Austin City Limits Festival spans a large proportion of the 350-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park situated just outside the Texan city, otherwise known as the Live Music Capital of the World. Consequently, the festival site, like most things in America, is huge, and like all outdoor events, there is much vying for your attention. It was surprising, then, to note that at 5pm on Sunday 14th October, the final of the three-day event, over at the Austin Ventures stage – a modest-sized platform in the centre of the site – one of the weekend’s biggest crowds drew to watch a band who have barely even made their name known in the UK.
The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album dropped in the US back in April, and since then have witnessed a steady organic growth in popularity. Comparisons were made to Mumford And Sons, as the posh folkies invaded the States, but The Lumineers are less imposing and weighty than their English counterparts; theirs is an authentic rootsy sound that echoes two hundred years of American music. Now that ‘The Lumineers’ is finally available in the UK, it’s time to shine again.
“What makes The Lumineers stand out from the pack?” says singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz, repeating Clash’s question. “I have my ideas, but I think at the end of the day that has to be so clear to everyone else I should never have to say anything. If I have to answer then we’re not doing a good job.”
Perhaps it’s the warmth and familiarity of their music. The trio started life as a duo – Wes and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites – who, having both unsuccessfully pursued other options, came together in 2002 to collaborate, and faced a long journey of self-discovery and co-operation. “I began hearing what he’d been doing musically and then I would write the lyrics over it – that was the initial start to it,” Wes explains. “We sort of met in the middle for a little while that way. That took two or three years before we started writing things that had an identity. It was kinda trying everything and anything was accepted.”
“I think we touched on every genre,” Jeremiah picks up. “We just tried everything… “Trying” doesn’t seem to do it justice – we would just dive in head first and try to complete any song idea that anyone presented.”
Their exploratory partnership was interrupted by Jer’s studying in London, then Wes heading to China, and then to Brooklyn, before the pair decided to move to Denver to concentrate fully on music. “I was like, ‘Let’s go to the middle of nowhere and be so far from our parents and so far from anything that’s safe’,” says Jer. “And that was really the fire under our ass that we were out there and it was no joke anymore.”
The duo’s ‘Eureka!’ moment struck upon the completion of the song ‘Flowers In Your Hair’, a stirring, stomping country-ish acoustic tune that suggested a definite direction, and which ultimately opens their album. Yet their sound was incomplete – they heard what they missed and they knew what they wanted: a cellist.
Answering the boys’ Craigslist ad for a cellist, Neyla Pekarek became the third member of The Lumineers. The line-up complete, their sound strengthened and their commitment obvious, the trio embarked on a DIY tour that saw them literally taking their music into the homes of fans, playing house shows across the country and making new friends, contacts and converts along the way. Signing a management deal in 2011, the group were able to fund the recording of an album, developed with no creative intrusions, then use it to entice a record deal.
“We were not going to sign a multi-record deal at that time because no-one knew us and there wasn’t anything fair on the table,” Wes begins.
“Trying to get a one record deal was out the question,” Jer continues. “Everyone was saying, ‘No-one does that, that’s not how it works’. We were like, ‘Well, let’s just find someone who’s into that because it’s a great album’. It just seems weird that people who’ve been in the business for ten years are just like, ‘Well, that’s just how it’s done’, and are kinda stagnant in their thinking where they don’t think outside the box, and I think we were just like, ‘Let’s just do a one record deal; that sounds like a really smart relationship.’”
The result was ‘The Lumineers’, an impressive eleven-track album that encapsulates the captivating appeal of the trio. The rhythms and shouts of ‘Submarines’ recalls Cold War Kids; Wes is perfectly yearning in the anthemic highlight ‘Dead Sea’; there’s delicate beauty in ‘Slow It Down’, ‘Flapper Girl’ and ‘Morning Song’, while ‘Big Parade’ and ‘Ho Hey’ are seriously rousing. The latter song may be a current earworm that you can’t identify – it can be heard on the recent E.On Energy advert. This song especially proved the making of The Lumineers in the US, though the band confirm that it’s not their only asset: “People don’t walk out after we play ‘Ho Hey’,” Wes grins. “We know that there’s other songs.”
Indeed, subsequent to their appearance at SXSW in 2012, it’s been a busy year for the group, with shows selling out, their tour venues gradually increasing in size due to demand, and appearing on national TV, which has proven the most distinct piece of evidence attesting to the group’s success: “It’s hard to tell [my parents] what’s happening, and they’re not at the shows, they don’t quite see it,” admits Neyla, “but something like television or Jay Leno, that’s tangible to them. They’re like, ‘Oh, they’re doing well. They’re on Leno.’”
Which brings us to Austin in October. After witnessing their dominance at ACL, Clash accompanies The Lumineers down to New Orleans for their sold-out House Of Blues gig, and once again observe not only the adoration and allegiance they effortlessly acquire, but the effect of their soaring choruses and sharp hooks. Not least when they venture down into the crowd for an unplugged, strictly-no-filming segment, and bring the venue to silence. “When you do something like that people get weird, in a good way,” Jer smiles. “It makes them think, ‘What the hell is going on right now?’ It would be as if you were in a restaurant and the waiter gets on top of the table and goes, ‘What do you what you want to order?’ It just shocks your brain a little bit, slaps you in the face and wakes you up.”
And there you have the secret of The Lumineers: anything can happen. They’re coming to your town soon – prepare to be dazzled.
Words: Simon Harper
Photography: Samuel John Butt