“We want to focus on the core, not the illusion.” – Wesley Schultz, The Lumineers.
The Lumineers are one of the unlikeliest success stories of the past few years. A scruffy independent Americana trio out of Denver, their irresistible anthem “Ho Hey” took the world by storm in 2012, followed by a second #1 single “Stubborn Love” and their third charting single “Submarines”, all carrying them on a journey from the Grammys to the presidential iPod, from the top of the charts to the Hunger Games. Their self-titled debut album became a multi-million seller as they stormed stages around the world and legions of new fans fell in love with the wide emotional and philosophical range of their rich, lyrical songwriting. Now, at long last, they are back with their second album, Cleopatra, a collection of such depth and texture it affirms The Lumineers as a band in for the long haul, with a growing canon of songs that stand comparison with the best America has to offer.
The Lumineers are songwriters Wesley Schultz (vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, piano). They are joined by cellist and backing vocalist Neyla Pekarek, who became a part of the group in 2010. Cleopatra is the result of three years of non-stop touring in the heady whirlwind of growing fame, six months of secluded writing in a small house in Denver, and two months of recording in the rural isolation of Woodstock. “I think the old fashioned way is the honest way,” says blonde, bearded, soft spoken singer Wesley. “We wanted to take our time, strip it right back to its raw and honest essentials, and make an album we believe in.” In a world where sophomore albums are commonly rushed out the door, Jer felt they, “took the right amount of time we needed to make the record we imagined, on our own timeline.”
Cleopatra is full of strange and touching tales from the frontline of life in a real world behind the veil of pop illusions, of everyday hopes and busted dreams. “We put an onus on the kind of characters and stories that are not so prevalent in popular music today,” says Wesley, who writes all the lyrics and collaborates on the music, melody and structure with Jeremiah. “We want songs you can wrap your arms around. There’s enough generic stuff out there full of recycled words that don’t really mean anything. There have to be other stories to tell, and other ways to tell them.”
The title track, “Cleopatra”, sprang from an encounter with a taxi driver Wes met in the Republic of Georgia, who related a tale of personal tragedy without a trace of self-pity. “As an American, a lot of what we do is tell the world how great our life is,” says Wesley. “People create stories about themselves through social media which are completely disconnected from what we personally know about their lives. I felt cleansed to be around someone who was just telling me how it actually was for them.”
It is a potent metaphor for The Lumineers whole approach to their art. The black and white photo on the cover depicts silent movie star Theda Bara in the 1917 production of Cleopatra. “It’s such an arresting image, vulnerable but strong. I think a good song is like a beautiful woman and no matter whether she’s wearing something crazy front of fashion or old sweat pants, you can still tell she is beautiful. We want to focus on the core, not the illusion.”
It confirms The Lumineers as a timeless band. Theirs has been an old fashioned word of mouth success, based on great songs and emotive performances, a return to essential values that saw them hailed as America’s answer to Britain’s nu folk movement. “I never thought of us as folk but there was maybe some connection in the rejection of modernity,” says Jeremiah, the lively percussionist who started writing and performing with Schultz in New York in 2005. “We gravitated towards a sound that was more pure and timeless.”
President Obama revealed himself to be a fan when Lumineers’ second single “Stubborn Love” which he featured on his Spotify playlist alongside Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone. “We were humbled by that,” admits Wesley. “Especially when you’re surrounded by great artists who have stood the test of time. We’ve got our work cut out to live up to that.”
The Lumineers expanded to a five piece live, with the recruitment of long-time friend pianist Stelth Ulvang and new bassist Byron Isaacs. They built a passionate following with intimate, energetic shows and sold out tours and festival appearance in the UK. “When we perform, we’ve gotten to a place where we can be vulnerable and honest and share something real with audiences,” says Wesley.
Hollywood came calling when The Lumineers were asked to write a song for The Hunger Games. “Francis Lawrence, the director, said you’ve got to be able to hum it, whistle it, or sing as a mass group of people,” recalls Wes. “So we approached it like a really dark nursery rhyme.” The lyrics to The Hanging Tree were written by author Suzanne Collins. It was sung by Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I and became a top forty hit around the world. “It was interesting to be ghostwriters but it’s a song for Kat Everdine not the Lumineers. It’s not something we would play live, unless Suzanne Collins wants to come along and sing it.”
