American Folk Rock Band Tours the World with Long-Awaited Second Album
It was back in 2012 that the Lumineers, an American folk rock band from Denver, made a dashing debut with their self-titled album The Lumineers. Among the many refreshing and inventive tracks in the album, “Ho Hey” became a massive hit and went on to drive the album up to the second spot of the Billboard 200. In 2013, the New York Times described the Lumineers as a “young band." Now four years later, the band has become a major player in the American music scene and has recently released its long-awaited second album titled Cleopatra. The band consists of three members, Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano) who are the founding members and co-songwriters, with NeylaPekarek, the cellist and backing vocalist. The band is currently on its world tour, taking on the globe with their original music and showcasing their growth ever since they released their debut album. Seoul Journal conducted an interview with Jeremiah Fraites, who talked about their new album Cleopatra and his experiences of being a member of the Lumineers.
SJ: What is your favorite song from Cleopatra, and why?
FRAITES : My favorite songs would have to be “My Eyes” and “Patience.” For me, it feels like one song and they are the last two songs to end this album on Cleopatra. I feel like they’re really cool, because they test the audience, the listeners and the fans. I think that to end the album with an instrumental was a little bit of a risk; it felt a little brave to do that for our fans and to our listeners. I just think that those are two songs that could not have been on the first album. To me, I think they represent a little bit of growth. I really love those two songs, “My Eyes” and “Patience.”
SJ: Do you have any specific rituals that you do before a performance?
FRAITES: : Before every show, about 15 minutes or 20 minutes before, we all like to meet up in the green room and kind of feed off of each other’s energy. And right before we go on stage, we shake each other’s hands and say, “Have a good show.” We do that every single night, and it’s really nice. When you’re touring, there is nothing that’s constant, so it’s really important and healthy to have that constant before each show.
SJ: Do you prefer to perform in front of a smaller audience or a larger audience?
FRAITES : I think that we spent more of our career performing in front of smaller audiences, so I think now I prefer to perform in front of larger audiences. Right now, I’m talking to you from a green room; we’re in St. Louis in the United States. We have just begun our arena tour in the United States, which is the biggest show we have ever had lined in America. It’s really fun. It’s really exhilarating. The crowds are huge and it just feels really fun. But that’s not to say I’d never want to play smaller shows again. The smaller shows are really great also; there’s an intimacy. It’s a different type of connection. Right now, like I said, we’ve been more used to playing smaller shows, so I’m really enjoying the larger ones right now.
SJ: Do you have a favorite city that you stopped in during your past tours?
FRAITES:: For me it would probably be Kyoto. We went to Japan to play at the Fuji Rock Festival two or two and a half years ago. As soon as we landed in Tokyo, we took a train down to Kyoto. It was just amazing how all the city is – the architecture, the culture, the food – everything about it was so enchanting and just so different, obviously, in amazing ways than anything we have in America. It was so beautiful and it was such a special thing, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that experience honestly.
SJ: If you could perform somewhere where you haven’t been yet, where would it be?
FRAITES: I think the most rewarding part is the fact that we get to know our music is connecting with human beings all over the world, regardless of culture, language, or geographic location. It’s really interesting to realize that all human beings are perhaps more similar than we think. Even though we have different languages, cultures, and other differences, at the very root source of it, we are all human beings. We all experience pain and depression and sadness and joy and curiosity in probably very similar ways. To know that our music is connecting with people of different cultures and different languages – that’s a really cool thing to realize. Like I’ve said before, we got to play in Japan, in China, and in Warsaw, Poland just a couple months ago. To play in those places that are so far from where we came from – the United States – it’s just a huge blessing to be able to travel too. I think that there are a lot of Americans that do not get the opportunity to travel and we are very lucky to be able to do that. So I think that the most rewarding part is just realizing that music is spreading and connecting with all different types of humans.
SJ: If you were not in the Lumineers, what do you think you would be doing right now?
FRAITES: I can’t imagine a life without music, honestly, but if I had to…I studied sociology in college, and I really loved sociology, and I still do love it. I think it’s a very interesting topic. Whereas psychology studies the individual, sociology looks at the macro; it looks at the bird’s eye view of many individuals in society, and I just find that very interesting. I think everybody is a little bit of a sociologist whether they acknowledge it or not, and I think that it’s a very fascinating subject, so I think I would probably do something with that.
