The Lumineers were one of those bands doing the hard slog round dingy clubs who were suddenly catapulted to fame.
Formed by vocalist Wesley Schultz and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Fraites their single Oh Hey shot to number two on the Billboard Charts, and their three albums have also been chart toppers round the world as the band sell out arena shows.
Lockdown has forced them off the road and Jeremiah Fraites has filled the gap with his debut solo album, Piano Piano, full of instrumental pieces on piano. Paul Clarke had a virtual chat with Jeremiah at his European base in Italy to find out more.
So, Jeremiah, why now for a solo record of instrumental piano pieces?
“It’s been a long time coming as I think that as a musician I’ve always found the piano to be the most beautiful instrument in the world. There’s been a couple of breadcrumb song ideas with The Lumineers that are indicators that I was capable of doing this.”
“There’s two piano instrumentals that made it to albums. One is called Patience, that was on album two, and another song was called April that was on the last album, Three. I co-founded The Lumineers with Wes about 15 years ago, and when I started playing the piano I could barely even play a chord to save my life.”
So how do you choose which songs would be on your solo record and which could be used by the band?
“I write a lot of music, and a lot of it’s bad, and sometimes it’s good, but I save a lot of my ideas. I’m very precious with my song ideas and over the last 12 or 13 years I’ve developed the Drop Box folder where I just had all these ideas. I knew that they were either too complex, or too this or too that, to have somebody sing over them, and they just didn’t feel like they would become good Lumineers songs. They feel like they would just be sitting on the proverbial shelf collecting proverbial dust, and I really wanted to do something with them.”
Some Lumineers fans might think an album of instrumentals isn’t for them, but for me Piano Piano seems to be a logical progression from your day job?
“I like that, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that there was always a little bit of piano on album one, there was more piano on album two with songs like Ophelia and other songs, but then on album three I think that I really shine through a lot as a piano player. I think that a lot of piano ideas came more naturally and quicker to me because I think I had honed my craft more with piano over the years.”
And I suppose creating three very different and increasingly ambitious Lumineers records was great preparation for this record?
“I feel like I had a lot of wisdom in terms of what to do, and what not to do, in terms of recording this album, how to record it what to do, and, more importantly, what not to do with how it felt sonically.”
You’ve released videos for two songs so far. Tell me about Tokyo?
“Tokyo was a song that that’s probably one of the oldest songs on the album and I think it was probably two different ideas that were not written together. There’s the main bit, and then there’s the chorus for lack of a better description, and they were written years apart and I realised that they went together really well. That was a really cool moment for me when I realised that these two disparate ideas actually went together beautifully.”
Toyko was originally going to be recorded on a grand piano but instead you turned to an unlikely instrument in your Denver home.
“I recorded it on my temperamental upright piano that actually has been nicknamed Firewood by my piano tuner in Denver because this thing is such a piece of garbage, you should burn it’s that bad. It’s quite temperamental, but I love that about it, so I recorded Tokyo on the Firewood upright piano and it was a joy to work on. I recorded the main part on piano and then I did some more weird stuff with the electric guitar recording a bunch of notes, and then I chopped it up on Pro Tools and threw that over the track. I think it might be my favourite song off the album, but it was one of the ones that I was considering not putting on the record because at one point it did give me a lot of trouble.”
Maggie is actually about the death of a family dog which is quite an unusual choice of subject matter for a song.
“I was in Denver and I was downstairs in our basement working on Maggie remotely with the co-producer David Baron. He was over in New York State, we were working remotely, then my wife texted me that her dog Maggie had passed away. It was really her parents’ dog, but I’ve known that dog for seven or eight years now. She was 14 or 15 so she lived a good, long life for a dog but it was still sad. The light bulb went off in my head that this song has to be called Maggie, it seemed so fitting, and I don’t even honestly remember what it was called before that. Maybe something stupid and arbitrary to help you remember the song title, but Maggie felt like a nice way to pay homage to this dog.”
I’m always intrigued when a band goes from playing in people’s living rooms to playing arenas after scoring an unexpected hit. For The Lumineers it was Ho Hey, which went to number two on the Billboard charts, so how did you cope with sudden success?
“It depends on how old you are, the age you are, but even if you’re young you could be wise beyond your years. I think that for us it was at the right time, but I think it can be pretty daunting, it can be pretty terrifying, and I think to some degree success if you’re not careful can at least in the long term sometimes do more harm than good to a band. You have to make sure that you have the right members, and the right people that you’re surrounded by, and I think age, wisdom and having experience is really important.”
Did it help you were a bit older and already had quite a long career playing small venues?
“I think we started to really see success about eight or nine years ago, I was probably 26, 27 something like that, and I think it was the right time to be able to handle that sort of success. Even though we’d been writing music for seven or eight years they say overnight success takes about 10 years. I think for us that was pretty true whereas I think if had blown up when we were 15 or 19, or even early 20s, I think that’s a pretty dangerous age, and anybody that goes through that I think will probably tell you the same.”
And you can trace how the success arc worked for you by the gigs you played in the UK after Ho Hey was a hit.
“We played our first show in London at the Hoxton Bar and Grill and that was a 200 cap room. We went back a few months later and we played Koko that same calendar year. We went back a few months later to play the Roundhouse and it was just so rapid. Then we played Alexander Palace, and then we got to finally play the O2 Arena which was absolutely insane.”
You were the middle of a massive world tour when the pandemic struck so the big question for Lumineers fans is what next for the band?
“I get asked that a lot and the biggest answer I want to know is when we’re going to tour again and when new music will come. I think both are sort of to be decided, but the touring is out of our hands as the world needs to right itself with the vaccines. We’re trying to tour on an international level, so every country is at a different rate and pace, and it’s quite difficult to understand.”
But maybe some new music?
“In terms of writing music I could see 2021 being a great year to write some new Lumineers stuff, not sure when, but it looks for a lot of it we might be home, but none of us have any idea. We don’t know how the hell touring is supposed to work in this new frontier we’re living in, but fingers crossed hopefully some new music and tours will happen this year.”
Piano Piano is out now via Dualtone Records/Mercury KX
Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here.