah: There are a couple of moments like that like the second single “Life in the city” on the album, easily could have been on the first record but it wasn’t ready not fully cooked. Even the song Salt and the Sea has this piano theme. It was actually one of the first creative ideas I’ve ever had 14-15 years ago. Wes has the strange ability to never forget these ideas.

The single Gloria highlights the destructive path of addiction. Has this song a more significant emotional meaning compared to others on the new album?
Wesley: If I would have to explain this song to a kid: every time you hear that guitar that is the child speaking to the adult. Every time you hear the piano that is the adult speaking back to the child. In this case where there is the mother who is the alcoholic. It’s weird that there is a role reversal where the kid naturally takes care of the parent. The child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. It is this constant dance that they are doing and they don’t even know they are doing it. I think what we really enjoyed writing this song was this trick: if you can make the melody sound peppy and happy and then you can pepper that with some darkness. It has some balance. If it is all just dark or all just happy on the lyrical side and melody side. I like the way that Kevin depicted that visually. If you pause certain scenes and look at what he shot, it is beautiful. There are lot of terrible things also going on and even some comedy going on.
Jeremiah: That is my favorite aspect about Gloria that is sounds like a ridiculously peppy happy song. Lyrically it is really dark, and I love the duality of that song.

I guess a foreign language speaker won’t get the meaning of the song if they just listen to the melody…
Wesley: I have a little child who doesn’t have a big vocabulary but knows words and how to say them but doesn’t know what they all mean. It can be compared to foreign speakers. The child of a friend of mine had a ukulele and played Gloria and knew all the lyrics. And there are some darker lines and he knew them all. That was strange coming from a child. I really like that. There are certain things that are universal. If you watch Shrek for example, I can enjoy for different reasons or Beatles songs for me were so happy sounding, but they are really singing about tough stuff. I remember listening to Hey Jude and thought “Oh, this is so happy!” and then you dive in and realize that is a heavy subject. Some of my favorite films have this smashing together of ugly and pretty.

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What is your favorite movie where this is the case?
Wesley: I was thinking of Natural Born Killers which was directed by Oliver Stone and written by Quentin Tarantino. I guess Tarantino spit in Oliver Stones face on the red carpet you can find a video of it online. There is a scene where Rodney Dangerfield, a famous US Comedian, is in this super dysfunctional family situation with the daughter who ends up as becoming a killer with Woody Harrelson. It is treated like a sitcom with laughter and happy music when all this terrible home life is going on. I think any three-dimensional character in any movie that’s done well is because they are showing softer sides and then harder sides. There is a dynamic in every human being that we are aware of. Even the obsession with serial killer which is huge in the US. I think it is because we all have this public life, but we also have to be something different to our husbands and wives or children. We put on these masks and we wonder who is behind that. In the video there is a scene where a kid, Jimmy Sparks the baby in Gloria, and he has a vodka bottle and he got it to his mouth while his parents are driving to the hospital. I found it interesting because people were offended by that. It is a metaphor that the kid is getting left behind or ignored and forgotten because of all this chaos. The real tragedy is what’s happening all around. So many people are really going through a lot of things of this. We got so many reactions from people even during the video shots during the breaks tell us something very personal. Or a fan meeting us on the street and telling us personal things. It’s not that it didn’t happen on other records, but it is much more pronounced this time.

How will you perform an album like this with a specific structure and story live?
Wesley: We have been trying out a lot of different ways of playing the new stuff. I think we always will. To this point we have 3 albums out, so we play a lot from each album. But we play the entirety of this new record within the set. All the music can be thrown in different order – except the last chapter. It meant to be played in a row.
Jeremiah: It is really exciting for us because when we first came to Germany, we had one album 37 minutes and we had to play for one hour all over the world. We had to double what we had. When we had our second album, we doubled our catalogue. Now we tripled our material. So, it is really liberating for us as a band to play maybe selfishly a lot of new stuff and old stuff because we know the fans wanna see that. I think this tour cycle for the next two years is going to be fun for both band and the crowd so that it will be an incredible experience. It makes the show more balanced.

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I read in an interview from 2012 that you came back to Denver after a world tour and one of your friends asked you: “What’s it like being in one of the biggest bands in the world?” Will you still play hits like Ho Hey or does it also annoy you when people only know this one song?
Wesley: I think it would be annoying, if we felt really that this is, what we are defined by. It felt like it was blocking the sun and you had to get out of it. The only way to do it was to write more songs and to write songs that people appreciated and loved. Songs like Ophelia, Cleopatra, Angela and Sleep on the Floor those were all our ways to get back out in the sun and see the light of the day. You have gratitude for a song like Ho Hey. To me it was like a gateway to the rest of the music. We used to play bars all the time and cover mostly songs. Our band name was Free Beer. We pepper in some of our own music. This feels like we are playing someone else’s song like a cover song. That’s a strange feeling, it has less ownership. It feels like some other band wrote it years ago.
Jeremiah: I get charged of people who think we are just Ho Hey. I almost feel like: I give you tickets for free, sit you in the best seats to watch us. If I meet people on the streets occasionally or a friend of a friend who says: This song Ho Hey is cool. I would tell them to listen to Angela or Sleep on the Floor, listen to other songs because I feel confident enough that we can make you a believer if you do think that we are just a one hit wonder. It is not the case and I feel proud of it of our band and our music.
Wesley: It was not our aspiration to go out and have another Top 40 hit. It’s a very weird plastic kind of world. My favorite bands growing up were acts like Tom Petty, Talking Heads, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen. These were people who had occasionally songs on the radio. But people went to the shows for the whole album.

With which artists would like to collaborate with?
Wesley: We covered a song with Rayland Baxter. He is a fun guy to play with.
Jeremiah: Rayland is great, killer voice, great guitar, good guy.
Wesley: The Felice Brothers, we are big fans of them. Simone used to be in the band, and he produced Cleopatra and III.

How would your bedroomdisco look like?
Jeremiah: For me having a small child and considering the tour life, my sleep is paramount to all things in live. I like it really really dark so it would be the most boring disco. I need a nice bed.
Wesley: I have a room in my house where there are vinyl records, a record player, a pool table and a piano and a fire place. All of those things put you in the mood. It feels like this is the right place to listen to music and hang out with friends. I think this is my favorite thing about music: sitting around with friends and pointing lines out and bonding over songs you love together and crying or laughing. There is always a communal thing.
It is sort of a religious experience if you are lucky and have friends who show you that’s what music is like. This is what my Bedroomdisco would look like and then I would sleep on the pool table.

The Lumineers Tour:
07.11. Zenith, München
13.11. Sporthalle, Hamburg
14.11. Verti Music Hall, Berlin
19.11. Palladium, Köln

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Sara Lingstädt

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