Until a few days ago, Ho Hey was the only song I had ever heard from The Lumineers. The catchy tune was the lead single from their eponymous 2012 debut album, which brought them overnight fame and two Grammy nominations. On Thursday night, they played their 13th and last gig opening for U2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey during the Irish rock band’s ongoing Joshua Tree Tour 2017. I liked what I heard, so I decided to take a closer look at this Americana trio from Denver.
The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano), who have been writing music and playing together since 2005. Cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek joined them in 2010. During live performances the trio is supported by Stelth Ulvang (piano) and Byron Isaacs (bass). Cleopatra is the band’s most recent studio album, which was released in April 2016.
According to band’s website, the record “is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock.” The band had tried to write new music while being on the road, but realized touring almost 300 days a year since 2013 made that impossible. “It was such overkill for what we needed.” Schultz told Rolling Stone last April. “What we quickly realized is it would be just as useful to have our iPhones with the voice memo on it.”
Apparently, The Lumineers had become wary about the wide popularity their debut album had brought them and wanted to prove they have staying power while remaining true to themselves. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally,” says Schultz on the band’s website. “Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”
The album opens with Sleep On the Floor, written by Schultz and Fraites who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s additional 10 tunes. The song has a nice dynamic, starting off with Schultz’s vocals and guitar and Fraites’ sparingly played drums, picking up in the middle, and slowing down again toward the end. It became the album’s fourth single in November 2016.
Next up is Ophelia, which was the record’s lead single released in February 2016. With “Oh, Ophelia” in its chorus, it is a bit reminiscent of Ho Hey. While the song received mixed reception from critics, the public evidently liked it. The tune reached the no. 1 spot on Billboard’s 2016 year-end charts for alternative songs and rock airplay songs.
The album’s title track was co-written with Simone Felice, formerly a member of the Felice Brothers, a folk-rock band that has inspired The Lumineers. He also produced Cleopatra. The tune became the record’s second single in March 2016.
Another track I’d like to call out is Angela, which is also a co-write with Felice, and the album’s third single released in April 2016. Together with Sleep On the Floor, it’s my favorite tune on the record. Here is a nice clip of a live performance.
Cleopatra is a convincing sophomore album from a band that after years of making music in obscurity quickly rose to stardom and had to prove they are more than a one-time phenomenon. Even in the absence of another anthem like Ho Hey, the record was generally well received by critics and performed strongly in the charts. In the U.S., the album reached the top of the Billboard 200, even outperforming its predecessor that peaked at no. 2. It also hit no. 1 on the UK Official Charts and the Canadian Albums Chart.
As for his reaction when U2 invited The Lumineers to open for them, Schultz told Rolling Stone last month, “We said yes quickly, and I think the reason was because we had said no to at least two bands that are all-time amazing bands, and at the time we were like, ‘We’d rather play to 200 people than 20,000 or 40,000, because those  people will be listening to us.’ At the time, that was our mantra, that made sense. But I look back and I would have loved to be around those bands and seen … there’s something about being around that energy, and I think that authenticity, that’s really a privilege to be around.”
Sources: Wikipedia, Lumineers website, Rolling Stone, YouTube