Before “Ho Hey” catapulted the Lumineers and its founding members Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites to multi-platinum status in nearly a dozen countries, the band toured the country as an independent act, playing plenty of DIY house shows along the way. Those humble beginnings helped launch one of the biggest careers in modern folk-rock music, and they also dominate the latter half of the Lumineers’ conversation with podcast host Chris Shiflett during this new episode of Walking the Floor.
“Ho Hey” was a phenomenon, selling more than four million copies in less than one year’s time while dominating the charts in multiple formats. As Shiflett points out, an omnipresent hit such as that will either make or break a band. “At every one of [my children’s piano] recitals,” he explains during the interview’s introduction, “there would be one or two kids doing ‘Ho Hey.’ That kind of success can kill a band, or it can make you stronger.”
In the Lumineers’ case, the song helped set the stage for a diverse career. The band turns a new page with the album III, whose creation and promotion is also detailed during the Walking the Floor interview. Below, we’ve rounded up several highlights from the conversation.
To whip up attention for their newest album, III, the Lumineers released 10 cinematic music videos created by Hollywood director Kevin Phillips.
“For me and Wes,” explains Fraites, “the album sonically feels differently. Conceptually, it’s a bit darker and has more elements the Lumineers fans aren’t used to. It felt different to put the album out, and what better way to do something different than with Kevin?”
The Lumineers chose to structure III as a combination of three unique “chapters,” effectively breaking the album into a trio of EPs.
“I always admire Jack White’s instincts — his ability to get me interested in what he’s doing,” explains Schultz. “That’s a form of creativity we’ve never really leaned on [before].” Additionally, the decision to break the album into three easily digestible EPs was influenced by a public whose attention span continues to wane. Adds Wes, “We were joking about how people will watch three Games of Thrones episodes in a row, but if you give them a 35-minute album to listen to, they’re like, ‘Whoa, dude — I’ll get to this in a month.'”
Before the band embraced their signature folk-rock sound, they took a far more complex approach to their music, filling it with unique time signatures and complex chord structures. Simplifying their approach was a conscious decision.
“We were trying to draw a really complicated face, or a skyline or something,” Fraites says. “And at some point, we said, ‘Lets just try to do a circle — let’s do a circle as good as possible,’ and I think we exhausted all these complex ideas and we just got over it.”
While independently touring the country before the career-launching success of “Ho Hey,” the band focused heavily on house shows in smaller towns.
“We saw through the bullshit of the big city game,” says Schultz, referring to the top-tier markets that typically dominate a band’s touring schedule. “It looks really good on your website — like, ‘I’m playing New York, and this is the venue I’m playing’ — and you take a lot of superficial pride in that, looking at your tour dates all full. And then when you go play that [big-city venue], everybody would be waiting for the next band, or talking, but whenever we’d play the house show, it’s like you had everyone there in the palm of your hand for the hour that you had.”
Schultz’s advice to other burgeoning bands: focus on house shows first.
“I try to tell people starting out, ‘You can live anywhere as a musician,'” he explains. “Actors don’t have that luxury. But musicians can kind of live anywhere, because you should be touring while starting out, if you’re trying to spread the word. But also, house shows are far more valuable when you’re starting out. We’d play a few times in a row as house shows, and the next time, if we did play a venue, all those people actually knew the music and they’d pay the money and they’d come to the show. Because you actually got through to them.”
When “Ho Hey” became an international, multi-platinum hit, the bandmates took their success in stride. . .while also making sure they didn’t become a one-hit wonder.
“I always pictured it like it was this upright statue, and you’re in its shadow, and you’ve gotta get out from underneath it and get back in the sun,” Schultz says of “Ho Hey.” “If you don’t, then you’re in the dark. You’ve gotta fight really hard, for this fortunate thing that gave you so much, to get out of it. It’s a really big blessing, but you also have to fight really hard to get out of its wake.”