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Undeniable Hope: The Lumineers Talk 'Brightside'

Thursday, 20 January 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Like rays of sunshine breaking through black clouds, The Lumineers’ heartening fourth record is tailor-made to sweep away lingering pandemic blues and make everyone feel a little more positive about the, admittedly still uncertain, road ahead.

Providing their personal, yet universal, reaction to the collective trauma that’s swept around the globe, the meditative storytelling on ‘Brightside’ is redeemed and elevated by inspiring hooks that soar like rallying cries.

A different stylistic creature to 2019’s cinematic and darkly conceptual ‘III’, the folk duo’s latest offering adeptly utilises the band’s stripped-back aesthetic to capture our tentative emergence from the confusing emotional paralysis, and enforced introspection, generated by life in a prolonged state of limbo.

Alongside their usual production team of Simone Felice and David Baron, Wes Schultz (guitar, vocals) and Jeremiah ‘Jer’ Fraites (drums, vocals) returned to the Catskills Mountains to craft a spiritually uplifting offering that represents, thanks to limited outside influences, the purest, most elementally expressive release of The Lumineers’ career.   

The pair played almost all the instruments on ‘Brightside’ themselves, creating intimate and introspective music that almost drifts in and out of fantasy and reality as it evokes the sensation of slowly awakening from a bewildering dream.

We spoke to Schultz about their approach to ‘Brightside’, why you can’t write songs to satisfy other people, and where his unwavering love of old school recording techniques comes from.   

You and Jeremiah both released your first solo albums last year, but beyond that what has life looked like over the past 18 months or so?

We had a baby girl this past March. In addition to everything that comes along with having a baby, how amazing that is, it was a welcome distraction from what became like Groundhog Day. We also took in my mum, brother, his wife, and kid, and just formed this great commune for about a year. We tried to not be alone all that much and it felt like the ship was more ‘righted’ because of that. But it was hard, man.  Collectively, everybody is dealing with this trauma and trying their best, but it’s strange because there doesn’t seem to be any closure, even to this day. We’re on tour and we can do that, but everyday there seems to be a new piece of information.  I’m sure everyone can relate to that emotional hangover.         

Your touring bassist Byron Isaacs said ‘Brightside’ is your response to Covid. Can you expand on that?

We describe it as a ‘post-Covid’ record. The ‘post’ is important. The album tries to express a feeling over the listener, almost like casting a net or a spell, instead of explaining it or telling a specific story. There was a haze of different emotions over the last 18 months and the approach was different from any of the other records we’ve made. It was done quickly and spontaneously, as opposed to poring over every little detail and sound. This was more raw, going in with very little in the way of a roadmap and coming out with a record that was based on instinct and less on the intellectual side. When people ask what the record’s about, it’s the fact we’re coming from a collectively low point but still maintain undeniable hope. So, those two things are always fighting each other.        

When you know what everyone around the world has gone through over the last year and a half, do you adjust your songwriting to take into account what people might be needing from your music?

I don’t think so, because I don’t know what you or someone else likes. The minute you start to cater to what you think is cool, or someone else might like, you water down the potency of what you do. Somebody said ‘it’s never been a better time to be yourself as an artist.’ When I grew up in the late ‘90s or 2000s, for whatever reason, there were bands that became successful but were sort of amorphous. They didn’t mean anything by what they were saying. It all blended together. Now you can be niche, or exactly who you are, and you’re rewarded. That’s a big positive. You can’t be this vague but enormous band. You have to be true to what you’re doing and that will eventually lead down a better path.  

‘Brightside’ once again showcases your band's wonderful simplicity and old school values. Does the fact you’ve been so successful utilising that approach make you feel proud, because you’ve proved that organic style is still loved and appreciated? 

Perhaps. We were making the second album ‘Cleopatra’ and our producer Simone Felice, he’s maybe five years older than I am, so he’d have been a senior when I was a freshman, when there was this hair metal grandiosity to everything. Then Nirvana came around and Simone described it as like taking a Tommy gun to all the hair metal bands. Almost overnight people were like ‘I want that.’ Nirvana were presenting something less ornate and more raw. I felt a kinship to that in what we were doing, in a different way. It wasn’t super dressed up. It was a simple presentation of a song with a voice that wasn’t overly affected, drums that sounded like drums, and a piano that sounded like a piano.  

So there is an audience for it and I think there’s a surprising amount of interest in something being real, vital and tangible because we’re so used to things that feel overproduced or over Photoshopped. You know Werner Herzog, the director? The story I heard was that he went to check out the new Star Wars, I think it was The Mandalorian [Herzog actually appeared in the first season] and they were like ‘this is the baby Yoda doll, it’s a placeholder, it’s going to be be digitised.’ He was like ‘Cowards! You must use the doll.’ And they did and it became super important.  People were attracted, they understood it and it felt real because it was.  

