“We’re not worried about restrictions or working within parameters anymore…” - hmv.com talks to The Lumineers
There have been two big changes for campfire folk duo The Lumineers in the three years since their second LP Cleopatra.
Firstly, they are now a duo after the departure of cellist and long-time member Neyla Pekarek, leaving only drummer Jeremiah Fraites and singer/guitarist Wesley Schultz. And secondly, the two remaining Lumineers have both become parents, which inevitably has slowed things down a little.
Perhaps with that in mind, the pair have returned to familiar surroundings to make their new album III. It has been recorded once again in the remote Catskills area of New York, with folk impresario Simone Felice at the controls.
Things are grander this time though, III is a concept record, inspired by the character the pair created for their song ‘Jimmy Sparks’. Presented in three chapters, each focusing on a different main character of the fictional Sparks family, the grandmother, Gloria Sparks; her son, Jimmy Sparks; and her grandson, Junior Sparks.
A video for each of the songs has been made to tell the story, with Kevin Phillips, who made indie hit Super Dark Time, directing.
As the album arrives in stores, we spoke to Fraites about recording in remote surroundings, the departure Pekarek and why this album’s inspiration isn’t exactly cheery…
When did you start writing the songs for the album?
“It was at the beginning of 2018. Then I had a baby boy in April and Wes had a baby in February of that year. So we had a few months off to be at home and then we started in earnest after that. A few of the songs were re-visited, there’s one song ‘Life In The City’, dates back to 2007. ‘The Salt And The Sea’ has a motif from the first song I’d ever written, that’s probably 15 years old. It’s a real mix of new and old.”
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do differently from Cleopatra?
“A lot of pressure had been relieved with that record. The first album was basically a ‘Greatest Hits’ of your first 10 years of writing music and it gave us a good amount of success. We got over our sophomore slump with the second record and we relaxed. We wanted to have fun and stretch out creatively, if you listen to the record, particularly the last four songs, it’s such a huge step for us. We’re not worried about restrictions or working within parameters anymore.”
It’s just the two of you now, no Neyla, did that have an impact on writing and recording?
“It’s mostly just me and Wes. She and a few others have very small songwriting credits. 99.9% of the writing is me and Wes. It didn’t affect the record at all. We’ve already written the music in Denver and then gone to record in the Catskills. I can play drums, piano and guitar, Wes plays guitar and sings and sometimes that’s all you need. Cleopatra had almost no cello and this album has no cello, it was a big part of the first record, but not anymore. You never want to be boxed in by one instrument.”
You worked with Simone Felice again, why did you go back to him?
“Up until we met him, I was very guarded about our music, I really didn’t like outside input, I viewed it as meddling, not helping. It was only because I was a fan of his band, The Felice Brothers, that we met him. I always thought a producer would just dilute the sound.”
What changed your mind?
“We met him in pre-production and we were just sitting around talking, it was very casual. Then he got out his guitar and said ‘I have this idea’. Straight away, I tensed up, I thought it would be terrible. Our sound is so specific and I figured hardly anyone hears music the way me and Wes do in our heads. I let him speak and the idea was really cool and it opened us. It’s a total match made in heaven. Working with a producer isn’t about the studio or where it is, it’s finding someone who can get something bigger out of you. It’s a great fit.”
What kind of record is it lyrically? There’s a big concept this time…
“It’s a record about family. The whole album goes from being on the nose about alcohol and addiction, to writing about the love and support you have to give to an addict, how you process those life choices.”
When did you settle on the title?
“It’s our third album and it hits a lot of symbolic marks. Three generations, three characters, the album is in three chapters. Back in the day, we had the idea of doing 15 songs across three EPs, one was going to be called Love, the others were Loss and Crimes. We tried to copy that idea across but the theme felt too forced. We liked the ambiguity and vagueness of the title. Although, I wish the roman numerals were easier to read because a lot of people seem to think the album is called ‘Ill’. That’s an album for a rapper, not us.”
How are your live plans coming together?
“We’re firming up 2021. We started in June and we’re building now. We’re going to South America, Africa, Australia, Asia again, Europe, of course, every continent bar Antarctica. I can’t look at the calendar, it looks like it’s too much. You have to take it day by day.”
You’ve got three records, so a bit more choice with your setlist...
“It’s a new good problem to have. I still remember eeking a set out of a 37-minute debut album when we had to play for an hour. We can choose sets now. There’s no necessity anymore. It’s more stimulating for us and our band, that rubs off into a good set. You don’t want to play the same set night after night…”