In the Middle with The Lumineers

Neyla Pekarek was looking for wedding gigs on Craigslist when she stumbled across an ad for a cellist in a folk band. The Lumineers were born and following the success of hit single Ho Hey back in 2012 the band have had two hit albums and toured the world. Jessica Murray caught up with Neyla ahead of their gig at O2 Academy in October…

So you’re coming to the UK next month – What do you look forward to the most about coming here?

We’ve played in the UK quite a bit so it’s starting to feel more and more like hometown shows. Especially when we’re in London, there’s such a warm welcome there and we’re really grateful for that. I think there’s something dreamy about being there in the dreary cold weather, and we’ve got a couple of days off so I’d love to get the chance to see the new Harry Potter play.

Could you talk a little bit more about the new album? How did you develop your sound from the original Lumineers album?

I think the ideas stray a way a little bit from the more acoustic sound, which was partly intentional and partly because we had more resources. The first album, when you listen back to it now, it has that campfire vibe which is because of what we had access to. At that time we were playing a lot of house shows and living rooms, where things weren’t really plugged in. I think there’s a lot more electric guitar in the second album, there’s a lot less mandolin and things like that, and very little violin. So it’s straying away from that folk Americana sound and more towards a regular rock set up.

I think it feels very natural to us and our fan base as well. It’s funny how you grow with your fans. We weren’t looking to make a record which sounds exactly like the first one, we were wanting to evolve a little bit.

Is there a particular song on the album that you’re really proud of – maybe because it’s a bit different from your usual stuff? 

I think In The Light is an interesting song on the record because it’s really different from anything we’ve done before and it challenged Wesley and Jeremiah’s songwriting, just doing something with different chords than they’d used before. Almost all the songs are in the key of C, and In The Light opened the door to new keys and new melodies.

Do you all contribute to the songwriting and developing process, or does one band member take the lead?

Wesley and Jeremiah are a songwriting duo and they’re pretty private about it. They do a lot better coming up with ideas on their own and then bringing them together and then bringing those to the rest of the group to fill in the gaps. I always tell people it’s not really this vibey, jammy feel, we don’t all sit in a room with our instruments and see what works, it’s very meticulous and it’s a tough process but it works for them. It’s especially tough being on the road because you don’t really get that alone time or privacy, so I think it’s hard for them to write when we’re touring.

It’s such minimal music, the body of the song is always going to be a voice and a guitar and everything else is secondary to that. It’s a band where you have to push your ego out of the way because there’s not going to be a lot of solos. Our piano player for example, he’s an incredible musician and there aren’t really a lot of moments to showcase that.

Did you feel there was this pressure to deliver after the success of the first album?

I think as a band we all processed that a little bit differently. I felt there was a little less pressure personally, because the first time round it felt like we were putting all our eggs in one basket an our family and friends were telling us we were crazy. With the first album we had a lot of success which felt very serendipitous – if something like that happens again then awesome and if not then we’ve had a great career so far.

What is it that drives you and keeps you going as a group?

I think it was always our goal to be able to make music and not have to work a side job that took away from that. All that other stuff is icing on the cake, and we’re certainly honoured and humbled if any of that happens to come up but I think we’re all aware that this could be a flash in the pan situation. It’s amazing that we’re selling out these massive venues right now but it probably won’t be that way forever.

How did the Lumineers come together over time? 

Wes and Jeremiah started writing music together around ten years ago and then they decided to make a move and picked Denver randomly and that’s where I was living, about seven years ago. Two weeks after they moved there they created a Craiglist ad for a cello player. I’d never been in a band or even thought about being in one, but I went to shows and liked music a lot. I had a music degree but I was going to be a teacher and didn’t have anything lined up yet so I was just perusing Craigslist for wedding gigs when I saw this ad for a cello player for a folk band. Things took off for us pretty quickly even if it didn’t feel immediate – but each tour we felt like we were making progress.

I was 22 years old and everything felt really important and it felt like we were making moves. I think for Wes and Jeremiah it took them a while to get to that point. The commitment to touring and not really living lavish lives was a commitment we had to make as a band together.

What would you say to people to encourage them to book a ticket for your tour next month? 

A friend came to a show recently, and he said, ‘It sounds just like the album but on drugs.’ I think some people listen to the album and expect a really mellow show and it’s not a mellow show at all, it’s very energy filled. We take playing live very seriously, we’re not the kind of band who just plays the album back to front. We take a lot of time to craft the live show and we work really hard to make it a performance and an experience for those who buy tickets. I find the studio to be a bit stressful, so I love being on stage and playing live and feeling that energy from the crowd. I think you have to challenge today’s audience to listen a little bit because people don’t have very long attention spans so we try to craft a show that keeps everyone engaged. We try to have a good balance of challenging the listener but also giving the audience what they want.

The Lumineers wil be playing at Leeds O2 Academy on Monday 24th October. You can buy tickets here:

Jessica Murray

(Imgae: NPR)

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