Hailed as one of the best new artists around by the 2013 Grammy nominations, The Lumineers got there by being one of the more prominent surfers on the wave of Americana-folk popularity. There’s no denying that selling out the Mother Church for a three-night set is pretty impressive. And regardless of how much the song’s been played on the radio recently, a ticket would be worth the price to hear “Ho Hey,” the standout from the group’s self-titled debut, performed live. That track has a warm vibe to it that mirrors the best of the genre.
Denver CO | Singer-Songwriter
Twenty years ago, Wesley Schultz saw the future.
Back then, growing up in the New York City suburb of Ramsey, New Jersey, Wesley spent his days drawing side by side with his best friend, Josh Fraites. Today, as bandleader of The Lumineers, Wesley’s replaced his pencil with a guitar, his drawings with songs, and plays side by side with Joshua’s younger brother Jeremiah. He still practices a lot, and it still turns out good.
But The Lumineers’ story didn’t come so easily.
It begins in 2002, the year Jeremiah’s brother, Josh, died from a drug overdose at 19. Amidst the loss and grief, Wes and Jer found solace in music, writing songs and playing gigs around New York. After battling the city’s cutthroat music scene and impossibly high cost of living, the two decided to expand their horizons. They packed everything they owned—nothing more than a couple suitcases of clothes and a trailer full of musical instruments—and headed for Denver, Colorado. It was less a pilgrimage than act of stubborn hopefulness.
The first thing they did in Denver was place a Craigslist ad for a cellist, and the first person to respond was Neyla Pekarek, a classically trained Denver native. As a trio, they began playing at the Meadowlark, a gritty basement club where the city’s most talented songwriters gathered every Tuesday for an open mic and dollar PBRs. Neyla softened Wes and Jer’s rough edges while expanding her skills to mandolin and piano. And so The Lumineers sound took shape; an amalgam of heart-swelling stomp-and-clap acoustic rock, classic pop, and front-porch folk.
In 2011, an eponymous, self-recorded EP led to a self-booked tour, and before long The Lumineers started attracting devout fans, first across the Western US, then back in their old East Coast stamping grounds. Young, old and in-between, they’re drawn by songs like “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love,” Americana-inflected barnburners in the vein of the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. They’re drawn by songs like “Slow it Down” and “Dead Sea,” slow, sultry ballads that suggest the raw revelations of Jeff Buckley and Ryan Adams. They’re drawn by the live Lumineers experience—a coming-together in musical solidarity against isolation, adversity, and despair.
The roots revival of the last few yeas has primed listeners for a new generation of rustic, heart-on-the-sleeve music—the kind that nods to tradition while setting off into uncharted territory. The Lumineers walk that line with an unerring gift for timeless melodies and soul-stirring lyrics. It will all be on display soon, on the band’s first full-length album, due in March. Born out of sorrow, powered by passion, ripened by hard work, The Lumineers have found their sound when the world needs it most.
Philadelphia PA | Alternative
After a one-album sojourn away from their band-built recording studio Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog returned home to Meth Beach to self-produce their latest collection of gloriously ramshackle rock ’n’ roll reveries. Out February 7, Be The Void (Dr. Dog’s second release on Anti-Records) showcases the critically adored band’s renewed commitment to cultivating a stripped-down live sound. “This record comes from our pushing toward a rawer, more powerful, somewhat jittery competence,” explains guitarist-vocalist Scott McMicken. “We drew a lot of inspiration from soul music and the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground—music that’s got its roots in live expression rather than that studio-perfected sort of vibe.”
While Be The Void bears the same style of scrappy yet hook-packed rock served up by Dr. Dog for more than a decade, the six-member outfit (McMicken, bassist-vocalist Toby Leaman, rhythm guitarist Frank McElroy, keyboardist Zach Miller, drummer Eric Slick and multi-instrumentalist Dimitri Manos) seems newly emboldened by its deepened devotion to a bare-bones aesthetic. A marked departure from the soaring pop of 2010’s Shame, Shame, the album also finds Dr. Dog revitalized by the recent addition of Slick (who’s previously played with Ween, Adrian Belew, and Project Object) and Manos (also a member of Arizona-based alt-country band Golden Boots).
