Entertainment & Arts

The Lumineers on being playlisted by President Obama

The Lumineers
Image caption The Lumineers, left to right: Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek

After an intensive touring schedule and time out to record new material, The Lumineers are making a long-awaited return. But can they match their previous success, especially now the so-called nu-folk scene has died down?

It's a challenge every band that's had a huge breakthrough hit has had to face: recording the 'difficult second album'.

In the spring of 2012, as London prepared for the Olympic Games and the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee, music fans were gearing up for their favourite time of the year: the summer festivals season.

For many fans of muddy boots and camp fires, the soundtrack to that summer came in the shape of the debut single from the Lumineers.

Their breakthrough hit Ho Hey was in constant rotation on radio stations and reached the top ten around the world.

"That song was a sort of foot-in-the-door for our fans to get to know us," says lead singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz.

"There are a lot of situations where people hear one song from a band and they stop there but for us it felt a lot different, we sold a lot of albums."

A self-titled debut album that charted in the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic saw the Colorado-based band hastily booked for a plethora of music festivals.

Their newfound popularity resulted in an increasingly expanding world tour which took in China, Japan, South Africa and South America.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Lumineers embarked on an extensive world tour after the success of Ho Hey

But such success can be a curse as well as a blessing. As Schultz explains, the band's live following led to a significant delay in them being able to get back to the studio:

"I think we really wanted to record new music earlier than we were able to. There were places towards the end of our tour like Japan and China that emerged later where fans had said 'we want you to tour here' and we didn't want to leave them hanging. But a healthy album cycle for any artist wouldn't have been three years, it would've been a-year-and-a-half to two years."

The Lumineers were arguably riding the crest of the 'nu-folk' wave, a scene that saw folk music suddenly charting highly again with a new generation of acts including Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale.

But things have died down since then, and the contraction of that scene in the last couple of years could understandably be a worry for any band who benefited from its popularity. Schultz himself admits that nu-folk "wore out its welcome".

But he argues that if the quality of the music itself remains high then there's no reason success for bands like themselves couldn't continue.

"If the songs are good then it doesn't matter how they're dressed up. At the end of the day a lot of those songs were just pop songs.

"I feel like in the most natural way we've changed, and it's better to organically change and express that as an album than to try to follow some compass of what people will like."

Image copyright MANDEL NGAN
Image caption President Obama put Stubborn Love on his Spotify playlist last summer

A symbol of how big the band had become came in 2015, when US President Barack Obama included The Lumineers song Stubborn Love on his summer Spotify playlist, which was shared with and pored over by political analysts and music fans alike.

Looking back, Schultz says he was "pretty moved and overwhelmed" by the nod from America's commander-in-chief.

But many bands have not been so welcoming of politicians' endorsement of their music.

One of the front-runners in the current race to be the Republican party's nominee ahead of the US elections in November is the controversial businessman Donald Trump. He ran into trouble recently when he started playing Adele's Rolling In The Deep at his campaign stops as a warm-up song.

Adele responded by telling him he "had no permission" to do so. So do bands worry about how damaging certain political endorsements could be?

"It depends," Schultz says. "I remember Bruce Springsteen didn't want Born in the USA to be used in a political campaign. That was a protest song and people were using it as a rally cry. I think it can be a problem when you take something out of context."

He uses one of the band's new album tracks as an example: "Gun Song is not really taking a stance on gun control but I could see that being a situation where you could take it out of context. It would kind of depend on what a person was doing with it.

"It hasn't happened to us yet and we all as a band really like Barack Obama as a President and admire him so it was an easier thing at that point than how I might've felt with someone else."

Image copyright AP/EPA
Image caption Adele was unhappy that Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump was using her song on campaign stops

He expands on the story behind that particular song: "My dad had passed away in 2007. After he died, I found this gun in his sock drawer, and it made me think about all these things that I really wasn't aware of about my Dad and now I can't even ask him.

"I felt upset because I didn't know about it. I felt like he should've told me.

"In the case of gun control, if a politician wanted to use [Gun Song] and it works with my opinions then I might be open to it, but it wasn't written in that way.

"I think the problem that Bruce Springsteen or Adele experience is that you should be asked if that is okay. They're putting your name on their politics and I think that can be dangerous."

The band are now gearing up for the release of their second album, Cleopatra, the lead single from which - Ophelia - was released online last month.

The accompanying music video for the song sees lengthy, continuous shots used instead of quick cuts - a technique very much in fashion at the moment in the film industry.

"The charm of the video is that there are these very long shots, similar to Birdman or the end of Black Swan or a lot of older movies where you don't break from the frame.

"So you have to keep all the good and the bad in that shot and there's something to that that's really captivating. Whereas today you see a lot of quick cuts in movies and in videos, there's a short attention span implied and this sort of challenges that a bit."

With the release of the new album, Schultz says he hopes fans will be able to "connect with the new record" as much as they did the first.

And when you can count President Obama amongst your fans, the pressure is particularly high.