By Carol Anne Szel
The Lumineers' founding fathers and songwriters Wesley Schultz (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano) have definitely not been on musical lockdown since the pandemic hit and arguably rendered a hit upon the music industry. Launching two separate solo projects, Wesley’s Vignettes is an offering of cover songs, while Jeremiah’s is a lucid and tranquil instrumental album called Piano Piano (released through Dualtone Records).
From their humble start in 2005 performing and writing in New Jersey, The Lumineers have released three records to date as a band, the first self-titled in 2012 which went triple platinum in the U.S., Cleopatra in 2016 which debuted at Billboard’s No. 1 spot, and 2019’s album aptly named III. The band looked to continue their crowd-pleasing concert status in 2020 before COVID-19 forced them, and everyone else in the music industry, to put their tours on pause indefinitely.
Goldmine caught up for a chat with Jeremiah Fraites about The Lumineers' groundbreaking start (i.e., selling out Madison Square Garden) and his own songwriting technique.
GOLDMINE: You sold out the Garden almost fresh out of the gate, what was that like?
JEREMIAH FRAITES: It was kind of surreal. I mean growing up in New Jersey, so close to New York City, Madison Square Garden was kind of the mecca, to sell that out was a dream come true. It is pretty wild. It’s like you never do this for those things, but they’re nice when they happen! It’s kind of like the cherry on top, or something.
GM: What is your writing process like?
JF: Me and Wes work on everything together once it’s ready to be worked on. Wes writes all the lyrics...well, like 99% of them. I’ll just send him these random lyrics sometimes, or what I think sounds good. I pick his brain and make a song out of that. It’s a cool process, really; we usually start out writing independently. You know you’re on the road a year and a half or two years and that gives you a lot of time to write new material. And then when a tour’s done you know you probably take a little bit of time off to relax and de-stress and get back in a good state of mind. You take a break from music for a little bit, and then you go back to it and harvest all these ideas.
GM: And your recording process?
JF: We always demo it. It’s kind of a three-tiered process. The first is sort of like writing song ideas in your hotel room or your house or wherever. Then me and Wes get together, we’ve always gotten together in Denver and we’ll rent out a house and kind of turn it into a makeshift studio. We’ll work on the demos there and start to make them into full-length songs. Almost all the songs are constructed there, and once we go out to the quote-unquote real studio, which for the last two albums have been in the Catskills, that’s where we actually turn these full-length demos into full length songs. We come up with everything there. Whether it’s sting ideas or whatever, that’s kind of the last process there, that’s where it all really happens.
GM: How did you know you wanted to be a musician?
JF: I think I kind of always knew. I mean there’s always those key moments in life that stand out. I remember being in fourth or fifth grade and seeing my buddies across the street in literally a garage band. They’re playing in the garage and I’m like, what the hell is that music, live music? Every time I would see someone play drums; I had no idea what was happening but I just remember saying ‘That is so cool.’ I remember growing up in school in New Jersey we’d have these talent shows in like sixth, seventh, eighth grades against people who were covering Chili Peppers songs or whatever else at the time and I just thought that was so cool. You know, a band together, writing stuff. So, it always appealed to me, and I got my first drum set in the summer of eighth grade going into my freshman year of high school. I started learning drums and eventually moved on to piano, and now I play guitar and drums and piano.
GM: So, you were kind of self-taught?
JF: I think a lot of musicians will tell you they’re self-taught because it makes them sound cooler. To a degree I just practiced a lot of what music I liked. I’ve had so many conversations with friends like, ‘How do you play that song?’ or ‘What are these chords, how do you play those chords?’ or whatever. I mean, if you weren’t a musician in high school, you were probably so bored. That’s all we talked about, we talked about chords on the guitar and drum beats, the sound. It was just something I fell into naturally.