The Lumineers are headed to Tampa this weekend as part of 97X’s Next Big Thing festival, which has expanded to two days.
Before his band’s set, frontman Wesley Schultz spent some time on the phone to talk about Adele, Denver, Stranger Things, karaoke-ing to Tom Petty and more.
Read our piece on the band here, and see a full Q&A below.
Hey what's up is this Ray?
Yup, thanks for adjusting earlier.
That's okay man, no problem. I had to drive somewhere, so it was the same amount of time to wait, so all good.
Right on, were you driving over to the Meadowlark?
Ha, no. I don't know how you know about that, but that's pretty sick.
Do they still do open mics there? Do you still make it out there?
Um, I went a couple years ago. On Tuesdays they used to have open mic, I dunno if they still do it though. I hope so.
Okay. Do you guys ever hit up random open mics or bars in the towns that you tour in?
Haha, no, but we do some karaoke. We love to do that.
Right on. Do you do Tom Petty's "Walls'? I think that's you that likes that, right?
Actually, I sand "American Girl" on time at a wedding with one of those live bands before our band, and I thought I did a really good job, and at the end of the night one of the older ladies was criticizing me because I was apparently grabbing my junk while I was singing or something? But I wasn't — I just had my hand in my pocket because I didn't know where to put it. And she thought I was making a rude gesture, so that was one of my most memorable karaoke-eque moments. It's funny when you try to convince someone like, "Yeah, I can sing." I guess they get approached all the time, so they just think everyone is lying to them.
Yeah I would imagine that would be awkward for you when you're hanging out with, not your close friends, but like peripheral friends who still look at you as the guy in the band, so anytime anything has to do with music they're like, "Oh Wesley, Wesley can sing — he can do it." It's funny that you mention the old lady — well, it's not funny — thinking that you did that thing. I was little late to this phoner because we had some local sexualt assault news I had to sort through. It's crazy that it happens, but also figuring that out. All this stuff is coming out, and your band has been fiercely independent. Is sexual coercion or assault something that your band has had to deal with as it has risen in popularity and been passed in front of different agents, etc.? Like, "Why don't you dress like this or dress like that?"
Luckily, I looked at old pictures of me from the end of the last album, and I look like a weird goat meets a sorcerer and no one said anything to me. That actually really endeared me to, you know, it was like a poor man's version of ZZ Top with less talent on the guitar, and no one said a word, so I think they know to give us a lot of leeway. Maybe that was too much, but, um, overall no. It's sort of a mom and pop shop vibe around our band as a whole, you know, Jared and I write all the music and have been for 12 years now. We have, we work with an independent record label, Dualtone, and we do one record deals, so that we can, so that we're able to put out records exactly when we feel like they're ready. So we have, we're very fortunate in that way to have just a ton of creative freedom, and I guess power, I guess you can say. It's good. Obviously we had a lot of, there's a lot of luck that comes with it, too, and it's almost like we bet on ourselves and it really went well, but I kind of wouldn't want it any other way, so I am kind of glad that we don't have to ask anybody if they think the record is done or ask anyone what they think the album art should be. We just get to make those decisions, and I think it should come from the artist. Otherwise you're getting, sort of getting an overly marketed, synthesized thing, that's what Target and Walmart do to sell things. That's what artists are supposed to be doing, you know, creating things that you love.
Man, I hate to get too technical about that, but I always find these conversations very interesting. Do you guys get to retain the publishing for your music as well?
Yeah, yeah. We own all that. This is awesome. I watched something about Jay-Z and how he fought to get his masters back, and I was thinking to myself, "Man, we already own all our masters." When people say "power" it's not so much, the idea of the power, it comes because you don't have to do things that you feel embarrassed to do or just stuff that you're not interested in doing just to make the ends meet just to scrape by because you've run out of funds. As artists, we get, uh, I think you get money in these weird patches and weird clumps, and you've got to make that last your whole life, you know. And when you own your own publishing you can survive the lean years and not do something you find repulsive, haha. So we're really fortunate. That's really a credit to our lawyer and manager more than us.
