There was something wonderfully incongruous when Taylor Swift slipped in a few verses of The Lumineers “Ho Hey” into her set, while performing with Ed Sheehran last summer. Swift is the queen of polished pop. She is the perfect voice for Swedish hit maker Max Martin. Swift's music is full of sheen.
And there's The Lumineers, who sound so wonderfully raw. “Ho Hey” is a basic, charming song full of foot stomps and rich harmonies. It stands out in a world of processed, electronic music.
“It's just something straight from the heart,” singer-songwriter Wes Schultz said during a phone call from Lexington, Ky.
Part of what makes the song and the rest of The Lumineers' self-titled album work is heart. You can hear the sadness in Schultz's voice when he gently sings, “I Belong With You/You Belong With Me,” which is sung after a breakup.
“There's something about love songs,” Schultz said. “People are still drawn to them.”
That's a message many folks in pop music may doubt, but it's true. There aren't as many love songs out there, but the good ones certainly sell. Adele's “21” is filled with songs of the broken-hearted, and more than 20 million copies of the disc have been sold.
Mumford and Sons, with whom The Lumineers have often been compared, helped reestablish folk-rock as a viable choice for radio programmers.
“If music is good, people will listen to it,” Schultz said. “It doesn't have to be dressed up. It can be direct, It can be no-frills. I appreciate Mumford and Sons since they kicked down the door and enabled us to do this.”
Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites are really who made it happen for The Lumineers. The longtime friends started writing together in 2005 while living in Ramsey, N.J. But the suburb of New York City didn't work out for them. Open mike nights in Manhattan were as far as the tandem went.
After slugging it out for three years in Gotham, the pair moved to Denver in 2008. “We found something special there,” Schultz said. “It's an incredibly supportive musical community. I had a hard time believing what we stumbled into. I had my guard up when people would talk to me. But the people of Denver are genuine.”
That's what makes The Lumineers' music work so well. It lacks pretension, and it receives a boost from cellist-vocalist Neyla Pekarek, bassist Ben Wahamaki and keyboardist Stelth Ulvang. “It's amazing how things have turned out,” Schultz said. “All I wanted to do at the start of this was play a place like (the tiny Manhattan club) The Mercury Lounge, and now we're playing such big venues. It goes to show you that you never know what's going to happen in this crazy business.”
The wacky but unsurprising footnote in The Lumineers' story is that the band almost didn't put “Ho Hey” on their album, which is a typical rock tale. “You hear about so many hits almost missing the album,” Schultz said. “That's our deal. It took such a long time to record that song, and it almost didn't make the album; but we're so fortunate that it did. Fans really love that song. It's nice to have a song people are crazy about. We've played that song so many times but I'm not complaining. It opened doors for us. I wanted those doors to be open, and now we have this (success), which is amazing.”