Rooting Down in Denver

29 Mar 12
The Lumineers rock Denver.

The Lumineers.

When the Lumineers stomp, clap and shout through the infectious chorus of “Ho Hey,” a standout track from their new self-titled debut album, you can’t help but want to join the trio’s primal folk-rock celebration. It’s surprising to learn then, that music this joyous was initially born out of sorrow.

Founding members Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites formed the group back in 2002, after Fraites’ brother and Schultz’s best friend, Josh Fraites, died of a drug overdose. The duo, who grew up in a New Jersey suburb of Manhattan, grieved together by writing songs and eventually started gigging in the city.

Although the songs were steadily coming together, the realties of making it in New York as starving artists became overwhelming. Disenchanted by a cutthroat music scene and high cost of living, Schultz and Fraites packed their bags and randomly moved to Denver.

“Life happens while you’re making plans,” says Schultz. “The ego of New York is so big—it wrongfully teaches you that everybody who’s anybody goes there to play music. That proved to be a myth when we got to Denver. The city welcomed us, and we found people that were interested in music in a real way.”

Upon arriving in Denver, the group started mixing it up with fellow songwriters during open mic nights over dollar PBRs at the basement Meadowlark Bar. Through a Craigslist ad, the group found cello player Neyla Pekarek, whose orchestral background enhanced the grandly sublime melodies of Schultz’s unabashedly heartfelt tunes. Soon after, the band’s broad acoustic sound quickly started gaining crowds.

“I try to inject my songs with heart and soul,” says Schultz, who plays guitar and piano while Fraites handles drums. “I’ve always been interested in saying something, but it never mattered without decent melody. When you marry those two things, people start to pay attention. Setting it up right makes it palpable.”

Touting songs overflowing with similar ragged energy and heart-on-the sleeve honesty that has propelled the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons, the band is now poised to become the next big thing in the ongoing youth-charged roots revival movement. For the past two years, the group has been grinding out coast-to-coast tours in a soccer mom van, building audiences in small venues. More people should definitely take notice this summer when the band takes the stage at huge festivals like the All Good Music Festival and Wakarusa.

“We feel at home at a lot of different venues,”  says Schultz. “Our arrangements with acoustic instruments lend themselves to a very intimate setting, but when we’re amplified we sound much bigger. We also grew up with electric guitars and the dissonant chords of alt-rock and grunge, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those elements come into future songs. There’s always room to evolve and grow and change.”

Just last month the Lumineers released their new album on Dualtone Records. The effort is the result of a month spent recording at the secluded Bear Creek Studio near Seattle, which has yielded work by the Fleet Foxes and Ra Ra Riot. From the rolling finger-picked first notes of opening “Flowers in Her Hair” to the pulsing harmonies of “Stubborn Love,” the album showcases the band’s gritty front-porch pop that constantly begs for a sing-along—something the band doesn’t mind one bit.

“The ability to go out there and connect with people and make them forget about everything but what’s going on in that room is what we work for,” Schultz says. “We want people to feel welcome and comfortable if they want to clap and sing along. I don’t think you’ll find anyone being shushed at a Lumineers show. •

The Lumineers play at Mishawaka Indoors in Bellvue on Friday, April 6, and The Bluebird Theatre in Denver on Friday, May 11

Mile High Sound

Denver’s music scene keeps booming. Keep an eye on these up and coming local bands, too.

Churchill
In less than three years together, this acoustic-driven indie-pop crew has gone from a local Denver favorite to national upstarts, gaining big praise at notable festivals including South by Southwest. Rooted in the musical partnership of singer-songwriter Tim Bruns and mandolin player Mike Morter, the now quintet has expanded on a background of country and bluegrass to play a range of melodic chamber rock with plenty of string flourishes and infectious hooks.

Oakhurst
Oakhurst built their following through rowdy nights at the Appaloosa Grill in downtown Denver. Now the expansive string band is poised for national success. Their new album, Barrel, was made in Nashville with help from producer Joe Pisapia (Guster, K. D. Lang) and finds the band branching into song-based Americana with hues of vintage country and blues. The group will celebrate the new album with a show at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom on April 21.

The Congress
The Congress specializes in old-school rock that’s immediately reminiscent of hey-day Little Feat with soulful vocals, fluid guitar work and the drive of gritty R&B grooves. With intense axe duels between guitarists Jonathan Meadows and Scott Lane, the group eschews current trends in genre-mashing in favor of honest journeys through distorted vintage blues and epic, fist-pumping bar anthems.

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