10 Questions: Wes Schultz of The Lumineers

The Lumineers are playing sold-out shows across the country (including one at Antone’s this Thursday) but we were able to catch up with band leader Wes Schultz to discuss their super-catchy record, playing on Conan and the musical atmosphere in their adopted hometown of Denver.

Q: There’s a full record out, what can you tell us about it?

A: We did home studio recording for about four years, three or four years. And we got the opportunity to step into a pretty legendary studio – what I call a bona fide studio – and use sort of top of the line equipment and record it all together. And for all those reasons, we couldn’t really pass it up, so we went in there and the idea of the home recording is something that we really felt strongly about, but it was also to give ourselves the opportunity to step into a studio and immortalize some of these songs that we just didn’t really have the ability to do full justice in our own facility.

That being said, when we got to the studio, we had a lot of songs that we had worked out rough drafts for, the demos that we did on our own. The new record is just full of songs that are recorded at a really legitimate studio, and – instead of a home studio – and I think it’s just done the justice to so many songs.

They’re done the right way. They’re not overdone or overused, but they are done. They were given the proper attention. We’re excited about the fact that we were able to take all these songs and do ‘em justice.

Q: Are there any that came out particularly special in your mind?

A: I think every one of ‘em, to be honest, in their own little way. Something like “Morning Song” took three years to write. And I mean we recorded that late one night at Bear Creek, just something in the air; it was a really good time to do it.

And then something like “Dead Sea” was – a lot of that was written a couple months before we went into the studio, and then the bass line was written while we were at the studio, and so the arrangement that they got. Some of them were sort of – well, a lot of them were already wrote and sharpened and written and planned and crafted. And then a couple of ‘em, got a lot of help at the studio. They all have like their own different story, different timelines, almost different age.

Q: There’s been a lot of buzz about the band recently, but you’ve been working at it for a while. Do you feel like it’s a sudden thing?

A: It’s a funny thing. I mean it’s a combination of the two. I’ve been in a band with Jeremiah for close to seven years now, so in that way it’s, you know, it’s sort of slow, but – and this fickle really funny business, because it seems that we got steam pretty quickly. It feels to a lot of people like overnight success, and that’s fine if that’s how they want to think of it. I think we just are happy to have The Lumineers and anything resembling success next to it, because it allows us to tour and be full-time professional musicians and not have to work side jobs and, you know, do this for a living.

And that’s something that’s really important to all of us. It does feel pretty quick, but it also feels funny because we’ve been doing the same thing in terms of the songs we’ve written and play live, and the only difference is now when we come to towns, people know we’re coming. And the last few cities we’ve been in, we’ve never even been in before, and the rooms are selling out – 250, 400, 500 people come out. So in that way it’s feels great, but there’s a long road before that.

Q: You’re getting a lot of radio play here in Austin, but what was it like when you heard yourself on the radio for the first time?

A: I didn’t really hear it on the radio for a while. A lot of people were telling me that they’d heard it. I heard it while I was just driving over to Jerry’s to do something music related. And I heard a song and then heard an interview with us. It took a while, but I’d heard it from a lot of people they’d heard it either in their car or at work or at a Starbucks or at a Whole Foods. I heard a lot of that, but it took a while for me to actually hear it. It was pretty funny, this delay in us hearing it. The coolest thing about the outside looking in at yourself, you don’t do a lot of it as musicians, was when we went on Conan O’Brien and then saw it at night. That was pretty neat. I think that was pretty – something I’ll never forget. He’s a person that we all admire and respect a lot, and at the show we watch, and it’s really cool to be a part of that. That was sort of everything and more than I expected out of that experience, ’cause I had a really – I didn’t really know what to expect, and I thought maybe I’d be disappointed or – but I was really, really blown away by the whole experience. It was just special, you know, for a lot of reasons.

Q: How did you end up a Denver-based band?

A: people are funny about where you’re from ’cause we’re from New Jersey and we’re proud of that, but it’s a really long explanation to say where each band member is from ’cause we’re all scattered a little bit, so – yeah, basically Jeremy and I grew up in a small town in New Jersey called Ramsey, and it’s in the middle of New Jersey. We spent our years growing up there. Then I went away to school and I came back. I lived at home for a period of time, thinking I was just gonna move out right away, and I found that making music with Jer had a lot of potential, a lot of – I saw something in it, so I stuck around for a number of reasons home, and we started our own studio and recorded there.

