Monday, March 26, 2012

A Chat With Wesley Keith Of The Lumineers, Hear The New Album Now!

The Lumineers will release their highly-anticipated, self-titled album next week (via Dualtone Records on April 3rd). Upon hearing the band's Tracks From The Attic EP (which you can download on the band's site for free) and then a copy of their excellent full-length, The Lumineers, I realized that this a band that is about to burst out of nowhere as soon as the record hits the shelves (both virtually and physically).

Check out the band's new video for the song "Hey Ho":

The Lumineers - Ho Hey (Official Video) from The Lumineers on Vimeo.

Fans of impassioned songwriting, specifically the kind that combines elements of traditional string band arrangements with contemporary sensibilities will find much to enjoy on The Lumineers. It's a record that will surely be in steady rotation by followers of Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists, and The Felice Brothers, as well as by fans of singer-songwriters like Jeff Buckley and Ryan Adams.

Rather than offer up MY opinions of the album, click the following link to unlock and stream the album in it’s entirety:

It is my pleasure to pair this exclusive album stream with a recent chat I was fortunate enough to have with lead singer/ songwriter Wesley Keith, as the band is gearing up for the release of The Lumineers.

How and when did The Lumineers form?

Wesley Keith: I was writing songs, mostly singer songwriter songs, then began collaborating with Jer. I always had a knack for remembering lyrics and impersonating singers, so it took a while to develop my own voice. I was hesitant to work with anyone else with regards to a band or co-writing, because: A) musicians are by and large unreliable and lazy, and B) I am a control freak when it comes to certain things I do, songwriting being one of those things.

Which artists, albums, live performances were most influential to you? Collectively, how did these culminate?

Well regarding artists, I'd have to say it was Dylan, Talking Heads, The Cars, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen.

More specifically, the albums were Bob Dylan's Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, The Cars' Greatest Hits, Talking Heads' Sand in the Vaseline, The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St, and Leonard Cohen's The Future.

One performance really stands out to me. I saw a Tom Petty show, and he is obviously older now, but he clearly learned a lot about what makes for a good show. I just remember him playing "Last Dance With Mary Jane", and as the opening guitar line was being played, he opened up a chest on stage that had not been opened the entire show, pulled out a hat, put that hat on for the duration of the song, and then opened the chest back up and put it in and shut it. That is the moment I took away from his show. This taught me everything I needed to know. 

Can you discuss your writing process, both musically and lyrically?

Wesley: Jer and I write the songs. We come up with a melody, almost always working and massaging the melodic idea with a piano or walking around singing it until it sounds right. Once we have the chord progression and the melody, it's time to fill in the melody with words, flesh out the sounds, and play hangman with the syllables. Once we get an idea working with vocals and either a guitar or a piano, we begin to build on that foundation and go from there. We are minimalists at heart.

I write the lyrics and have found a lot of inspiration in telling stories. But it's not really as simple as any sort of formula regarding having a good story or not. Words have a feel to them. I mean, certain words are mentioned throughout the history of pop songs because they just evoke something in the listener - the same words often come up like "California" and "heart", and less often words like "New Jersey" and "pituitary gland".

Finding the right cocktail of words that provoke an emotion in the listener, that's the ticket. I am inspired more by artists that work on the craft, as opposed to the geniuses that so often say things like, "I wrote this last night", or "I wrote this in the bathroom". Leonard Cohen comes to mind. He would constantly slave over single lines for months until he felt that it was a good fit. I can relate to that.

Can you talk about the recording of the record? How did the studio influence, enhance, and/ or alter the songs, or direction of the record?

Wesley: The studio was essentially acting as our home studio on steroids. We decided from day one to educate ourselves on recording and producing, so we could essentially do the job well on your own, so when somebody, if somebody, decided that our songs were worth investing money in, and if we were allowed to use $50,000 dollar mics instead of $1,000 mics, we would be ready for that moment.

It becomes a problem if you have never heard reverb before and go entirely overboard with it during the recording of your album, only to find that you hate how it sounds after you printed off a few thousand. We have spent 3 or 4 years doing it on our own, playing with the sound, our sound, and figuring out what we like, and what we were going for.

So when it came time to record, we were more focused on achieving that sound, and less on how much slapback is the appropriate amount for "Classy Girls". The one main difference though was that we were able to record all the instruments at once, instead of multi-tracking, so a certain energy was better captured. We were hesitant at first because this was a foreign idea, but it became something we really embraced by the end as we grew more confident by doing it.

What tunes came together most naturally?

Wesley: "Flowers", "Submarines", and "Classy Girls". We recorded those on our first EP, and realized we were on to something that we felt really good about. From that point on, we began to hit our stride and the rest of the album just spilled out of us.

Was there a tune(s) that was particularly challenging or came out in a particularly surprising/ unexpected way?

Wesley: That would have to be "Dead Sea". We really didn't know what we were gonna do, but we played around with the arrangement so much in pre-production we knew there was something to it. The end result is something that we probably could not have planned, with the help of Ryan Hadlock, a producer, and Adam Trachsel, a phenomenal bassist. The song really took on more of a "Motown vibe", and that is incredible.

Overall, we use our live shows as a testing ground for any new material. We obviously don't want to make an entire show of saying "Hey this a brand new tune that none of you have ever heard before", but with every song that made the album, we were able to test them out with audiences. We developed a strong sense of what works and what doesn't for us. It's usually pretty subtle, and it's not how loud the clapping is following the tune. It's a small cue here and there that you learn to pick up on, that tells you that what you're playing is getting through to the listener.

Can you discuss the album artwork?

Wesley: It's a picture of my mom, and her mom attempting to walk out of the frame. I adore this picture, and my mother.

What would you say is most inspirational to you?

Wesley: I have been most inspired by living the life I sought for so long. I am a full time musician, I need no other jobs, this is what I do for a living, and that means a lot to me. I am also inspired by love, but that is none of your business.

The record comes out on April 3rd, and the band has a lot planned for the rest of 2012, including an upcoming tour (info here). What can listeners expect from The Lumineers' live performances?

Wesley: Expect live performances to be something that was different from hitting play on your stereo! There is the audio, sure, and we hope it all sounds good. But there is also a visual medium, and element of a SHOW that we look forward to sharing. There is an experience there that you cannot get by simply buying an mp3. We'll try our best.

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