TORONTO – The Lumineers, the Denver-based folk-rock band who authored the rousing smash single “Ho Hey,” have played sparingly in Canada, so they have a clear memory of the few gigs they have played north of the border.
One in particular stands out to frontman Wesley Schultz. It was last June, when the Lumineers’ self-titled debut had been out for a couple months but the hand-stitched “Ho Hey” was still hovering around the fringe of the Billboard singles chart. The band was scheduled to play a (non-headlining) show at Toronto’s historic but cozy Horseshoe Tavern during North by Northeast, and the venue was full — though the mood was skeptical.
“It was half fans, half industry people with their arms folded, didn’t really give a (crap),” Schultz recalled in a telephone interview. “The industry people were sort of wondering what the fuss was about. They were kind of put off by all the (fans), which is strange to say but it was true. The fans were like, really excited.
“It was almost like the people in the music business around there hadn’t been wise to it before the fans had. They were kind of underestimating what we were doing at the time, I think, and almost looking like, ‘(This crowd) must be here for something else.’
“We actually thought the same thing. Because we were in Canada! We’d never been there before.”
There will be no doubt when the Lumineers wind back through the country this time. They play Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum on Tuesday before a pair of sold-out gigs in Toronto and another in Montreal. Their album has recently been certified double-platinum here, “Ho Hey” is five-times platinum and their more recent single, “Stubborn Love,” is gold.
Schultz talked to The Canadian Press about the Grammy-nominated band’s big year, following up “Ho Hey” and finding time to write new material.
CP: Your second single, “Stubborn Love,” is doing well now, with gold sales here in Canada. Is that a relief, that it wasn’t just “Ho Hey” that would connect?
Schultz: Yeah, you can never reproduce something like “Ho Hey,” it was just huge. It becomes this big thing, and you don’t want to be known for just one thing.
The other thing is that our live shows, I’ve noticed that “Stubborn Love” actually gets a bigger reaction…. It’s cool to hear that song’s being played now on the radio as well. It’s a scary thing to have success with one song.
CP: And you didn’t necessarily consider the band a singles-oriented act before that, did you?
Schultz: No…. Our stuff, even the way we produced the record, the album was produced in such a way that it wasn’t really slick, it wasn’t glossed over. So I didn’t think it would see the light of day on radio — maybe some NPR-type stations. We’ve actually made it onto the Top 40 stations, and that was pretty weird. I think every time we walked into the station, they were pretty nice to us, but it would be different. We’re not the typical band that walked into those doors.
To give you perspective, we put out the record April 3 of last year in the States, and (drummer) Jere (Fraites), said: “If we sold 30,000 records, I’d be over the moon.” The album has sold over a million. We already don’t even really have a firm grasp on reality because of that…. We’ll put out another record and that record will most likely never make it to a Top 40 — that’s OK with me. It’s like lightning in a bottle. There are other people who scientifically engineer songs for a living and have the connections to get them on stations, and we don’t. We kind of just stepped in (it). And it’s great. We’re reaping the benefits. We’ll enjoy this aspect of it, and it’s this big wave hello to the world, because of this record.
CP: So you won’t sit down and consciously try to write another hit?
Schultz: I think even those people who strive to do that, they’re paid to do that, those people don’t even get it done. I know a friend of a friend — he writes songs for pop artists. Every year is different, every month is different. It just seems like a life I would never want
My mom watches “American Idol” and other shows like that. Those shows either want to use our music or they have used our music. But we would probably never even make it past the first round on those shows. But I like that because it means that we know where our skill’s at — it’s not having the cleanest, prettiest voice. We pride ourselves on continuing to write good songs.
CP: Did you know early on you had a hit in “Ho Hey?”
Schultz: I remember this hilarious moment — (though) it wasn’t hilarious at the time, it was kind of (crappy). Jere and I had just recorded “Ho Hey,” on our own, in our basement, and we were moving out of this one house and moving into this smaller, crappier house. We were showing the new tenants, these college kids moving in, the digs. Here’s the bedroom. Here’s the bathroom. And he saw our instruments and our computer (and) ProTools. We said, “You should listen to this song.”
And he was completely not at all impressed. It was kind of uncomfortable. It was actually a few of them, they were like: “Where’s the bathroom again?” They just wanted to get out of the room. I was like, “Man, I don’t know. I thought this was a really cool song. These people don’t think so.”
CP: One of your bandmates recently estimated he’s played “Ho Hey” more than 2,000 times. Are you sick of it?
Schultz: (Someone) said: “Does it ever feel like you’re covering someone else’s song, because you play it so much?” That’s the best way I can describe it some nights. You do it so much and there’s not much flexibility with how you can necessarily present it every night. Sometimes we would go out in the crowd and we would play it with a lot less instruments and people would sing it for us, and that was the best way to feel fresh about it.
You become a little bit detached from it in some ways, but at the same time, happy to play it…. As a songwriter, a lot of people take ownership of what they do, and the work they supposedly create. But I think what’s happening is you’re part of something, and writing it down, and I think that being around for that idea — it humbles you. We were obviously a part of something bigger than ourselves. You don’t feel as much ownership. So in a sense, we are covering it.
CP: Are you getting recognized in public more frequently?
Schultz: It’s getting harder and harder at shows to be anonymous and blend in. Outside of shows, it remains to be seen. There was a show that a lot of people had to wait outside in line, it was during wintertime in upstate New York … a couple thousand people waited and didn’t get in. We were going to go out in the parking lot and play for these people a couple songs to thank them, but the sheriff is like: “If (you) do that, I’m going to shut this thing down and arrest you.”
So we just walked out and we started thanking people in their cars. And the people thought we were coming up to ask for tickets. Nobody knew what we looked like. They just knew our song. They were like, “Who the hell are you? We don’t have tickets.” We’re like, “We’re the Lumineers.” Literally one car said: “Sure you are,” and then drove off. And so I think we’re largely anonymous.
It remains to be seen (whether it will stay that way), but I kind of like that.