And then we eventually moved, with that music that we had made in our own studio, to Denver, the two of us, and we found Neyla through a Craigslist ad. We posted an ad looking for a cello player we wanted, and she was the first to respond, and it was great. And from there we just sort of – we filled in the missing pieces with people from that area, from Denver, through our connections we made playing the scene and meeting people, now we have a bass player and a piano player. Whereas before we just ended up all switching instruments constantly, now we have more devoted musicians.

Q: How does the location of the band impact the sound?

A: Because of moving to Denver, we’ve met a lot of people who knew a lot of other people with places to play. So it was basically this big community, this network and this exchange of information that happened when we moved to Denver. It was through some bands like Paper Bird. And all these bands are very open, share information, helping each other out. And I know it sounds crazy, but that’s not really the case with every musical community, so some places are more like they’ll elbow each other out of the way. Some scenes are more characterized by what Denver is, which is let’s try to help each other out and help each other make it.

So I think the music is influenced by – it’s not so much the mountains or anything we’ll write about mountains or the sky or nature or something. It’s much more about the DIY attitude and the mentality that Denver has that allowed us to start seriously touring and becoming a legitimate band instead of, you know, a home town hero kind of thing. And so I think that that, along with it being you have access to both coasts, which is pretty rare for a city. If you’re an East Coast band, you probably play more on the East Coast and less on the West Coast. But in Denver, you can get out to both coasts so easily, and I don’t think enough bands actually think about stuff like that, and then they got a lot of work to do.

Denver has a lot going for it, not to mention just the wonderful people and scenery, but really – I’ve always just kind of written about just where I’m about and I’m from and the stories that I know. And so I’m learning about people around me in Denver now. A lot of what we wrote about is how we – is much more about where we came from before we moved there.

Q: What would we find if we looked inside your tour van?

Well, we’ve been resisting the smartphone evolution forever; we took pride in it. And I think being on the road as often as we are, almost everyone of us has gotten a smartphone because it just helps to deal with e-mail, and staying connected to family and friends and call people, stuff like that.

I think it’s just a lot of what we bring with us is important to us. Often it relates to staying in touch with the ones we love that we have to leave. And sort of be something like, you know, bringing a bass, something like that.

Neyla, our cello player, she has a box of really precious items that only she could describe, but they’re pretty awesome.

Q: What’s on your mix tape?

A: It would be band I’ve come across that I’ve been able to – luckily been able to tour with or meet. Bands like Paper Bird and Y La Bamba. We just toured with them. They’re a wonderful band. So is the band Hounds Mouth and the Felice Brothers. Felice Brothers are – if you don’t know ‘em, you should. They’re incredible.

And most of my tapes are pretty classic. They’re Talking Heads and The Cars and Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and stuff like that. But people already know them, but another guy worth checking out – his name is Sawmill Joe. He works in a sawmill, and he just cut his finger off back before our show. We had him opening for us in January. And he chopped off one of his – his ring finger on his pick hand and he still played the gig. He’s a hell of a dude and we cover his song every night.

Q: Are there things that you’d like to learn how to do but can’t find the time?

A: I’d like to build my own motorcycle. I’d like to learn how to do that, to just get better with mechanical parts and stuff like that. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that. I think that’ll be when it slows down a little bit and when my brother and mother stop making me not to ride a motorcycle.

And piano too. I just want to get more proficient on the piano. I don’t have a lot of time, believe it or not, to like pop on a piano and doodle around, but I’d like to sort of just get better at it ’cause I can only really play a couple of songs on it that I love. So, motorcycles and pianos.

Q: What should people who come out to your show expect?

A: Live music is a different animal than a record, and I think we’re really proud of the record we made, but I think we just hope that people come out to the show because we put a lot of effort into our shows and giving people a night instead of looking down at our shoes, playing our songs like your hit and play our CD. And it seems like, as the word’s getting out, that there are people finding out about us. We’re pretty blown away by the places that sell out. I think Boston and Houston and all these places are sold out, so we’re just scratching our heads. We don’t really understand how this is happening, but we’re really – we’re damned thankful for it.

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