Released last September, the Lumineers’ album, “III,” tells the story of the fictional Sparks family in three chapters. (There are three bonus tracks on the album that aren’t part of the narrative.)
The listener is wrapped in a saga that spans three generations, each touched by a common problem: addiction.
“There’s been so much feedback or outpouring of emotion, meeting people around talking about these songs on this album in a way that was pretty unexpected,” said Lumineers co-founder and singer Wesley Schultz.
Listeners can glean more from the story by watching accompanying videos on the Lumineers’ website (thelumineers.com); seen together, they create a short film.
Schultz, 37, also gave more insight into “III.”
Q: What inspired you to tackle addiction as subject matter for the album?
A: My wife and I have been caring for a loved one for about 10 years, and that person has been in and out of rehab. … And then for (Lumineers co-founder Jeremiah Fraites), he lost his brother (to) a heroin overdose. I think we thought, “Well, we went through these things as individuals, but we’re probably pretty unique in that way or alone.” But I realized that addiction has touched many more lives than I could have imagined.
Q: Were you cautious about the way you wanted to portray addiction?
A: I think the thing you want to avoid as a writer is trying to make too much of a caricature of something. And so in order to avoid that, I was trying to say things in an unflinching or honest way. And I think that when you do that, even though some of the things that are said are harsh, like, “Maybe when she’s dead and gone, I’ll get some sleep” (in “Leader of the Landslide”) or “There’s easier ways to die” (in “Gloria”).
I think there’s a lot of compassion in those moments, even though some people hearing that would say, “Wow, that’s really cold or that’s really cruel.”
When you love an addict and you’re going on the ride with them emotionally, I think that there’s a lot of confusion and there’s a lot of resentment mixed with that love, and there’s a lot of anger. … There’s so much dissonance there. And I think trying to capture that in a song, you can’t just sing and say there’s dissonance. I think you have to tell stories to display that.
Q: You portray three generations of one family struggling with some of the same problems. Were you trying to explore the idea of generational curses or patterns?
A: We talked a lot about the sins of the father, the sins of the mother and what is passed down. My dad was a psychologist, and I wanted to work for him. I admired my dad a lot, and I was naturally interested in people and psychology. So I’m looking at, if addiction is a social disease, how does that work? Or is it genetics or a mixture of the two?
I’m realizing that it’s definitely not only your willpower at play here. And I think as a musician, as a person who tries to be driven and motivated, you trick yourself into believing that you could do just about anything with that attitude, (but) it’s not so simple as that.
Q: How has revisiting these topics impacted you personally night after night?
A: You think I’d be a depressed person because I’m singing about these things that can be kind of heavy, but I think to express those things publicly like that with a group of people has been quite cathartic, and it’s a good reason to sing. You don’t really feel like you’re performing. … It’s not like a Broadway show where you’re putting on a face every night.
Q: Speaking of performing, how will you present this concept album at the show?
A: It’s a lot of (video) footage and sometimes unseen b-roll or archival footage that we shot while on set. And so it’s kind of like you’re transported into that world. If you’ve never seen the videos, I think people are a little bit caught off guard by some of the imagery. … Bringing that to the live show has been really dynamic (and helps) tell the story. We’re trying to be entertaining up there, but also it’s really focused on the music. … We just want the music to stand up for itself.
Q: How have you and Jeremiah Fraites kept your bond and your songwriting strong during the past 15 years?
A: We’re just each trying to search for the best idea, and may the best idea win. That’s what kept us trusting each other all this time. We weren’t like, “Well, why do you want that idea on the song?” It was always, “I know you’re doing that for the right reasons.” And I think that’s kept us really honest. … I think it was way easier to be in a band when there were these lean years. In 2011, we were in (Los Angeles) and we got robbed of almost all of our instruments. And we ended up playing a show that night with borrowed instruments and kept going on the tour. And that was a galvanizing experience that brought us together.
Q: And then a year later, you had a massive hit with “Ho Hey!” How do you handle being defined by that song?
A: If I thought that was what we were defined by, I would feel defeated. That song was a huge shot in the arm or a kind of icebreaker. It got us known to a lot of people. But there are a lot of bands that have a big song and kind of quickly burn out or go away. And I think we were really interested in writing music, and we’ve been doing that ever since. … I think there are some people who come to the show that are friends of fans, and my hope is that they leave converted.
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