The Lumineers are extremely wary of the potential corruption of fame, something which has fed into their new album. First single, “Ophelia”, personifies fame as a dangerous temptress. Another of the album’s stand out tracks, “My Eyes”, portrays the ways Hollywood can crush the life out of wannabes. “The world sees you as being put on a pedestal but you are also put on a hamster wheel, and that does strange things to people,” says Wesley. “Even a little bit of fame can distort perceptions, if people see you and react abnormally. Back when we were working as bus boys to support our music, I felt invisible to the world. I remember thinking I could be naked and pick up a plate and no one would even notice. That’s an interesting place to write from and I’m wary of losing it.”
When it was time to record a new album, Wesley and Jeremiah went into retreat, to re-establish the principles that had made their debut so great. They rented a small house in Denver and spent six months writing and honing material.
As dedicated fans of the raw Americana of The Felice Brothers, they were delighted that maverick singer-songwriter Simone Felice agreed to produce the follow up album. They decamped to a rural studio in Woodstock for two months of intensive sessions that they recall as a bizarre mixture of recording and therapy. “It was almost like a cleansing,” says Wes. “Jer and I had gone through ten years living together, writing together, working at side jobs together, on the road together, it was like there was no separation. There was so much shit swept under the carpet there was nowhere else to put it, the streets were overflowing, the sewers needed to be flushed out so that we could look at each other clearly and have a conversation. The only way to do it was to go on long walks, and talk and cry and scream and make up.”
“And then you go back in the studio and try and figure out what the chorus needs,” laughs Jeremiah. “It was the most intense, densely packed experience of our lives. There is no way to sum it up. When people ask how it was, you just have to laugh and say it was great.”
In its warmth, intimacy and quiet sense of contemplation, Cleopatra is immediately identifiable as the work of The Lumineers, although the sound palette is a shade broader than their debut. “I had to sell my electric guitar years ago, because I ran out of money,” says Wesley. “Then when things started looking up, I went into the guitar shop where I sold it, ten minutes to close, and bought a Guild right before a show, on a whim. It was kind of a revenge buy. I felt like I was evening the score with the universe. And that replaced my acoustic for the entire set, overnight, and so it fed into the sound of the new album.”
“The first album you could play in an electrical blackout,” says Jer. “We set up in a living room without amplification because that is all we had. The second one is plugged in. But the concept behind the writing stayed the same, which is that you have to be able to strip it all the way back, and find the essence. I find it easier to tell when a Lumineers song is not done, than when it is. But when all of the pieces of a song finally fit into place, it’s one hell of a feeling.”
Cleopatra is full of deeply felt songs that will get under the listeners skin. Opening track “Sleep On The Floor” is a tale of escape from the humdrum, delivered with the confident swagger of a young Bruce Springsteen busting out of Atlantic City. “Gun Song” is rumination on parenthood, based around a memory of Wesley discovering a pistol in a drawer after his father died. “Angela”, already one of the most popular tracks on the album, is a tender guitar picked homily to a small town beauty struggling to escape her past. Every song is finely detailed, beautifully performed, sure of its own inner purpose.
“I felt like we had won some good will,” says Wesley. “So we could take our time, savour the moment, because if you trust us and stay with it, you know there will be something there for you. This is going to sound crazy, but, if making an album is like robbing a house, the first album felt like the homeowners were taking the dog for a walk, and we only had 10 minutes to get in and get out. It was manic. It was rushed. But on the 2nd album, Jer and I felt like the owners were taking a 2 week vacation. We could get in there, take our time, and find exactly what we were looking for.”
Walk The Moon
Formed in Cincinnati by singer/keyboardist Nicholas Petricca, WALK THE MOON built up a devoted following on the strength of their ecstatic live show and their undeniably infectious single “Anna Sun.” A relentless touring machine with an ever-snowballing family of fans, the band quickly graduated from Ohio club scene favorites to international stars. They hit the late-night TV circuit with performances on Letterman, Fallon, Conan, and Carson, played for massive crowds at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, and joined the likes of fun., Pink, Panic! At The Disco, and Fitz and the Tantrums on the road.
WALK THE MOON’s live show is not a spectator sport. Instead, it’s an interactive celebration of life and love, a communal commitment to joy and living in the moment. Onstage, Petricca leads audiences in a mass exorcism of the things that bring them down, casting out the demons of doubt and insecurity with hands raised to the sky.
Earlier this year, after six weeks of marathon writing sessions in Ohio, the band relocated to North Hollywood, where they entered the studio with producer Tim Pagnotta (Neon Trees, Tokyo Police Club). What followed was more than two solid months of recording, the band eager to reach new heights with the album’s production.
