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The past year has been a thrill ride for Neyla Pekarek, Wesley Schultz, and Jeremiah Fraites—the core members of the Lumineers. The dynamic indie act from Denver has catapulted from the Meadowlark’s weekly open mic night to selling out back-to-back shows at the Bluebird Theater, a cross-country tour schedule, and a performance on the Late Late Show. Their new self-titled LP is a collection of foot-stompin’, raw folk tunes, and it has earned the group a spot on Colorado’s most hallowed stage, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where they’ll open for Cake next month. “When I moved to Denver, that was my dream,” Fraites (right) says. “I cut out a picture of Red Rocks and looked at it every day.” thelumineers.com
5280.com Exclusive:We talked to the band to learn more about why they landed in Denver, the Meadowlark, and the cello.
You guys have been getting a lot of national attention lately.
It’s been a daydream, or a fairytale, or something. We were in Seattle; our manager is located there. We’re talking to her and hearing great things about iTunes sales and Billboards, and European tours—crazy things. And on the other hand I just went to my hometown in New Jersey and everything was quiet. Weird to be back where I grew up and where [Wes and I] started writing music together.
How’d you guys land in Denver? I read you just packed up and left the East Coast on a whim.
Things hit a boiling point in New Jersey. I was ready to leave. I had been living with my parents for the first 23 years of my life. Wes was living in Brooklyn. We wanted to kind of run away from the New York City scene. I had two buddies moving out to Denver at the same time. We moved too.
The band started out playing the Meadowlark open mic. What do you remember about playing there?
I love that place. I don’t know much about the beat generation—all those sicko writers and maniac geniuses—but the days at the Meadowlark are what I imagine those guys must have felt like. We went every Tuesday for nine months. There was so much talent. We met all of our musical friends there. You could see 10 to 15 amazing bands for free. For me, it was my religion in the sense that no matter what was going on I looked forward to Tuesday nights. I think we learned a lot as performers there. When I’d go there, I’d play tambourine. For months, no one knew I even played the drums. They just thought I screamed and played the tambourine. That was always the litmus test for Wes and I: If [a song] could work with me stomping and on tambourine, and him on guitar, then it would probably be really cool with a band. I owe that place the world. When I think about the Lumineers starting in Denver, I connect it to the Meadowlark.
How do you describe your music to people who aren’t familiar with the band?
It’s easier to explain the instrumentation. For some reason, that speaks so much louder than descriptions.Well, there’s an acoustic guitar. A cello. As soon as you say cello, I’m telling you, man, people’s eyes light up.
You guys have been playing some of the tunes on the new album for years now. Do you ever get sick of playing them?
If I started to hate these songs, I think I’m missing the point of what’s happening here. We’ve been playing “Ho Hey” for at least two years. I remember playing in Cody, Wyoming for four people (including the bartender). Every now and then I have a pep talk with myself. Now is the time to really perform these songs. If we started to slouch on these songs, that would defeat the purpose of all the hard work we put into it.
Do you ever change your tunes at all for the live performances?
We change ’em sometimes just in the green room. By no means are we a jam band. More for our sanity, we change ’em up here and there. I think it’s really neat to see these songs live. We really like our live energy and I think people have always responded to it well. Sometimes we’re almost too crazy. But if we can’t have five people on stage believe in [the music] how are you going to get hundreds of people believing?
What kind of venues have you guys been playing on this tour?
It’s changed drastically. We’ve gone on nine tours before this one. We’re not playing the biggest rooms in town, but we’ve been selling a lot of tickets and many have sold out. We sold out Chicago and Brooklyn. Last year at this time it was like: “fuck yeah,” if we sold five CDs.
What was your reaction to finding that out you were opening for Cake at Red Rocks?
I think we all high-fived in the band. I moved to Denver and that was my dream. I read somewhere that if you can have something in the room with pictures of stuff, and words, whatever you want to achieve, you can do it. I cut out a picture of Red Rocks and I looked at it every day. I always wanted to play there. It’s a dream come true.