SJ: How do you as artists pull yourselves out of creative blocks, and produce your trademark sound?
FRAITES:It’s very true that at times I can feel very burnt out and dissatisfied. I think that sometimes the healthiest and the most important thing you can do is to acknowledge those feelings – to acknowledge that you are feeling maybe depressed, despondent or disconnected from your craft, disconnected from art, and disconnected from music and beauty. For me, I play piano and guitar so much. Even though I play drums live on stage for the band, as I’m one of the co-songwriters, I play the piano and guitar when I’m home in Denver. And when I don’t feel connected, I won’t play the guitar, I won’t play the piano, and I just acknowledge that right now I don’t feel connected to it. I think that anybody out there feeling disconnected, or dissatisfied, should perhaps look for a different hobby for a short time like gardening or learning a different language or something. For me, I have been very blessed that music has been the only obsession in my life that has never diminished. There have been other obsessions and hobbies in my life that have come and gone, whereas music – it’s never diminished, it’s never gone away, my love and passion for it; so I feel very blessed for it.
SJ: Do you think music and art have a purpose?
FRAITES: I don’t think that music and art have a purpose necessarily. I think that, for me at least, I love music, and I think musicians and artists sort of have a selfish love affair with music and art. I think that artists love feeling the paintbrushes and the smell of paint, and I think musicians love pushing keyboards and turning the electronic knobs and having blisters on their fingers from the strings of a guitar. I think a lot of people think music does have a purpose, and sometimes a side effect of music is that it helps people – the lyrics can help people go through tough times in their life, and stuff like that, but… I think ultimately at the root and source of music and art does not have a purpose. I think that it’s sort of this selfish endeavor, where the musician just likes to play and listen to the music and connect with that. It doesn’t always necessarily have to have a purpose. I think that sometimes the purpose of music is to just play the music and enjoy it, and beyond that, it’s irrelevant.
SJ: Who are your personal heroes?
FRAITES: One of my personal heroes would be Tom York from Radiohead, the lead singer. He seems like a guy who is constantly trying to improve and change, and be very fearless and brave with the type of music he and the band Radiohead produce and make, and he’s always been a huge hero of mine. I think the other one would be Richard D. James, the guy in Aphex Twin. Again, he’s an individual that is constantly pushing his music and his sounds to extreme levels and is always changing. I think that just shows a lot of bravery and fearlessness.
SJ: What has been your proudest achievement?
FRAITES: That’s a good question. I think one of our proudest achievements has to be… I don’t know. As an example, we were in Australia playing for this festival called the Big Day Out, and while we were playing, I looked over to my right and I saw Les Claypool, the bassist and lead singer of the band Primus. He was watching our set, and during that time in Australia we sort of became friends and established a rapport. I think his music is so different from the Lumineers, could not be more different. The fact that he felt connected to the music and was complimenting us and was even willing to talk to us and establish that kind of friendship; that was a huge thing I think. That was a really cool moment.
SJ: What are your goals for the future?
FRAITES: I think, personally for me, the goal for the future is to keep doing what we’re doing now at the present. I really think that we’re so lucky – we’re able to play shows all over the world right now. There is no destination in mind; it’s just to keep continuing this long journey, to be able to play music that we feel good about, to believe in it, to tour internationally, and to try to connect with people and continue to play music for a living, I think that is the ultimate goal right now.
SJ: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
FRAITES: I think the biggest piece of advice I can give is to just focus on the music. So many young musicians, myself included 10 or 15 years ago, get preoccupied with [thoughts like], “Once I buy an expensive microphone, I’ll be better.” “Once I buy a more expensive computer, then I’ll be better.” “Once I buy a better guitar, then the songs will be better.” And you have to remember, if you record a good song on an amazing microphone, it’s still just a good song. But if you record a great song on a shitty microphone, it’s still a great song. Don’t worry about who is producing your album, don’t worry about the gear that you have; just focus on the music. If you have a good song idea, figure out ways to make it a great song idea. Don’t let good get in the way of great. I think there was a famous Russian chess player that said, “If you see a good move, look for a better one,” or something like that. If you think you have a good music idea, look for a better one; look for a great one.