“Leadership isn't about having all the right answers, it's about finding the right answers in the group…”
As the rain began to fall and a cup of coffee was brewed, it was the perfect mood to be discussing everything about the new album, mental health, and relationships with our fathers. With the dark clouds matching the mood of the new album ‘Brightside’, one thing was clear, this was going to be something special.
After being a fan of the band for exactly ten years, this writer can conclude that The Lumineers have produced beautiful moments in their music over the years. Whether it be 2012’s track ‘Ho Hey’ bringing nostalgia and relatability to people’s lives or a time where 2016 allowed a track like ‘Ophelia’ to create genuine happiness with sadness pouring in the background. The band knows exactly how to bring the pain, happiness, or sadness that the world is feeling and bring it into a new form of music.
Then enters the new album, ‘Brightside’. This takes the pain that founding member Wesley Schultz has felt with a car accident in the past as well as it being a body of work born out of a pandemic.
An emotional rollercoaster is one way to describe the new album as it dives into the care-free attitude of ‘Never Really Mine’ but then any listener will find tears running down their face with tracks such as ‘Where We Are’. This is what makes The Lumineers a special band.
The folk rock band have explored different areas of life in their previous work but with a world that lost hope at one point because of the pandemic, The Lumineers have returned to reprise that hope and allow any listener to grab a drink, explore what they are truly feeling and appreciate what they have around them.
Whether it be the case of announcing a ‘climate-positive’ tour or not being afraid to produce tracks in one day, The Lumineers are back and don’t intend on leaving any time soon.
As the Zoom call began and the rain continued to pitter patter onto the windows, it was time to jump into life and how it has all come together for the fourth album and new mentalities within the band.
Firstly, how have you been doing mentally during the pandemic?
Yeah, I think I had a lot of distractions, which was good. We've got to make a solo album and make another Lumineers album Brightside with Jerr, which just kept our sanity going. And then I had a baby daughter. So our family got a little bigger. And Jerry had a daughter as well. So we both have a son and a daughter. I think we stayed effectively distracted as much as we could. But having gotten out on stage at the end of last year, we kind of realised how much we were missing some things we didn't realise we would be going into that pandemic.
But I think the odd thing about it is that you talk to anybody, the mechanic, someone checking out a grocery store, getting your haircut, and almost everyone has something to say about the situation. - There's never been anything like this with everyone relating to this thing that's happening collectively to each other. So it's very strange. It's divisive in the States. But it's also pretty unifying, because everybody has this shared experience.
You’re four albums in now and you mentioned that this album was like a fifteen year old experimenting in music for the first time. What else did the pandemic do to help this album be produced?
I think just not having much of a plan because you weren't afforded that luxury. So when we went to make Brightside, it only dawned on me when a friend was asking me today, and I said, ‘Well, actually, we went to record two songs, maybe one, and then it turned into a half an album’.
Then we had our daughter, and then we went into the next session a month later, and finished the album. But it was very much like that analogy of, you know, you're staying in one night, and a friend calls you last minute. And it ends up being a better night than any New Year's Eve has ever been. Where you don't have expectations, and you don't really have a plan. You're just kind of playing with house money the whole time.
I think that that really informed a lot of the attitude that you kind of hear on the record, it's not carefree by choice or something. It's just that's how we were. That's our actual mindset. And that's not always how it felt, you know, when you become our we came out of one now 10 years ago, when you go to make out you have a different thing in your head without even meaning to about, I want to prove that this wasn't a fluke.
You know, there's like the chip on your shoulder, because you've been working at it for me, it would have been over 10 years. And Jarrett was about seven. And you feel like this weird sense of it can all be taken away really fast. Because it was given really fast. You know, there was no slight build to it. And I think this time around, for whatever reason, and maybe this happens, maybe you see it covering a lot of bands.
But there is this thing about when you get the monkey off your back, whatever that monkey is for each band, you sometimes get their best work because they're not, they don't have an ulterior motive. All it is is like a joy or love or a pain or whatever it is, but it's more singular. And it's less about some devil on your shoulder saying something that you really shouldn't pay attention to anyway. So for me it had a lot to do with that for whatever reason it was like life is strange.