The results speak for themselves. Lead single, “Shut Up And Dance” stands as the catchiest song the band’s ever written. An ode to freeing yourself from the shackles of self-consciousness and embracing the present, it’s already a live favorite, with a sing-along chorus that works audiences up into a frenzy.
“We’re venturing into unmarked regions of the map with these songs,” says guitarist Eli Maiman, “but we’re leaving breadcrumbs along the way so people can follow us.”
“What we’ve ended up with is a bunch of really committed, confident shouts into the darkness,” says Petricca of the new album.
As more and more of the songs make their live debut, WALK THE MOON is finding that the darkness is full of eager fans and new listeners, all shouting back and singing along until the lights come up.
After building a devoted fan-base through a year and a half of non-stop touring behind his band Bleachers’ well-received debut album Strange Desire, Jack Antonoff was spending time in studios in Los Angeles and Atlanta spit-balling ideas for a second album when he had a powerful realization. It struck him, as he was sitting in hip-hop producers Organized Noize’s studio in Atlanta, that the records that meant so much to him growing up— are rooted in a specific place. “They came from somewhere!” he says excitedly. “There’s an energy there and the artist is telling a story of how they were raised. It’s a sound from a city, and they’re planting a flag in that city and saying, ‘This is what it’s like to live here.’”
The New Jersey-born, New York-based Antonoff knew he needed to go home to the East Coast and build a studio. “It’s like you have to go sit in your bedroom and hear the music on the speakers you heard Graceland on the first time,” he says. “You gotta listen through the speakers you heard Smashing Pumpkins on the radio the first time. I had to get back to that space. So I did. I grabbed all this shit from my childhood bedroom in New Jersey and built a studio in my apartment in New York and I literally didn’t leave it. I thought, ‘This album is going to sound like New York and New Jersey and the actual space I grew up in, in the most specific way. And that, to me, is the most I can offer.”
It was there in that room — surrounded by posters and flyers from punk shows he saw as a kid and his old baseball trophies and Star Wars figurines — that Antonoff created the epic, synth-driven anthems that appear on Bleachers’ second album entitled Gone Now, which is set for release on June 2, 2017. As a result, the album sounds like “the way the space looks,” he says. “It sounds like someone alone in their room, wrestling with their thoughts. It sounds like someone trying to create something very direct and simple amongst the chaos.”
Critics praised Strange Desire’s modern nostalgia and remarked that the ’80s-influenced songs could have served as a soundtrack to a never-made high-school-themed John Hughes film. On that album, Antonoff set emotional meditations on anxiety, depression, loss and picking yourself up after a tragedy (in his case, the death of his younger sister from a brain tumor when Antonoff was 18 and his struggled with a panic disorder in the aftermath) against a backdrop of earworm melodies and shouty choruses on songs like the gold-certified “I Wanna Get Better” (which topped Billboard’s Alternative chart) and “Rollercoaster.”
“The songs were about growing up and still sort of existing in the past,” Antonoff says. “The crux of the new album is my desperately trying to find a way to become some version of an adult, and not just be a giant child. I thought a lot about things like, ‘Where do I want to go from here? Do I want to be a person who has this extremely vibrant relationship with their art, but their life suffers in a million other places? Where do I want to go with my life?’”
Antonoff sought to answer those questions on every song on the album. On “I Miss Those Days,” he pines for a simpler time when “I knew I was fucked up and didn’t know why I was fucked up,” he says referencing the years he spent as a high-schooler touring with his first punk band, Outline, “driving around in a van and playing to no one. I was lost, but I miss those days because there’s a weight to having a purpose in something.” On “Hate That You Know Me” Antonoff realizes that when you build a life with someone and make plans for the future, “it makes you really exposed to the ways in which you’re a disaster,” he says. “There’s this accountability that is so intense. But it’s also about how amazing that can be if you’re willing to go there with someone.” Then there’s “Let’s Get Married,” which Antonoff wrote the day after Donald Trump was elected. “Marriage is such a wild, absurd concept, but the world was falling down into flames around my eyes, and I wanted to write this absurd celebration song that could play at weddings for the next hundred years.”
On each track, Antonoff searches for ways to illuminate humanity’s communal emotions, like the fact that no one is exempt from the experience of loss. “I think everything I do is always going to be rooted in that,” Antonoff says. “After my sister died, I started writing lyrics that weren’t just angsty teen stuff. That’s when I started talking about very intense things. Fourteen years later, I’m still reflecting on that loss but through a different lens.” Antonoff’s current vantage point resonates on the song “Everybody Lost Somebody.” “At my worst moments, I see people on the street and think, ‘Which one of you motherfuckers voted for Trump?’” he says. “At my best moments, I see people on the street and I think, ‘Everybody has lost somebody.’”
