Name: The Lumineers
Members: Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites
Interviewee: Wesley Schultz
Occupations: Instrumentalists, singers, songwriters
Nationality: American
Current Release: The Lumineers's new, fourth studio album is slated for release on January 14th 2022 via Decca/Dualtone.

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Where does the impulse to create something come from for you?

The impulse I think comes from an innocent place.

There’s some great mystery around so much of this that feels much more like a séance where you’re channeling some energy like an antennae. I think when your brain takes over or you’re intellectual side is dominant, that’s less art and much more like what people do in advertising or writing a jingle.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

To get started, there just needs to be some magnetism - some thread of emotion that gets stirred up by a melody or phrase that you stumble upon.

Is there a preparation phase for your process?

I typically go to my little writing room in the basement, and I turn on this little clock radio that was my dad’s when I was growing up. I put on AM talk radio, usually sports talk radio, and get it so that it’s just loud enough to hear them talking, but not loud enough to understand the words clearly. That creates this sort of crowd sound that makes me feel anonymous and that there’s something happening around me without having to sit in a coffee shop to do find this same condition.

These people talking in the background also distracts my brain from trying to take over and willfully write - the trick is trying to forget that’s what you’re setting out to do.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

I try to focus on melody and chords first, without care for what it is the song is about lyrically. If anything, I try to pay attention to the mumbled gibberish coming out and notice if anything in there moves me as I’m fumbling through the song in its early stages. Sometimes, something like “I’ll be your brightside baby tonight” comes out and then informs the verses as to what they could be about.

But the hardest and most backwards place to be for me is thinking you have a story to tell, but nothing in the way of a powerful melody and chords.

When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?

Lyrics begin to take shape when the song seems ready for them - sometimes that’s the very beginning on the first demo take on a voice memo - and sometimes they get worked out on a walk later on when I’m humming the song to myself.

There’s really no set way I do it - the only thing that is imperative is that you have an idea of what’s good - you have your own taste for what is GOOD. Like a bloodhound knowing when she’s on the trail of something and can follow that to its end.

What makes lyrics good in your opinion?

Part of it is to not be so on-the-nose/literal about how you write -To include certain details that can illustrate the point can be so much more compelling than trying to describe it exactly.

An example would be in the "Brightside" chorus - there’s a line:

“Stranded on the bridge, the cops are closing in”

I was trying to express this feeling of being in purgatory or in between two worlds and feeling trapped - but instead of saying those things, you try to find a way to illustrate that so it paints a picture.

What are your own ambitions and challenges regarding lyrics?

I think some songs are about a feeling and others are about telling a story, and most intersect. Bon Iver and Kurt Cobain and Neil Young all for me were communicating a feeling. The more traditional folk music can often tell a story that you can follow. And Leonard Cohen and Dylan have done both.

I don’t think of one as a better or worse, but I have found that some lyrics don’t get “written” unless they’re sung first. That’s where I think the idea of communicating a feeling occurs.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

I think you can write a song and the meaning can shift as your life experiences affect you ... but I don’t think music is ever that linear - at least good music - it isn’t telling you what to do, it’s trying to describe something poetically. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?

For me it’s always been, “May the BEST idea win” - so when Jer and I collaborate on a song as we do on Lumineers songs, he gives me the space to explore a drum idea, even though I’m a novice drummer, and same for him with lyrics with me.

This applies to all of it - sometimes an innocent perspective also offers a new approach that can’t be touched by those who are “experts” or more practiced.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally?

I think the creative state is like your brain is half awake. You can let go of all judgement and intellectual thoughts and things can flow out of you - sometimes for a few seconds and sometimes for an hour.

And a lot of time can be spent patiently waiting for that to happen - almost like when you’re waiting to fall asleep - the harder you try to longer it takes.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

For me, it’s always been important to be your own barometer.

But another thing that has emerged is having a few trusted people to expose an idea to and feel their reaction. Bono of U2 once told me in place of open mics where we all used to go and test out ideas, he likes to “listen to through other people’s ears”.

Until you can feel those goosebumps, those tears from another, it’s hard to say if it’s far enough along to be done.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece?

That really varies from song to song and album to album. For album 1, we had 3 years for many of those songs, playing them live and recording them a lot at home and then eventually in a studio.

And for this most recent one, it required less time to rest, because I think we trust out own instincts a bit more and have gotten better at understanding when something is transcending and when we are kidding ourselves.

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

I think I’ve always had a producer’s mindset with my own music and the music I’m involved with. We do have producers on our albums that do a phenomenal job (Simone Felice has done our last 3 albums and is a master). The mixing is a group effort, where we constantly listen back, take notes and improve the mixes until they’re where we want them.

And as far as the mastering goes, it’s way more subtle and I think about it in way more of a big picture sense. If something is way off like the bass feeling oppressive, we try to address that. But it’s a more subtle thing when we get to mastering, and often I only keep my radar up for overarching issues as opposed to the mixing part of things.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I think some of the best times to create are when you’ve just finished something you are proud of and do begin feeling a bit empty. It’s a great feeling to finally finish something but there’s also a sense of loss - like, “well what now?”

So sometimes I’ve written parts of songs for the next album, trying to ride the high of finishing something.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee?

Haha. YES. Baristas are not songwriters. I was one for many years and the two are nothing alike.

I remember covering classic songs in bars very early on and feeling like every time I played certain songs, they elevated me - they gave me wings to soar - it was the POWER of the song. It made me want to write better songs, and took more than 10 years to get something even decent to emerge.

But it’s like comedy - you don’t just become funny overnight. You work at it, study it, sacrifice so many things to make it the first priority ... it’s like Leonard Cohen once wrote - “I’m just paying my rent every day in the tower of song.”