I think about that in a lot of walks of life. [Coldplay’s] Chris Martin, in his own way, as produced and big and more electronic as their music has become, he always has this thread of being a beautiful, vulnerable amazing singer who never overdid his vocals and that grounded the music.

What was the inspiration behind Birthday, which is uplifting and catchy, but I suspect there’s more to it than just celebrating an anniversary?

Jer sang me these voice memos and I’d be like ‘that’s brilliant and so simple.’ He kept saying ‘it’s alright, it’s alright it’s your birthday’ and I was like ‘why would you tell someone ‘it’s alright?’ It made me think ‘what are we doing here, are we reassuring the person?’ Because that’s almost absurd, when you’re blowing out candles on the worst week of your life or the worst year and a half of your life. It’s feeling helpless and trying to find things to remind us of our humanity and connection with others.  

That song has really sad verses ‘I don’t know why I couldn’t love myself, but you needed proof’ and then there’s this lift in the chorus that’s so innocent. There’s also a line ‘we gather around, your house burnt down as you held the garden hose.’ Just sitting there, rendered useless against this blazing fire and all you have is this pathetic garden hose to put a little water on it and it’s never gonna work. You’re up against this David and Goliath thing you’re never gonna beat and, yet, you’re still trying to sing your way out of it and lift each other up.  

A number of songs on the record also boast that straightforward, infectious immediacy.

I would never write something like that, but I knew it was so perfect, simple and brilliant for what it called for. It wasn’t over thinking. Sometimes I feel bad for solo artists because they never really get that opportunity. Like ‘it’s gotta all come from you.’ Sometimes, somebody else has a very good idea and you might never go there because you’re used to your way of thinking. Jer and I have been working together for 16 years and having him say something like that, that’s what’s so amazing and beautiful about real collaborations.  

But there are these simple anthems throughout the album and a lot of it is because we were coming from a place of innocence. And maybe I was also reverting back to being 15, because my mom was living with us. You know when you go home for the holidays and become that teenage version of yourself when you’re around your parents? It was like muscle memory. There’s an innocence to that and also, rock ‘n’ roll as a whole, comes from a place of innocence. It doesn’t come from that intellectual place. I think this, of anything we’ve ever made under the name The Lumineers, is the most rock album in its spirit.   

Finally, it’s 10 years since the release of your debut in 2012.   

I’m excited about it because I feel lucky to be in a band with Jer. It’s a good feeling because we’re so happy it happened and we still care about each other, love each other, and make music together. We also couldn’t be more excited about ‘Brightside,’ so it lifts up both. But if you told me that, in 10 years, this album would stream or sell this many records...we were hoping to sell 30,000 copies and were like ‘that would be so cool.’ And in the US it’s sold something like three times platinum, maybe more.  

I remember being in Amsterdam and a boat went by blasting one of our songs, as I’m walking over the canal and it’s passing under the bridge. They had no idea who I was and I was happy with it. I was like ‘that’s how I want it.’ I wanted to be part of people’s lives, like the music I grew up listening to. So that 10 years has passed and there’s still love for these songs, and this little engine that’s kept going, I’m proud of that. The symbolism is pretty cool. Still going, and going stronger than ever.

The Lumineers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue February 01 2022 - PRAGUE Tipsport Arena (Czech Republic)
Wed February 02 2022 - VIENNA Wiener Stadthalle (Austria)
Fri February 04 2022 - BERLIN Max Shmeling Halle (Germany)
Sat February 05 2022 - WARSAW COS Torwar (Poland)
Tue February 08 2022 - D'DORF Mitsubishi Electric Hall (Germany)
Wed February 09 2022 - FRANKFURT Jahrhunderthalle (Germany)
Fri February 11 2022 - ZURICH Samsung Hall (Switzerland)
Sun February 13 2022 - MADRID Wizink Center (Spain)
Wed February 16 2022 - MILAN Lorenzini District (Italy)
Thu February 17 2022 - MUNICH Olympiahalle (Germany)
Sat February 19 2022 - ANTWERP Lotto Arena (Belgium)
Sun February 20 2022 - AMSTERDAM AFAS Live (Netherlands)
Tue February 22 2022 - PARIS Zenith (France)

Thu February 24 2022 - NOTTINGHAM Motorpoint Arena
Fri February 25 2022 - GLASGOW SSE Hydro
Sun February 27 2022 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Wed March 02 2022 - MANCHESTER AO Arena
Fri March 04 2022 - LONDON O2 Arena

Compare & Buy The Lumineers Tickets at Stereoboard.com.



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