On the album’s first single, “Don’t Take The Money,” Antonoff laments how our society has culturally lost the concept of what selling out means. The song was inspired by his buying a cut-rate phone charger at a Rite Aid when his phone died as he was running late to a meeting. “I got there and plugged the phone into the charger and I had this out-of-body experience where I could not believe how cheap the material was,” he recalls. “And I thought to myself, ‘That’s the real problem.’ Whether you’re making art or making a sandwich, you know when something could be better. Don’t make it cheap. That’s the last thing people need.”
As far as what Antonoff feels like people need from him as artist, he says: “I feel like they just need me to somehow capture the lightning in a bottle of what it’s like to be me, to grow up with loss, and then to try to move through the world within that. All I’ve wanted to do my whole life with my work is just take another step closer to myself.”
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Andrew McMahon, of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin fame, has reinvented himself as Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness and has seen the biggest success of his 16 year career with hit single, “Cecilia and the Satellite.” His latest album Zombies On Broadway is a follow up to the eponymous album that produced the smash single, “Cecilia and the Satellite,” which became a Top 5 hit across both Alternative and AAA radio, Top 10 hit at Hot AC and which also climbed up the Pop chart. “Cecilia and the Satellite” found great commercial success having been featured on FOX’s “Red Band Society” trailer, MTV’s “Real World,” and the TV promo for Warner Bros. Pictures’ film PAN. McMahon performed the single on “CONAN” and on “TODAY.” Most recently, he completed a massive summer tour across North America with Weezer and Panic! At The Disco. The lead single off the new record, “Fire Escape,” flew up the Alternative radio chart reaching Top 10 at Alt Radio and Top 5 on Billboard’s Alternative Song chart. His current single, “So Close,” is climbing Top 30 at Alt radio.
Aside from his professional successes, McMahon is a 10 year survivor of leukemia and founder of the Dear Jack Foundation, one of the first Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) specific cancer foundations which advocates for and supports initiatives that benefit AYAs diagnosed with cancer. McMahon lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 10 years Kelly and their daughter Cecilia.
The year before making their breakthrough with a mainstage performance at Coachella and the chart topping single “My Type,” Saint Motel had planned to host an event of their own called “saintmotelevision” — a multimedia spectacular of music, dance, comedy, art, and more that was shut down by authorities before it even took place. “That crazy mixture of worlds and ideas is something we’ve always gravitated toward,” says front man A/J Jackson in reflecting on the original saintmotelevision. “We’ve always been fans of strange combinations, and that glorious yet doomed event became a symbol of all that.” So when it came time to create their forthcoming full-length debut for Elektra, the band reclaimed the name saintmotelevision and, in the end, dreamed up an album as magnificently kaleidoscopic as that mythic party itself.
Featuring production from the likes of Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids) and Tim Pagnotta (Walk The Moon) — as well as from Jackson, in and around the band’s own studio in downtown L.A. — saintmotelevision builds off 2014’s My Type EP with a sound even more expansive and artfully genre-blurring. And with its effervescent melodies and shapeshifting grooves, the album emerges as a beautifully alchemized piece of alt-pop, every bit the “channel-surfing odyssey” its namesake was meant to be.
Lead single “Move” serves as saintmotelevision’s opening track, a psych-rock-tinged dancefloor anthem with a chorus so catchy that — during Saint Motel’s raucous sets at summer festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo — audience members instantly shouted along despite never having heard the song before. In the lyric video for “Move,” Saint Motel have also unveiled their latest undertaking as a decidedly visually-oriented group: the so-called “virtualizer,” which combines 360° animation and virtual reality technology that allows each viewer a chance to experience the music in a fully immersive manner.
Throughout saintmotelevision, the band transforms their infinite inspirations into songs that radiate an electric, unabashed joy. On “Getaway,” for instance, Saint Motel shape their fascination with Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love” into a shimmering, intensely charged pop number powered by massive piano riffs. With “Destroyer” (as in “I don’t break hearts, I destroy them”), the band echoes the seductive danger in the song’s lyrics by bringing in some fantastically trashed-up horns a la Exile on Main St.-era Rolling Stones. Meanwhile, on “Sweet Talk,” Saint Motel channel Iggy Pop-inspired swagger into a stomp-and-clap-driven heavy-hitter destined for sing-along status.