Recorded in the summer of 2011, Be The Void seizes that vibrant spirit and transforms it into a 12-track song selection that’s at turns deadly catchy and dance-worthy (the shuffling swagger of “Big Girl”), wistful and bittersweet (the lovely, languid sigh of “Get Away”), and earthy-earnest (the twangy troubadour folk of “Turning the Century”). Though each track feels richly textured and intricately layered, the band made a conscious effort to keep the recording process fast and loose. “We worked quicker and trusted our gut more than ever before, and at times it was scary and almost panic-inducing,” says McMicken. “All of a sudden you’d be aware of a feeling like, ’This is really working, so don’t mess it up.’ And then the song ends and your heart’s pounding and you realize you haven’t taken a breath in three minutes. It was like riding a rollercoaster and wishing you could get right back on again.” As a result of that newfound abandon and surrender to intuition, “there’s so much on the record that I could never have imagined us being able to come up with,” McMicken adds.
Perhaps the album’s most epic moment, “Warrior Man” makes for one of Be The Void’s most thrilling surprises. Both sprawling and beautifully bombastic, the track attacks with lead-heavy beats, pseudo-futuristic sound effects, and psychedelic back-up harmonies. “’Warrior Man’ was born out of a joke—it started as some silly phrase that Toby was singing, then turned into a jam, and ultimately became this monster of a tune that was recorded live,” says McMicken. “Everything about its origin reflects that freedom and confidence to own a weird idea and just let it live.”
Another deviation from Dr. Dog’s more summery and sleepy material, “Vampire” slaps a snarling guitar riff against ragged, howling vocals that perfectly capture the song’s pained refrain about love gone evil (“You’re a vampire, baby/No reflection at all”). “Heavy Light,” meanwhile, mutates from a percussion-driven dream-pop pastiche to shimmering piano ballad to freewheeling experiment in blissed-out psychedelia—all in just three minutes and 41 seconds.
All throughout Be The Void, Dr. Dog delights in a playfulness that lends a refreshingly oddball feel even to the record’s more true-to-form tracks. “These Days,” for instance, backs its bouncy bassline with a dizzying swirl of sunny guitars, while the handclapping and hollering on the album-opening “Lonesome” help twist a downer of a refrain (“What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all”) into a sweetly anthemic stomper of a song.
At the same time, Dr. Dog’s rugged, rough-and-tumble disposition and razor-sharp wit preclude Be The Void from ever nearing mindless whimsy. Possibly the album’s most deceptively breezy offering, “That Old Black Hole” sets its sly lyrics (“Take this thorn from my side/Fix this chip on my shoulder/Time is racing with the clock/And I ain’t getting any older”) to a smoldering groove that turns frenetic and urgent in the song’s final seconds. By the same token, the disarmingly desperate “Do The Trick” pairs its woozy disco beat with a barrage of flirty wordplay that’s relentlessly clever (“I’ve burnt the candle on every side/I’ve long since run out of wick/Will you be my flame tonight?/Will you do the trick?”).
The first album recorded away from Meth Beach, Dr. Dog’s 2010 Anti- debut teamed up the band with Rob Schnapf (a producer who had previously worked with Elliott Smith, Beck, and Guided By Voices). Although that partnership yielded the much-acclaimed Shame, Shame, the band opted against bringing in an outside co-producer again for Be The Void. “We did try out a few songs with another producer, but we then we stepped back and asked ourselves, ’Do we really need that?’” recalls McMicken. “Part of our growing aesthetic is to find the simplest approach that works best, and the decision to produce this one ourselves was sort of the first gesture toward recognizing our confidence in our experience and ability and sense of playfulness.” Indeed, that dedication to keeping it playful was key to shaping the sound on Be The Void, says Leaman. “Back when Scott and I first started making music together, there was a period of time when we just recorded and recorded constantly—just for our own pleasure, not even to try to get shows or anything,” he says. “Making this album felt like that again. It was like we were just putting a bunch of tunes together, just to have a good time.”
Denver CO | Singer-Songwriter
The first things you notice are the voice and the space. That voice belongs to Nathaniel Rateliff, a man who’s earned the twang and hard-knock weariness that shines through on his Rounder debut. The space comes courtesy of producer Brian Deck (Califone, Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse), who helped transform 8-track bedroom demos into miniature epics of contrast, beauty, and yearning. In Memory of Loss is a stunning, heartbreaking sonic document from a singer-songwriter who’s made his way from a childhood in Bay, Missouri (pop. 60) to the national stage.
