The Lumineers relish chance to play larger body of work
When cellist/bassist Neyla Pekarek answered an ad in 2010 to join a Denver-based band led by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, she was merely looking for a gig to fill some time and earn a little pocket money.
Instead, she has been part of two hit albums (a self-titled effort and the recently released “Cleopatra”) and is set to play some of the biggest stages in the United States later this summer as part of the Lumineers.
“I had just finished school. I was going to be a music teacher and I had just moved back home,” Pekarek says in a phone interview. “I had never been in a band before. I'd been a cellist. I wasn't a guitarist or a drummer or something. It didn't really interest me, to be honest. But I went to shows a lot and had friends in bands. I basically was looking for anything to keep me busy while I looked for a teaching job.”
It didn't take long for Pekarek to decide joining Schultz and Fraites in their now-famous group might be more than a fill-in gig.
By the time Pekarek joined, Schultz (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Fraites (percussion, piano) had already spent eight years laying the groundwork to take the Lumineers beyond local band status.
Based in New Jersey for most of that time, it wasn't until 2009 that they decided to move west to Denver, where things began to click. By late 2011, a debut album, funded by the group's management, had been recorded and the Lumineers were starting to tour. And in December 2011, a first break came when the song “Hey Ho” was used in the season finale of the CW television series, “Hart of Dixie.”
The song became an online hit and soon a few radio stations started to spin “Hey Ho,” which got record labels interested in the Lumineers. The group, though, passed on major label offers and signed with indie label Dualtone Records.
The band's self-titled album came out on Dualtone in April 2012. By that time, “Ho Hey” was already beginning its climb up the Billboard magazine Hot 100 singles chart, peaking at No. 3 on that chart, while topping a half dozen other genre charts. A follow-up single, “Stubborn Love,” topped Billboard's adult alternative chart and went top five at rock airplay and alternative songs.
Powered by the singles, “The Lumineers” reached No. 11 on the Billboard album chart and topped 1 million copies sold, while giving the trio a pair of 2013 Grammy nominations. Meanwhile, the Lumineers were touted as America's answer to Mumford & Sons and a leader of the resurgence of folk music.
The fast ascent from obscurity to national fame was quite the experience for Pekarek.
“It was a total whirlwind, in a really short amount of time as well,” she says. “I think for anybody that reaches that amount of success, you're in the public eye and the people around you sort of start to feel differently about you. It's an intense thing to go through ... I think for me, I tried to keep the people who were really close to me before this all happened close to me still. And I had a really good support system.”
It's no surprise that when time came to start working on “Cleopatra,” the challenge of following up a hit album weighed on the trio — especially Schultz and Fraites, who write the Lumineers' songs.
“There was absolutely pressure in a different way,” Pekarek says. “I think we felt pretty pressured on the first record as well, especially because we were kind of putting all our eggs in one basket at that point.”
Pekarek likes the music that emerged on “Cleopatra” — and so do fans. Lead single “Ophelia” reached No. 1 on the alternative songs and adult alternative songs charts. “Cleopatra,” meanwhile debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart following its release in April of last year.
The album retains the folk rock feel of the debut, but it's darker lyrically and also a bit heavier, as the group plugs in for more of the instrumentation. But the sure-footed melodies of songs like “Sleep on the Floor,” “Ophelia” (which has some of the stomp and cheer of “Ho Hey”), “My Eyes” and “Angela” carry the day and deliver on the promise of the first album.
The Lumineers are on tour now, with longtime touring guitarist Stelth Ulvang, bassist Byron Isaacs in the lineup. Pekarek is enjoying having more than one album of songs to play.
“That was something that was a struggle the first time around,” she said. “We were headlining shows really before we were ready as far as material went, stretching an hour 15 minutes from one album worth (of songs). So yeah, we've basically doubled our body of work. So it's really exciting.”
Alan Sculley is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.