Difficult second album syndrome? Not so for Wes Schultz and the Lumineers. With new album Cleopatra atop the charts, we speak to the man who just can’t understand why people consider having a successful debut album creates pressure…
Words: Nick Robbins Images provided by: Purple PR
Wes Schultz is a man content with his lot. As the frontman for indie-pop leading lights the Lumineers, he’s ascended to the peak of the music industry. Thrust into the spotlight on the back of his band’s mega-single ‘Ho Hey’ in 2012 – a song you’ve heard even if you think you haven’t, so ubiquitous was its reach – Schultz, songwriting partner Jeremiah Fraites and cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek went from performing in clubs and living rooms to performing at Glastonbury, picking up Grammy nominations and touring across the world.
Yet as he speaks to Acoustic, apologising as he negotiates the backstage area of Bristol’s Academy venue to get some privacy, he’s dealing with the news that his band’s new album Cleopatra is being tipped to top the Billboard chart in America (and the UK album chart, too), with a projected sales figure of over 100,000 copies. A few days later this will be made official, with the true number sitting around 28,000 copies higher than the midweek prediction. Tonight, he’ll be performing songs from that album for the first time in front of a live audience in the UK. You wouldn’t know it, though…
“I feel pretty numb to it, honestly,” he says. “It hasn’t happened, so I don’t want to jinx it, but it really feels great that this time has passed and people have had enough patience and cared enough to remember us to get the new record.”
It’s not just the fans who have remembered the Lumineers, however. “We actually had to cancel our last show here [in Bristol], so that’s the reason we’re starting here tonight, because we didn’t get to play a show here last time, unfortunately. So it’s like a ‘thanks for being patient’ gesture.”
Patience is a theme that comes up repeatedly for Schultz. Following the success of ‘Ho Hey’, the follow up single ‘Stubborn Love’ and the Lumineers’ eponymous debut album, fans around the world were able to see the band live, but new recorded material proved elusive. With the release of Cleopatra at the start of April 2016, the fans’ patience was rewarded, some four years later.
“We would have loved to put it out two years earlier,” Schultz tells us, “but we just kept getting more doors opening and invitations to different countries, and it was really difficult to say no to them. It’s an honour to feel like your music is travelling that far and you want to meet the fans in the middle.
“Every time we would stop touring, every time we thought we were done – and we’re not talking very long off the road, it would be like a week or 10 days – there would be another person saying ‘Hey, Australia wants you to come and do a tour there’, or it was Japan, China, South America or South Africa. Our last tour ended in December 2014 in South Africa. We played to 15,000 people at our last show in Johannesburg. It was amazing.”
For all the highs, four years of touring can still be a gruelling experience, and, according to Schultz, there was an acute awareness that the band were reaching the point where they needed to begin the writing process.
“Every time there was a date or a new country added, it was bittersweet,” he says. “I remember sitting in Italy and just shaking my head, like all I wanted to do was write a new record. When we finally played that South Africa show and we finished, I was happy because of how the show went, but I was also happy because I knew that marked the last show and we could finally get on with what we’d probably been wanting to do for a few years at that point.”
So it was that within two weeks of coming off the road, Schultz and Fraites were writing the new album, drawing on the experiences of touring (“I think everything about the touring changes you. Inevitably all that time spent on the road becomes part of who you are, and it creeps into some of the songs”), but without a stash of completed songs to work on.
“We tried writing the whole time we were on the road,” he admits. “I remember we finished our first record and began trying to write the second. We had a few months’ period of time where we were off, and I remember Jeremiah and I trying to write more because we knew we wanted to keep writing. It was an inspirational moment. So some of those seeds that were left over made it on the second album. But a lot of them were just that… they remained seeds.
“When you tour like we were touring, the amount of things they have you do every day, the amount of travel, everything, it adds up, and it makes it really hard and surprisingly difficult to write. We even built a mobile recording rig. It was a little box that, like a Transformer, could turn into an entire mobile studio in a green room. I think that backfired on us a little bit in the sense that we went into that room and we felt this pressure to write. I don’t even think one good idea came out of that, but we did end up using our phones a lot, just the little voice memo recording function. That’s pretty much where we harvested all our ideas from for this record.”
Read the full interview in the June issue of Acoustic Magazine, available now from all good newsagents, www.virtualnewsagent.com and by calling 01926 339808.