Right, and you did have the foresight to do that and, as your mentioned, the sheer luck to find someone who you could trust and not kind of screw you over. I think the band is Stranger Things fans. Have you finished season two? I know you enjoy the soundtrack, but do you have a hot take on the series right now?
Well that was Jared who posted that remix, so you'd have to ask him, but I just watched the second and third episode last night and my mind is, like, I'm where that little reptile alien is, like — well, have you seen it yet?
Yeah, yeah. I finished it last night.
My mind is blown right now, and I am trying to figure out what's going on.
Oh, on Dart.
Yeah, one of the best shows. Yeah, Dartanian.
Yeah, named him after the 3 Musketeers bar because he liked the nougat.
Geez, yeah that's right. I'm pretty creeped out and loving it. But, no, that's Jared. He's our binge watcher in the group. He can plow through a TV series like none other.
Right on, and kind of staying on this theme of modern times. The band is pretty against phones at shows, but the Tampa stop, and some of the stops on the winter tour are part of these radio festivals, so I had two questions for you. Could you get specific about why the phone disrupts you so much from the stage and also how are you able to kind of get over that in your head so that The Lumineers can do this show that the band has always been famous for. You are one of the more consistent live bands touring.
Well, I think it's no so much anti-something, it's more being pro-something. I think I'm just trying to create a culture where the expectation is to be there and to be present is what we're shooting for. It's a similar thing if you went to a Broadway show or a movie, um, we're just interested in having people fully present there. I mean when I got married, at our wedding, we had a cell phone check, and people still come up to us and say, "That was such a cool idea because I ended up talking to everyone at the table, and I socialized — I was there." And, so, yeah they couldn't take photos, but I think that when you put the onus on people, not scold them, but just say, "Hey this is what we're dreaming and hoping this can look like at a Lumineers show, and any show." I think that's a much better approach than, I've tried, you know, you almost scold them like Adele.
She's great, and she has the charisma to do that, but I try to take in a more, it's not like, we're all the same in that we want to capture that moment and hold on to it, but, I mean how many times 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, and the quality plus everything else. So yeah 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, correct?" And then now it's gotten to a point, we've had a lot of luck, if they're fans of ours they just kind of, it's a culture, people try to respect what the band wants, and I think you get a better show for it. You just get more participation, and basically, I get irritated if I'm at a show and there's a glowing screen in front of me. Because I look at that more than the stage, so it's not — my other idea, and I don't know how we would do it is to have people film it, but not have the screen lighting up, and least have something so we don't have to be so distracted. But overall I think the solution is like more that we agree that's its just a courteous thing to not do.
And your band, in my opinion, is pretty self-aware, and you've made music not for a demographic, but to tell stories — why do you think the sound has worked so well for radio as a side effect? I mean you guys are a big band, but you've never really approached with this intention to fit in on the radio. Why do you think, it's taken off on the radio so much.
Man, if I had the answer.
I don't know. It's almost, it's not reverse-engineered in any way, you know, so I think we, I feel, well people always ask me, "What are you a hybrid of?" as if every band is a two-headed monster. Maybe, one that kind of made me laugh was that we're half Billy Joel, half Feist. We have this interest in writing these tight pop tunes, but telling stories and putting vulnerability into them, and a heart into them, I think, balances them out and makes them feel, I mean it's authentic for me. You know, that's what Tom Petty always did.
Yeah, well he never really gave into the radio.
