Their way: Before 97X's Next Big Thing, The Lumineers' Wesley Schultz explains the idea behind his band's unique career path

The band headlines day one of the alt-rock radio fest.

click to enlarge HOLDING ON TO THE MOMENT: The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz (center) with bandmates Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek. - BIG HASSLE
Big Hassle
HOLDING ON TO THE MOMENT: The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz (center) with bandmates Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek.

You won’t see a ton of phones in the air when The Lumineers hit Tampa as headliners for 97X’s annual Next Big Thing, now a two-day affair that attracts a very tweenage, Snapchat and Insta-story loving crowd. Wesley Schultz’s band has found a simple way of getting fans to stow their damn devices away: He just asks them.

“Have you ever actually gone back and looked at some of the videos that you’ve taken at the events? They’re so bad, they’re so shitty,” Schultz, 34, says as he checks in during a drive. “So one time I just said, ‘Hey everybody, you can film this one song and then after that we can agree to all put them away?’”

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Surprisingly, it worked, and Schultz — who brought the band to Denver after being frustrated by New York City’s cold and competitive open-mic scene — chalks it up to fighting for the sanctity of the moment instead of rallying against the phones in general. He admits to not having the charm to scold fans the way Adele does, but he knows that deep down his band and the audience all want the same thing.

“She has the charisma to do that, but I try to [remember] that we’re all the same in that we want to capture that moment and hold on to it,” he says with a laugh.

Holding on to, and taking advantage of, those moments is something The Lumineers have always been good at. Shultz and his friend Jeremiah Fraites began playing in the Big Apple, doing terrible covers under the moniker Free Beer, then things got serious before a move to the Mile High City where classically trained cellist Neyla Pekarek answered a musician-wanted ad the boys placed on Craigslist. Open mics at the hole-in-the-wall-ish Meadowlark bar — just half a mile from Coors Field — built them a strong local following that included guys like Americana wildman Nathaniel Rateliff.

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A few more dumb strokes of luck eventually unfolded into an album deal with Nashville’s Dualtone Records, which is home to Shovels & Rope and June Carter Cash and the former label base for Daniel Johnston and Townes Van Zandt. That arrangement bore an eponymous 2012 release that earned The Lumineers a pair of 2013 Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album. Bonnie Raitt, Mumford & Sons, Alabama Shakes and Frank Ocean made for a packed field, but that didn’t shake Schultz & Co., who would ride the wave created by a pair of monster singles — “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love” — into appearances on SNL, slots at Bonnaroo and Glastonbury, and a 2013 arena tour that stopped at the USF Sun Dome.

The Lumineers’ 2016 follow-up, Cleopatra, was less boisterous than its predecessor, but the shift in sound caught the attention of U2, which tapped the band to open 10 dates of its stadium tour this summer. Hearing Schultz talk about those quick two weeks in May and June makes it easy to see how he, Fraites, 31, and Pekarek, 31, have moved toward the top of a folk/pop genre now filled with countless imitators.

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“I’ve noticed that a lot of bands [after] touring with U2… try to write an arena or stadium album because it’s just so fascinating,” he says, adding that his talks with Bono and The Edge revealed U2’s desire to only write music that moved the band members themselves. “It was a spiritual thing for them more than anything.”

Schultz has been able to look past the spiritual stuff long enough to make sure The Lumineers — which owns all of its publishing and operates solely on single album deals — don’t bow down to labels as the band creates music.

“Artists get money in these weird patches and weird clumps, and you’ve got to make that last your whole life,” Schultz explains. “When you own your own publishing you can survive the lean years and not do something you find repulsive. We’re very fortunate in that way to have just a ton of creative freedom.”

He gets back to the topic of Bono being able to reach his audience in cavernous stadiums by stripping the storytelling back to its most basic human elements, and in so doing hints at what the new Lumineers stage show may feel like.

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“I think you can effect small amounts of change if you approach it the right way. I was inspired by [U2’s] live show in that I just didn’t expect it to be as intimate as it was,” Schultz says. “You just kind figure that when you get to a certain level, people just don’t have intimacy with the band, but it’s not so — it really feels like you’re in a little room with them.”

Sitting atop a Next Big Thing lineup at the Amp that features such gargantuan acts as Paramore, Vance Joy, X Ambassadors and current Billboard 200 darlings Portugal. The Man, The Lumineers won't exactly be playing a little room. But with phones down and Schultz giving everything he’s got, it just might feel that way.

Read a full Q&A with Schultz here, and get more information on the show below.

97X Next Big Thing w/The Lumineers/Paramore/X Ambassadors/Vance Joy/Portugal. The Man/Mondo Cozmo/more 
Sat. & Sun, Gates at 5 p.m. (Dec. 2) and 10 a.m. (Dec. 3). $37 & up. 
MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, 4802 U.S. Hwy 301 N., Tampa. 

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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