The Lumineers are one of the biggest success stories in Colorado’s musical history. The Denver folk band’s 2012 debut album sold over three million copies worldwide on the strength of singles “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love.”
But after the group toured the world for two years and started work on the follow-up, drummer Jeremiah Fraites tells OpenAir's Jeremy Petersen that they faced a tough choice: They could make a big-budget record, or they could follow a more modest approach like the one that led to their first album.
"The idea that maybe you could write a big check to a Rick Rubin or a well known producer and just take all the shortcuts and be like: ‘Alright, we’re gonna go to the sickest studio in the world and we're gonna get the best producer,'" Fraites says. "And it was like, that's probably not gonna work. That's not how we got here.”
The band first attempted to write the album on the road. They even built a mobile recording studio rig to bring along on tour.
When that failed, the band took a six month break to write in their hometown of Denver. Many of the songs began as short audio recordings on their mobile phones. The music from those house sessions and the phone recordings became the band’s sophomore album: “Cleopatra.”
For the "Cleopatra" recording sessions, the Lumineers chose a studio in rural New York and worked with producer Simon Felice, a one-time tourmate of the band as a member of The Felice Brothers.
Singer Wesley Schultz believes this modest approach made much more sense for the band.
"We feel like we’re this food cart that somehow got a Michelin rating," Schultz says. "But we’re really just a mom-and-pop in-house establishment."
The theme of modesty runs across the music of "Cleopatra," which takes its name from a real-life woman from the eastern European nation of Georgia. She’s a taxi driver who turned down a marriage proposal from her first love at age 16, and still regrets it decades later.
The band met her while on tour and Schultz found lyrical inspiration from her personality.
"It was just an incredible experience to be around someone who was so OK with depicting their life as it actually was, and not as a walking billboard for how great their life is," Schultz says. "She just said: 'I’ve had a hard life' ... I was struck by the strength in that, and the honesty."
As the Lumineers release their long-awaited second album, it can’t be helped that the financial success of their debut looms over the record. Nevertheless, Schultz and the other members of the band feel happy with the final product, regardless of how it sells.
"You can't evaluate things based on those kind of results. I think you have to feel good or bad or whatever you feel about your albums to keep your own score."
Read about the Lumineers donating their old tour van to Colorado Public Radio.
Watch the Lumineers rehearse "Dead Sea" with members of the Colorado Symphony below.