Yeah, people never really realize how well-crafted Nirvana songs were because they were so, at the time, it was like punk to people, but if you actually cover their songs you realize just how beautiful and well-written they are. So I think it comes down to material. We're about to go play a Leonard Cohen benefit at the end of this weekend, and what I found about him is that so many times, when people cover his music, it's like hearing it for the first time again, but if you just realize what a gift each one of his songs is and that — I always felt like the biggest compliment would be, even if I never sung you a song, when people hear it, it would remind them of someone else's good song from their repertoire. I was fascinated by trying to objectively write good songs as opposed to having it be a cult of personality. Having it be a fixation on some kind of look or charisma, it has to be more about the material.
Sure, 100-percent. I like that comment you made about this fascination about writing a good song objectively, and I was wondering, you’re nearly a year removed from the opening for U2 experience. What has the band’s approach to the live set, its ambitions as far as putting on a live show done since you wrapped that tour up — it's kind of like the epitome of a big show, you know?
Yeah, it's actually only been three months from opening for them.
But, um, I think, I honestly think, I've noticed that a lot of bands leaving touring with U2, and then they try to write an arena or stadium album because it's just so fascinating, like, "How do they do that?" You know? But I think that they came from a much different place. Being around them, and having a few conversations with them, being lucky enough to just talk to The Edge and Bono just a little bit — hold on there's a weird announcement going on — I think that they, what they, what's really obvious about them, in talking to them, is that they really, they really resented the label of pop music. They just made music that they were moved by, it was a spiritual thing for them more than anything. The human power of music, the transcending quality that music has. You can go to a show and people at the show, they could hate each other in some form, maybe there are marchers outside, but it actually brings people together, and what he did with that moment, I thought was important, you know? During his shows he was advocating for gender equality and things like that, that under any other circumstance those people would be completely turned off by that message, but just the way he did it — the same way Bruce Springsteen — it's an amazing line to walk, and it's always been something I've been fascinated by because I think you can affect small amounts of change or open people up to ideas if you approach it the right way. A lot of that has to do with storytelling versus telling the facts. You can't argue with someone's experience, you can argue with a statistic, so I was just inspired by the live show in that I just didn't expect it to be as intimate as it was for, you know, how popular they are. 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.
Cool, so I told Emily I would keep it to about 20 minutes, so maybe I'll ask thing one last question, and I think you may have answered it earlier with you approach to records, but for one — are you working on new music yet? And two, Denver is growing pretty quickly, you guys tour a lot so you may not really feel the effect of that, but I know you kind of left New York because of the bustle. Is Denver still going to be home base for The Lumineers for a while, and then, also are you working on new music?
Yeah, for sure. It's home for me, and it's home for Jeremiah. And yeah we're probably bad people to ask about change unless you know want to know the time-lapse photography, um, yeah, a lot of new people are moving here. My only fear is that if I was, if it was the old me trying to move here now, could I do it? Could I afford it? That's the reason I moved here. There was a community, and an artist could afford to live here, and enrich the area, so, like all those movements, it'll find a new place to go if it gets too rich for the blood of artists here. You see it in New York, everybody kind of just finds a new place. And then you make cool coffee shops and venues and restaurants, and then you get kicked out and you do it again. I think that's just how I guess it works. I try to keep a perspective on it, but, um, I love Denver. I love being here. We're making a new record. I was just over at the studio, we're sort of rehearsing and then setting up in there the last couple days.
Demo-ing the record? Or getting to more final stuff?
We're doing what we normally do, which is basically, uh, rent a little house and then spend our days there together. Jeremiah and I, we work predominantly off the voice memos that we've stockpiled over the last couple of years of touring, and uh, kind of go from there to create some really solid demos. Some of which will end up on the record, and some of which we end up re-recording, but just end up making a lot of music and then taking the best 12 or 13 songs and putting together a record. It just depends how long it takes. I guess that's the other thing. We're not really pressured to have that answer so that's a good thing.
Cool man, well thanks for your time. I appreciate you circling back even though we missed the original time. I hope you enjoy your full month off and we'll see you when you come to Tampa.
Alright man, see you then. Take care.
See ya, Wes. Thanks, dude.