Lumineers on Second-Album Pressure, Managing Sudden Fame
In 2012, a few months after his band, the Lumineers, released its eponymous debut album, Wesley Schultz was unsure he had the willpower to continue pursuing his dream of being a successful musician. “I remember joking with the band: ‘I’m almost 30, and I’m hauling around this Aerobed that keeps popping,'” recalls the singer-songwriter, who months earlier had been supporting himself as a busboy when not on the road with his still-fledgling band. “I don’t know if this is going to work when I’m 40. Something’s gotta give here.” The singer/guitarist can now look back on his band’s salad days with relief: On the strength of The Lumineers‘ massive acoustic-guitar-and-tambourine-anchored Top Five single “Ho Hey,” the folk-rock band exploded onto the scene in 2013, scoring a platinum album, Grammy nominations and a performance on Saturday Night Live.
“I never had expectations of one one-thousandth of what happened with that record,” Schultz says of his band’s mainstream ascent, subsequent headlining festival gigs and constant touring for the better part of the past three years. “You’re now being told you’re this band people want to hear, but before that, you’re completely anonymous. What do you do with that? It’s pretty weird.” For the Colorado-based outfit, which includes Schultz, multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites and drummer/cellist Neyla Pekarek, the best solution was to return to the studio and begin piecing together a new album. Recorded with producer Simone Felice at the Clubhouse studio outside Woodstock, New York, the 11-track Cleopatra, due on April 8th, sees the band continuing to remain sonically sparse while indulging some of their more ambitious musical concepts.
“A fair amount of the record feels like a new approach,” Schultz says, pointing to the final two tracks on the album — the free-flowing “My Eyes” seguing into the instrumental piano outro “Patience” — as indicative of the band’s more adventurous mindset this go-round. “I don’t know if we would have even put them on the first record or if we could have even written those kind of songs. We were sort of in this manic state on the first one: If we were playing a show, you might leave at any minute. I feel like we’ve earned a bit of trust.”
Schultz admits the band’s mammoth success in recent years was something of a hindrance when writing their second album. He describes mainstream recognition as “this third-party in the room,” which the band had to learn to disregard. “You kind of wanted to kick it out and focus on what you’re doing,” he says. “But you have to do that by writing more songs.” Adds Fraites, “I think if I had let the pressure and fear bog me down, the album really would have turned out worse. But it was about trying to flip that fear and anxiety from ‘Oh, no! So many people are going to want to listen to this’ to ‘Fuck, yeah! A lot of people are going to want to listen to this.'”