Life has strange reminders of how important timing is and how also that you have no control over any of that. So it felt like perfectly In perfect timing, you know, the pandemic, it just kind of shut us down in a way that put us in a position to make the record.
The track, ‘Big Shot’, is all about being a man. With society always changing it’s views on men, what do you think it takes to be a man today?
That's a good question. I mean, I had a strange upbringing, when it came to all that, in a way because my role model for being a man was my dad. And he was a contradiction in a way, he grew up fighting, he just keeps quiet, but he got into a lot of fights. Then when he raised me, he never hit me once he was not violent. And he became a psychologist. And he introduced his family to hugging each other and saying, ‘I love you’, when he came home from his first year at college.
I had this idea, I had this role model, who told me, what's really manly, is to say how you feel, and to express your emotions. I wasn't questioning him, because I also knew he was tough. You know, it wasn't like he was saying that to glorify his own path. - He was saying, because he was working on that macho guy who I knew could kick some ass saying to me, don't worry about that as much you need to worry about, learn from what I've seen. And I think for him, it was hard growing up in a family where his father wasn't held for the first six months of his life. Because that was the thing at the time, that was like a theory and his grandmother followed it. So he had a pretty cold relationship with his dad in a lot of ways. And he had a much different one with me.
So for me being a man was, it's kind of embodied in the empathy that exists in songwriting is an example of what I to my own son try to, or even to my daughter to say, if you marry a man, I hope your met your that man has openness within that has vulnerability, and isn't just this kind of cro-magnon, you know, a stereotypical shut off emotionally guy. A lot of it for me has to do with that. When you’re in a band and trying to be a leader, we're at a weird inflection point where there's not necessarily a ton of belief in hierarchy, or leadership. I think you have to really work hard to earn people's trust, and give them their own dignity and grace.
Leadership isn't about having all the right answers, it's about finding the right answers in the group. If you can find that, whether it's being a man, or when I said that line in there, big man, it had more to do with sort of wearing the crown or being in a leadership role than it had to do with the man or woman kind of reaction. It was just more you want to hold the reins here, it's not going to be as easy as you think it's going to be. And it can be quite humbling, you spend a lot of time thinking about almost everyone else, but yourself. And that's the real, learning curve of it all.
At least in my experience, having worked a lot of restaurant gigs and coffee house gigs and kind of rolling my eyes at some of the bosses I had. And then being a boss is very different.
So in a way a big shot was me talking to myself saying, like, you think you want this, you know, you're gonna have to be pretty nimble right now, because a lot of things are changing in terms of torches. Now what? What are you going to do big shot because instead it seems so easy until it's not.
On the ‘Big Shot’ music video there is a quote that I think summarises the music and life in general. ‘Everybody is chasing to be a big shot and that can detach from reality. When it goes too far we find escapism’ - how do you feel about bringing that out of people?
I feel like when I hear that back, it feels like if I was a painter, and someone walked up to an abstract painting, and it made them feel something, because I think in a lot of ways this, this album is more abstract, and it's way more of a Rorschach back test than it is anything that I'm saying that has a right and wrong answer to it.
There's no linear plot to any of this album. I think the joy of hearing these things back is that it emoted something in someone else. I think my goal was never to make someone feel a certain way. It's just like physically moving someone to tears or laughter or to goosebumps. Or just that emotion is so hard to draw out of each other these days how much distraction we allow ourselves and it's been kind of propagated and sort of normalised to an extent. Where you have to give your phone a timeout in our society like it's because it's been so well executed that it's hard to put down like it's done its job too well. If I'm in an airport and I'm waiting for a flight, look around for a second and you'll see everyone with headphones in on their phone. And and to bring someone out of that for a minute. And to make them feel something has always been a challenge.
There's this great letter from Sylvia Plath's late husband to their son. It's kind of like this famous letter that has made the rounds. But he says in it to his son that ‘I hope that you're the type of man that grows up to not peer through the slats of your armour but to experience emotion and experience life that way’. Because he says ‘I've seen too far too many people go their whole lives where the only time you really see them’. And by them, he almost means like that inner child that can dance on tables or cry or whatever. You only see that, like at a funeral. Let's say there's permission to feel those things.
