A couple decades ago, no self-conscious, authenticity-flaunting Gen X alt-rocker would've enthusiastically described a scene like the one you're about to read. Wesley Schultz, on the other hand, has no problem pinpointing the fairly recent night that he first heard his band's song "Ho Hey" used in a Bing commercial.
"We were eating dinner at a friend's house and washing some dishes after we were finished," Schultz says with the weary amiability of a guy swept up in his first whirlwind schedule of press and performances. "We were home from tour. We hadn't watched much TV on tour. So that was the first time, and it was really kind of surreal and funny. Kind of made me laugh, to be standing there and have that music being played."
Schultz is the lead singer and guitarist for the rapidly rising indie folk-rock act The Lumineers. Their self-titled debut album came out on Nashville's Dualtone Records in early April. And in much the same way that an iPod Nano ad did wonders for Feist and her swinging little pop ditty "1234," Schultz and his bandmates Jeremiah Fraites and Neyla Pekarek's decision to license their song for a 30-second spot promoting the search engine is no doubt one reason that it currently sits at No. 1 on Billboard's Heatseekers Songs chart.
The Lumineers are of a generation of music-makers and listeners for whom the explicitly commercial use of a track doesn't mean the song can't also be experienced as a genuinely heartfelt composition. There are exceptions — like the duo Beach House refusing a licensing request from Volkswagen, who then used a sound-alike song in their ad — but generally speaking, the well-below-40 set is open to as many possible avenues of experiencing music as anyone who's yet faced the decisive reign and subsequently fading influence of the full-length album. Hand-wringing over keeping artistry and accessibility completely separate from sustainability and profitability seems almost passé. And it just so happens that on the other side of the equation, a lot of companies crave an association with indie-sounding music and its connotations of youthful creativity.
"Now, it's not as though every offer is A: the most appealing, or B: we accept every offer," says Schultz. "Behind the scenes there's things that you turn down and there's things that you accept, based on whatever your personal thing is. I think for us it's just, 'Are we comfortable with this? Are these images that we're comfortable being associated with?'
"I always felt like people make it very political, a lot of people. It's a slippery slope, because ... it's a very complicated thing when you try to figure out, 'Does my music jibe with their politics?' I think it's much more basic for me: 'Is it offensive or is it not, this ad?' And then, 'Is it gonna give me the exposure that I hope this record gets — needs — to sort of get out there?' "
When you ponder the mightily weakened state of terrestrial radio, the stance Schultz is describing seems very reasonable indeed. Loads of people will catch that Bing commercial, with its depiction of a guy exploring Hawaii off the beaten travel-guided path, or the Blue Moon ad during which Picasso-esque animation of the artisanal beer-brewing process plays over instrumental bits from "Ho Hey."
The song itself is worth listening to in its entirety. In the place of more traditional percussion, there's galvanizing vocal punctuation in the form of a shouted "Ho!" followed three counts later by a shouted "Hey!" — as though The Lumineers have ripped a page from the ROTC handbook and cleverly adapted it to suit their needs. Schultz is in confessional mode throughout the verses. At the chorus, the band — and, these days, larger and larger live audiences — lends him support in a double-time unison sing-along.
The directness and lack of clutter — plus the way the easygoing arrangements and Schultz's whimsical lyric-writing suggest they don't take themselves nearly as seriously as their acoustic kindred Mumford and Sons — is pretty representative of the 11 winning tracks on the album.
That's saying something, considering that earlier in the musical partnership between Fraites, who's a drummer, and Schultz — before they moved from New York City to Denver and found cellist Pekarek via Craigslist — they dabbled in numerous other styles, including what Schultz describes as something vaguely like prog rock, with "overlapping time signatures and dissonant chords."
"I think part of what we were doing," he says, "is we were flexing. We were trying to see what we were capable of doing musically, and how complicated we could make something and still have it work. At a point it got to be a little vain, where it was just, 'Look what I can do.' We ended up taking a step back and just trying to do something really simple well. It just feels [like a] much more humble approach to it, after going through all that."
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