Article by: Angela Suico | Photos courtesy of The Lumineers | Posted: 05/22/2012
Many musicians naturally engage with different forms of art besides their own, drawing influences from art and literature, mixing them together and straining them through the filters of their own musical creations. But throughout his life, The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz seems to have been drawn to not just engaging with different art forms but actively pursuing them, whether they be in visual, verbal or musical form.
Initially aiming to be an artist as a child, Schultz was fond of drawing—a fondness that was once documented in the New York Times when a nine-year-old Schultz was quoted saying, “I spend a lot of time on my drawings and it turns out good ’cause I’ve been practicing a lot.” (Schultz was one of three children discussing how learning about Beethoven’s struggles with adversity inspired them to achieve their dreams--thanks to a performer who dressed up as the composer to educate young students about his history.) But his preference of creative expression later shifted from art to music, eventually giving birth to the folk-pop trio, The Lumineers, along with percussionist Josh Fraites and multi-instrumentalist Neyla Pekerak, who plays the cello, piano and mandolin.
Schultz says that his involvement in music stemmed from his interest in guitar and his affinity for words.
“I started playing guitar when I was sixteen. I was real interested in a lot of music growing up, and singing. I was always interested in lyrics and...I have a [penchant] for learning lyrics quickly and remembering them…and so I think that combined with…writing a lot, whether it was papers for school or poetry, or eventually song lyrics—[those two things] kind of all played into this skill set.”
Schultz’s love of writing is apparent in tracks like “The Big Parade,” which manages to capture the stories of a variety of individuals in just a few words, like a condensed, musical version of The Canterbury Tales. His subjects range from a politician, to beauty queens, to a priest who has fallen in love—a character Schultz drew from real life.
“When I was young,” Schultz explains, “I was in church and this priest gave his homily about how he's leaving the priesthood, because he'd fallen in love with a woman. And it was a really powerful thing to say that to a congregation in that way. It wasn't something that I read about in the church directory or in the weekly news. He went and told...the entire congregation that he was leaving because he was in love with a woman…I was an altar boy, and he was the youngest priest by far and he'd interact with us a lot and he was just a really nice guy, so I was kind of happy to see him go do his thing.”
In some ways, Schultz seems comparable to the priest he knew: he also left what was familiar to go do his thing, taking the unorthodox--(at least by music world standards)--path of moving from New York City to Denver. Tired of the financial strain of working three jobs to support himself, he and Fraites packed up and left for Colorado, where they met Pekarek after posting a craigslist ad searching for a cellist, looking to round out their group with something other than an electric bass.
Nowadays, the three tour the country together, gracing crowds with their evocative lyrics and beautifully raw melodies from their self-titled album. Each member’s contributions shine on different songs: “Submarines” contrasts Fraites’ hammering drum over the song’s light, bouncing piano melody, while Pekarek’s cello lends an appropriate gravitas to the war-themed “Charlie Boy,” and “Dead Sea” and “Slow It Down” highlight Schultz’s twangy, emotive voice. These songs are indicative of what makes The Lumineers’ music so successful. Each member balances and complements the other on every track, sometimes stepping back and letting the other members dominate, while other times taking the lead. Together, the three create a lovely, harmonious sound—a sound that has brought them to places like the set of Conan, which Schultz counts among his fondest memories from their tour, along with the band’s recent performances in Denver.
Denver also factors into the advice Schultz says he would give himself if he could travel back five years in the past. He asserts that he would tell himself to “get out of New York—it's too expensive. Go anywhere you can devote a lot of time to what you want to do. It took me awhile to realize that; I moved out here three years ago, and if I had moved out five years ago I think I would have had an even bigger head start on pursuing something because you just need to devote a lot of time to whatever it is that you're trying to do.” Dispensing practical advice like that, Schultz is clearly a man dedicated to his art.
The Lumineers - "Ho Hey"