Just as inventive in its lyrical element, saintmotelevision brilliantly twists together melancholy and levity in songs like “Local Long Distance Relationship (LA2NY)” (a brightly wistful meditation on love in a social-media-crazed era and on being with “someone who’s physically there with you but mentally far away,” according to Jackson). One of saintmotelevision’s starkest moments, “Born Again” calls on an L.A.-based gospel choir to help convey the track’s enigmatic message. ‘Born Again’ rides the line between two worlds, so you can’t really tell which way to take it.” And on “For Elise,” Saint Motel play on the mystery of Beethoven’s immortal beloved by paying rhapsodic tribute to the legendary muses behind songs like the Kinks’ “Lola” and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Passion for eclecticism has always been at the heart of Saint Motel, a band founded by Jackson and guitarist Aaron Sharp: film-school classmates whose longtime friendship had its roots in a shared appreciation of obscurist cinema and mutually adventurous musical tastes that include everything from Imperial Teen to Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement. After bringing bass player Dak Lerdamornpong and drummer Greg Erwin into the fold, the band released their debut EP ForPlay in 2009 and began hosting a series of “experiential concerts” with such themes as Zombie Prom and Judgment Day. “We played in half-pipes, semi-trucks, circuses — pretty much anywhere we could,” says Jackson. “We just wanted to do what we could to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and give people some kind of big, crazy experience whenever they came to see us.”
Thanks in part to those one-of-a-kind live shows — and to their critically acclaimed, independently released 2012 full-length debut Voyeur — Saint Motel steadily built up a devoted underground following throughout their early years. Releasing the My Type EP in summer 2014, the band saw their fan base grow exponentially as the title track became a top 10 alternative radio smash, with both the song and its companion video (directed by Jackson himself) each collecting streaming figures in the tens of millions, and counting.
Now set for a fall headlining tour — with their past tours including support slots for Arctic Monkeys, Imagine Dragons, Band of Skulls, and Weezer — Saint Motel have discovered a new outlet for their boundary-breaking brand of artistry. With plans of creating virtual-reality-enhanced videos for more tracks from saintmotelevision, the band hopes to offer an even more immersive way to experience what Nylon recently referred to as “a bright, dreamy sound that transports listeners to another time and place.” “There’s essentially a new art form there,” says Jackson of the virtualizer. “But it’s also like when you were younger and bought a new record and went home and put it on, and you’d sit back and close your eyes and kind of enter the album. This is a whole new way to do that, where we’re letting people walk into the album and then just live inside it for a while.”
New Politics – consisting of Danish-born, David Boyd [lead vocals, guitar] and Søren Hansen [bass, guitar, keys, vocals], as well as NY native Louis Vecchio [drums] – exploded onto the scene with their smash hit “Harlem,” earning over 31 million Spotify streams and reaching the top 5 of alternative radio. The band has since released three studio albums featuring a slew of hit singles, including “Everywhere I Go” and “Tonight You’re Perfect,” securing major syncs in Frozen, “America’s Got Talent,” ESPN, Bud Light, Doritos, and more. New Politics have made the full late night circuit, performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers and CONAN, and played to sold out crowds around the world, touring with everyone from Pink and Fall Out Boy to Paramore, 30 Seconds to Mars, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. The band is currently on tour with 311 and working on the release of their forthcoming album due this fall. The lead single, “One Of Us,” is currently #10 on the Alternative Radio chart and growing.
Mondo Cozmo is an American singer-songwriter based out of East Los Angeles, CA. Working influences ranging from The Verve, Primal Scream, Beck, Beastie Boys and Bob Dylan in a contempt fusion of beats, guitars and attitude.
In the Spring of 2016 multiple Los Angeles radio stations including KCRW ‘Morning Becomes Eclectic,’ 98.7, 88.5, KROQ, Zane Lowe and NPR, started playing the demos which led to a record deal with Republic Records which was signed in a Mexican restaurant in Burbank. Upon hearing the songs Spike Stent demanded to mix the record. Anna Faris (Mom, The Dictator, Lost in Translation) stared in the first video “Hold on to Me” which was shot documentary style in a retirement facility in Santa Monica, CA. That same week a second video was shot starring Paz De La Huerta for “Higher,” the video was originally shot for “Sixes and Sevens” but was changed after Mondo saw the footage leading him to write the song “Higher” for De La Huerta.