“Great music is like a fungus, once it grows on you it’s hard to get it off.”
The Lumineers believe in keeping things simple – their set-up at the Spotify office consists of one bass drum, one acoustic guitar and one cello. Singer and guitarist Wesley and drummer Jeremiah began writing songs together in 2005 and recruited cellist and mandolin player Neyla (pronounced Neeler) soon after. Much of the past few years have been spent travelling and playing to as many people as possible while waiting tables and walking dogs on the side. “We had the benefit of failure for about seven years,” Wesley said recently. However, when hit US comedy Hart of Dixie featured the band’s song Ho Hey things began to change. Fast. TV appearances, bigger shows and now a European tour that’s only been slightly ruined by headline act Civil Wars deciding to pack it in and cancel the shows blaming their, “internal discord”. Not that we knew that when we sat the band down and began firing questions at them.
What music was playing in the house when you were growing up?
Neyla: My dad loved the Stones and Dylan, but I listened to Barbershop Quartet stuff and Ella Fitzgerald. Later I studied Opera and Jazz, but then I got more into indie things like Bright Eyes.
Jeremiah: For me it was Beethoven and Guns N’ Roses! I was always into a lot of different things. I went through a Metallica phase and a prog-rock phase and a classical phase, but then I’d get sick of it all and move on.
Wesley: My dad had four things that he played over and over again in the car. Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen’s Born the USA, Leonard Cohen’s The Future and The Cars Greatest Hits.
Did you ever beg him to just turn it off? Or play something else?
No! Never. We used to tease him about this weird music, but eventually it grew on us. Great music is like a fungus; once it grows on you it’s hard to get it off.
What was the first record you bought?
W: Naughty By Nature was my first tape.
J: I had a Beethoven CD. He was the 2Pac of classical!
N: I bought Hanson. On tape!
W: The first CDs I bought were Live’s Throwing Copper and Green Day’s Dookie. I would go out riding my bike and listening to them on my Discman.
What made you think, ‘Actually, I could be in a band…’?
J: It didn’t take a lot of thought for me – we could start a band right now. In high school I gravitated to music, especially drums. I failed my first year and had an intervention. I was only interested in music and artistry. I had no other end in sight. I hope music continues to burn for me like that. It’s what I’m meant to do.
W: I was manic about a lot of things, but I had a knack for music. I feel very comfortable doing this – and it’s really fun to do. My brother’s a lawyer – that’s a structured life. But there’s no ladder to this life. In music nothing can happen for a while then a lot of things happen very quickly. We have this album that is doing really well in the States now, but we also have this built in fear that we won’t keep up with it. So we constantly write, to keep that pace up.
What five records would you elbow your way to the decks to play at a drunken party?
J: LCD Soundsystem Dance Yourself Clean. Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child o’ Mine. Talking Heads Naive Melody or Burning Down The House. And you’ve got to have some Tom Petty. And don’t forget Rolling Stones’ Sweet Virginia! We’ve covered that and it’s a great song.
Does the perfect song exist?
W: The Strokes’ You Only Live Once is the perfect pop song. It expands and contracts and it’s beautiful and elegant. Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker is a perfect record.
N: Bright Eyes Wide Awake It’s Morning is perfect, it’s so full and alive.
Are you Spotify users?
N: We use it on tour a lot and it’s a great tool for finding new bands. Everyone I know uses it.
W: When we were asked if we wanted to be part of it we said yes straight away. We want people to hear us and come to see us in concert, so it was no-brainer for us to be on Spotify. We’re aware of the changing landscape of the music business, but we’re not about the almighty dollar, we have a long-term goal. If people want to support a band, they will. The exposure factor is what we’ve always really sought out.
J: Spotify’s a verb now, like Google. That’s an intriguing concept.
Recently you were the most streamed band in the whole of Manhattan.
J: Really? Wow. That’s amazing.
W: That is so crazy. I wouldn’t give that up just to sell a few more CDs will sell. It all leads to good things.
Some here said your songs had a sense of joy about them – does that feel right to you?
W: Bruce Springsteen once said he wasn’t writing about who he was he was writing about who he wanted to be, who he dreamt of being. That’s partly true for us. Some of our songs have hope in them even if they weren’t written in hopeful times. Ho Hey is not loving and easy and beautiful, but people still find the hope within it.
J: A good chord progression can make you feel hopeful.
W: The Rolling Stones’ Angie; “With no loving in our souls and no money in our coats, you can’t say we’re satisfied…” That’s rock and roll, that sentiment. Tough and ragged.
What is the greatest record ever made?
J: Probably Dark Side of the Moon. It’s insane how iconic and different it is. It’s timeless.
W: That’s such a horrible question! I can tell you some good records. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one. And Blonde On Blonde is another.
Finally, crucially, what’s your favourite noise?
J: Oh wow, well, some pianos have a middle bar that really sustains all the harmonics and overtones. That smokes me pretty good…
W: I like when someone laughs so hard they barely make any noise. That makes me so happy.
N: Yeah, I agree with Wesley! That’s an amazing noise…