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Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites had a simple mantra while working on the fourth Lumineers album together: “only heat.” That didn’t mean songs couldn’t be slow, or even quiet at points. But they all needed to be captivating enough to propel listeners through a short record that is supposed to feel like a freight train barreling through.
In order to do so, the folk-rock duo tried to be more unfiltered than previous albums, trusting themselves to let raw, early song drafts make it on the final record. It also meant cutting tunes that didn’t give Brightside—the resulting nine-song album, which comes out on January 14—its propulsive energy and emotional resonance.
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“During the last 18 months, probably going on two years now, we have all kind of put a lot of these feelings aside to keep going,” Schultz says. “These songs tapped into those in a good way. It’s been hitting us really hard, which I think is a good sign.”
Ahead of the album’s release, we spoke with Schultz—one of the Denver band’s co-founders, along with Fraites—about what allowed the pair to be spontaneous, moments of inspiration, and the power of a certain type of nostalgia.
Editor’s note: This conversation was edited for length and clarity.
5280: You mentioned in a video promo for the new album that your process was spontaneous for the first time in your careers. What did you mean by that?
Wesley Schultz: Every once in a while, you have these moments where you are not writing something as much as it is coming out of you. You’re almost having a seance for it. For this album, it was a lot of walking around the park and singing to myself from a melody I had and getting the lyrics that way. Or [Fraites] sending me something, and then within a minute sending something back to him that ends up being most of the lyrics. They just kind of spilled out, and there is a certain energy to that. In the past, we didn’t really trust ourselves enough to do something like that. So we just planned everything out meticulously. And then we would go in the studio and imitate the thing we did a month or a year ago. This time around, it was a lot of us hitting record, and that is what you are eventually hearing on the record.
Was there something about this moment in both of your lives that allowed that improvisation to happen?
I think timing is everything in life. If you let us do that on album two or album three, I don’t know what happens. For me, I made a solo record, and so did [Fraites]. I think that really informed, for me, how to approach the new record. For [my solo album], I didn’t plan anything out. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was doing cover songs. It allowed me to go in and just perform the songs and trust a little bit that a really fast pace can be magical. It also would have been a mistake to start recording this album without making those records first. A lot of people, family and friends, assume that the pandemic meant we had all this time to write and record. And it is not that simple. We needed something to push off of for inspiration, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
What was that moment of inspiration?
We started writing “A.M. Radio” together [in fall 2020]. We think we have this chorus that we are working out, and then a few days later, we realize that is just a really bad idea. It is hard when you have this really strong part of a song, like a verse, and the chorus just isn’t up to snuff. So we kept looking. And Jeremiah found this old idea that became the chorus. It was called “Dallas greenroom” on a voice memo. I think he found some piano backstage somewhere, and you can hear like a chain-link fence as he is playing and recording these ideas. He played it for me, and the two ideas—the verse and chorus—just kind of collided. Sometimes when you have a breakthrough on an idea like that, the rest of it just kind of feels like running downhill.
You’ve described the title track for the album, “Brightside,” as feeling like a 15-year-old’s fever dream. You also shot the video for “A.M. Radio” at your old high school in New Jersey. It seems like nostalgia is a recurring theme with a lot of these new songs.
Yeah, I think nostalgia feels like a weirdly dirty word. Part of it, for me, is that you can have a soundtrack to the past. This almost, like, yearning to feel what you felt like when you were 15. Some people have nostalgia for the past, where they are like, I loved school because I didn’t have to have a job. And weekends were great. That’s almost like a high-school-football-player type of nostalgia. There is a different kind that is more feelings based. Like, do you remember what love felt like the first time? Or the first time you smoked a cigarette? There is something about that age, like 15, where everything feels so new, and you are indestructible. I think we had a longing for that feeling, because [the present] felt so vulnerable, fragile—like everything was up for grabs. I can’t go see family. I can’t go on tour. My wife had a baby, and I am wearing this mask. All of this stuff is up for grabs, and you want to feel like you are a kid riding in a car with a cigarette again.
Last year, you shared with fans that you’d been moved to tears listening to something from the album. What song was it?
It happened a few times, but I think that particular day it was “Big Shot.” We had been working on it for a few days in the studio, and it just seemed like a lost cause. It was being played quicker, its pace was getting faster. I had this memory of a kid in high school who covered “Desperado” in a coffee shop—and that song is pretty badass, and it is slow as hell. We just kind of let it be and all this emotion came out of the song. So listening back, it summoned this deep, deep well of emotion. But that’s what is so great about music. It can make you feel alive.
(Read more: The Lumineers Have a Grand Plan to Get Fans Listening to Albums)