For whatever reason, music has this shortcut. It can short circuit your emotions in a way that almost nothing else can. It's a weird black magic to it that I think when I hear those things, it reminds me of like, whatever this is, it's really mysterious, and sort of grateful to be a part of that, because I've gotten that from other artists. And even when we're making this album, I was getting it from the album, it was like you're creating your own sound or something like when you have a wound and you're trying to heal it and all of a sudden you made your own way of healing. That's what we're all trying to do in life.
The band seem to have the same values and the same opinions, but the music is always happy to change and sometimes flow with the lyricism. Other times, maybe it's a personal song and changes that flow. Do you feel the music has changed over the years?
I think in subtle ways, it has to, otherwise you become like a machine. I think the opposite move of that is to force change, you're acting out of fear. I'm not saying everybody who does this is bad for doing it or is acting out of fear. You look at the evolution of David Bowie or Tom Wait, like, there's these artists that they even like The Beatles doc and reminding ourselves that they created Sergeant Pepper's to get out of their own way, in a way, you know, I think that that's useful.
But I also think, if you're not genuinely attracted to that, it's gonna come off the wrong way. And so with us, like a great example would be on this album, there's way more of a drum set. And there's drum sounds as beats. There's never really been that.
There's a track like ‘Jimmy Sparks’ where it was more of like a blues backbeat, you know, just kind of like what Jack White described with The White Stripes, where it's, it's serving a purpose, but it's never the focal point. For whatever reason, we accidentally left ourselves somewhere to go, that felt interesting. I don't think it was like, let's not use drums for the first three, and then a fourth, we're gonna use drums, it was just, ‘Oh, that feels good now’. In addition to that, I was sort of really interested in telling stories in a, you know, a sort of conscious way, like I wanted there to be stories in the songs. And on this one, I sort of let go of that control and wanted to, that's why I referenced it almost like an impressionistic painting, or horshack.
I feel like Neil Young's a great example. I saw him when I was 15 playing solo in New York, and it really had an impression on me. And one of the things that it made me realise was he had these mixtures of poetry and storytelling and everything. But what Neal was doing felt a lot more like a stream of consciousness that was so well communicated, that we just got how he was feeling. And Kurt Cobain did that. There's different art artists that write the way they write. It's not how you'd sit down and write it, but it's how you'd sing it. And maybe that's how they wrote it as they sang it, and it just felt more primal and more to the point.
So trying to, you know, add drums and then writing in this way that was more sung than written for lyrics, and accepting that it might not make literal sense.
You did an interview with The Evening Standard in 2020 and you were re-calling your first gig in London in 2012. When you're talking about how you're eating a cheeseburger outside, Hoxton and you're thinking ‘I'm in London, this is crazy’. In this post pandemic world, what new memories are you hoping to make, as we come out of all this?
I think part of it is that everybody's been together. Probably against everyone's will, but everybody's been reset. I'm looking forward to hugging people again, and I'm looking forward to total strangers feeling not like they're a danger to me. - But there's love there because I heard somebody, the other day, say we're only looking at each other like vessels for bacteria. I have to go on tour and if I test positive, I can't take that flight. Even if I'm not sick, you know, outwardly or asymptomatic. So I think the new memories are a lot of it is just feeling reconnected with people and having that chance to make connections with strangers that feels kind of off the table right now.
You just don't know what everybody's comfortable with. It's really, every Uber, you get in every taxi, you just don't know where the conversations are gonna go with that and I think I'm looking forward to that. We'll be in the UK pretty soon, and if you ever want to see whoever your favourite band is, you should go see them on their first few shows back, because you're gonna see them like little kids on stage, because you don't get to see him that much like that.
I think that's l number one on my list because we got to do a couple of them last year, and I've never felt that much emotion a long time playing in front of people. - I think the crowd takes the five or ten songs and then they start to hypnotise back into the feeling of ‘Okay, I'm safe. It's okay.’ It's like a catharsis.
Josh Abraham/Clash Music