Last year when I sat down with Wesley Schultz of the Lumineers at the Denver Bicycle Cafe, he pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through dozens of recordings, bits and pieces of songs that may or may not ever be released to the public.
Seeing those scraps was a rare insight into the messy creative process of Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites, founders of a band that rose from playing open mics at the Meadowlark to touring stadiums around the world, opening for U2 and last year selling out three consecutive nights at Fiddler's Green — putting on some of the most magical concerts of 2017.
Looking through his phone, Schultz said some of those rough tracks were complete songs that hadn't found a home yet. Others would be cobbled into new songs; a verse would be pilfered from one and sewed together with a chorus or a bridge from another. And perhaps from those bits and pieces, the follow-up album to the band's second full-length album, Cleopatra, would emerge.
Today the band, which garnered national attention with the hit Hey Ho back in 2012, dropped a fresh EP of previously unreleased material, dubbed C-Sides. It's a less joyful album than the Lumineers' two LPs, but the introspective songs are a welcome dose of melancholy from a band that has built its career on swelling, joyful numbers that are mostly chipper, even when chronicling life's hardships.
The first track on C-Sides, "Scotland," is all about alienation and based on Schultz's experiences working in the restaurant industry and feeling like nobody around him understood who he was.
"It became a rally cry to preserve," he wrote in an email announcing the album to fans. "The song also was special to us because it had this beautiful driving rhythm that Jer played that reminded us of battle drums, like something out of Braveheart — hence the strange name 'Scotland.'"
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The second song on the EP, "Fro Fra," is a short, inspirational instrumental piece that opens with minimal piano and drums and builds to a driving classic Lumineers tune peppered with yawping and claps, the kind of song the band might play between hits at a concert.
Fraites says he wrote the song as a birthday present for his then-girlfriend (now wife), Francesca. "While Wes and I were never able to make this particular idea work into a traditional Lumineers song, it did end up providing us with the basic chords for the song 'Angela' much later down the road when we recorded the Cleopatra album," he wrote in the email.
The lyrics of the final song on the EP, "Visions of China," draw inspiration from Schultz's experience living in Hangzhou, China, for three months. The anguished timber of his voice recounts the mundane details of his days in Hangzhou and conveys existential desperation. He says the language barrier made him feel alienated from the community.