When “Ho Hey” was prominently featured on the CW television show “Hart Of Dixie” back in December, months before the Lumineers even finished recording their self-titled debut album, it kicked off a wave of momentum that saw the band storming the late-night circuit, grabbing the support of VH1’s “You Oughta Know” and nudging the Top 40. (As of this writing, it sits at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100.) And all because of a song whose title comes from its background shouts rather than any of the lyrics.
“Yeah, I don’t know, it was never really named officially,” says guitarist and singer Wesley Schultz, on the phone from Colorado, of his band’s breakthrough hit. “It just became ‘What’s that “ho, hey” song you guys sing?,’ that kind of thing. It just stuck. I always intended on giving it a proper title, but I just didn’t really think about it too much.”
But even if the title doesn’t reveal much of what the song is actually about — in broad strokes, it’s a less teen-angsty take on the tale Taylor Swift spins in “You Belong With Me,” with Chinatown standing in for the football game — it’s perfectly representative of the Lumineers’ music, telling listeners in its way exactly what to expect. The Denver-based five-piece (the founding trio of guitarist Schultz, percussionist Jeremiah Fraites, and cellist Neyla Pekarek, and recently added Stelth Ulvang on piano and mandolin and Ben Wahamaki on bass) specializes in acoustic stomp and holler, doling out equal parts uplift and melancholy.
For Matt Phipps, music director and afternoon on-air personality for 92.5 The River, it’s a combination that grabbed his attention early. “Ho Hey” has been on the radio station’s playlist since February, two months before the album was released, making him one of the band’s early boosters.
“There was just so much to love about it,” says Phipps. “I mean, two guitar players (Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites) and this classically trained cellist (Neyla Pekarek) who’s extremely talented, a little foot-stomping, some clapping thrown in, and it’s like 2½ minutes long. For me, it’s like the recipe for a perfect song.”
It’s a sound and approach familiar to fans of Old Crow Medicine Show (with whom the Lumineers play the House Of Blues on Thursday), the Avett Brothers, and Mumford & Sons. Schultz credits the latter two with helping to pave the way for the success of bands like his, though he’s careful to stress the importance of being more than just an imitator.
“Radio’s a hard thing to break in,” Schultz says. “I think that they’ve opened a lot of doors and made a lot of opportunities indirectly for bands like us, and we’re really thankful for that. So in that way, I feel lucky to have the timing of it all because of that.
“I think the other thing to bear in mind is, it would be really crappy if people thought that we were just a carbon copy of that band and to get constantly compared to it. I think that in order to survive, bands need to have some sort of distinct side to what you do, or an identity separate from them eventually. You need to carve that out for yourself, however you do that.”
Of course, the band might just be apprehensive of drafting off of others owing to how they came by their name. Playing a club in Jersey City before they relocated to Colorado, they were introduced as the Lumineers, which, minus the “the,” happened to be the name of a band that was playing there the next week. “We kind of just went with it,” says Schultz. “We didn’t say anything, laughed and played the show.” After investigating the other band, they added a definite article and figured they were set. That’s when they learned about the brand of dental veneers by the same name.
The result is a bit of a Google problem, as the veneers are currently the top result for searches on “Lumineers.” “I think they paid good money for that,” Schultz says. “I think we have been [the top result] at times and they’ve literally had to combat it, which I’m secretly proud of.”
Less secret is Schultz’s pride in the Lumineers’ eagerness for audience participation, though he accepts that different people connect to music in different ways. “Sometimes someone is just very reserved, and them tapping their foot or snapping their fingers, that’s a big deal for them,” he says. “You start to learn that you have to respect an audience and ask them to join you, but you can’t put terms on how they're going to participate.”
That’s especially true at a venue like Red Rocks, the 9,450-capacity open-air amphitheater that’s the largest hometown venue the Lumineers have ever played. Asked about the Lumineers’ preparation for their performance there later that night, Schultz drew on successes leading up to it over the recent months and years.
“I think the way you prepare, hopefully, is just to try to do something that feels a little like the next thing,” he says. “And I try to get some good sleep.”
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