Rateliff grew up of modest means, the son of devout Southern churchgoers. The family sang together throughout his childhood. At age 7 Rateliff learned the drums. As a teenager, he stumbled across a cassette of Led Zeppelin’s IV abandoned in a local barn; he wore the tape out listening to it on headphones, drumming along with “When the Levee Breaks” and “Misty Mountain Hop.”
Rateliff’s youth in rural Missouri was quiet and rambling. He built skateboard ramps, explored caves, slept outdoors in the heat. “I loved growing up there,” he says. “It’s beautiful. There’s something really nice about there not being much to do; it really helped me be a creative person.” After his father passed away, when Rateliff was only 13, he picked up the guitar. His mother taught him three chords, a friend showed him a few more, and there was no need to bother with lessons; he started penning his own songs on an acoustic. He’d later go electric, gaining an appreciation for the freedom of effect pedals: “I was really into making feedback for hours at a time.” Both impulses are present on In Memory of Loss, with its shards of raw guitar rising beneath hushed, insistent melodies.
At eighteen Rateliff relocated to Denver. He scored a job with a trucking company, working on the dock and the yard. The money was good, but Rateliff kept falling asleep at the wheel. “I had a little stint of narcolepsy,” he says. “My limbs were going numb, the color was all weird in ’em. My thyroid wasn’t working. Weird stuff that shouldn’t be happening when you’re in your 20s, but it was.” After a battery of tests Rateliff decided to take time off from the job. It was a period of rest and recovery, but also one of artistic growth and fresh challenges. Rateliff used the break to learn the piano, much as he had other instruments—by teaching himself. The first song he tackled was Leonard Cohen’s melancholy classic, “Hallelujah.” (That same mixture of the sacred and profane is recognizable on “We Never Win,” with its throwbacks to gospel vocal harmonies, Rateliff harkening to “an old time revival.”)
Meanwhile, Rateliff developed a dedicated following within the Denver music community and beyond. Spin praised his “massive, alluring” voice. Billboard dubbed the unsigned singer-songwriter a ’must hear.’ This wave of acclaim lead to a live set on the popular indie site Daytrotter and a solo tour opening for the Fray. The New York Times praised Rateliff’s “stark, eloquent [Johnny] Cash echoes,” and he earned enthusiastic mentions from Time Out New York and the tastemaker music blog, Brooklyn Vegan. New York magazine pegged Rateliff as an “artist everyone should be listening to” during the pivotal CMJ Music Festival.
Rateliff began writing a different sort of song than he was used to: quieter, more introspective and patient. A friend turned him on to the bedroom recording potentials of the time-honored 8-track, and a new working method was born. “I just kind of went back to my roots,” he says. “It was a different sound, but it was still coming from the same place.”
While recording In Memory of Loss, Rateliff lived in Chicago, working with producer Brian Deck to craft the nuances: mournful harmonica on “You Should’ve Seen the Other Guy,” the ominous organ of “Longing and Losing,” propulsive bass drum on “Early Spring Till.” Rateliff’s Rounder debut is rooted in a bygone era. It’s both fresh and classic, imbued with a melancholy nostalgia, the rough candor of rock’n’roll’s past and the warmth and earnestness of folk storytellers. Rateliff has a personal connection to the sounds of the 60s and 70s. “It was more about songs, and not about an industry,” he says. “It was about a movement, not about making money. I think we’re moving back into that again. There’s still an importance in actually writing songs again. People are interested in hearing things that make sense.”
These thirteen tracks, with their soulful minimalism, certainly make sense. Hints of the music he grew up on – Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, the Beatles—shine through. (Album closer “Happy Just To Be,” with its pounding piano chords, is a close cousin to the Lennon-penned “Across the Universe.”) Yet Rateliff is also at home in what may be called, for lack of a better term, the neo-folk revival. His voice is so confident that you can occasionally imagine the music dropping out entirely, a song propelled solely by Rateliff’s a capella strengths—equal parts church spiritual and TV on the Radio riffing on the Pixies’ “Mr. Grieves.”
“The one thing that made me want to write and play music was trying to get the same feeling that it gave me when I listened to it,” Rateliff says. “Like having an anxiety attack—where you almost start to weep, at the same time feel a strange pressure in your chest.” This persistent troubadour has struggled and persevered to this point; now, the wider world is ready for Nathaniel Rateliff. “In Memory of Loss,” he says, “is for everyone who’s willing to listen.”