Pithy earworms are the connective tissue from The Lumineers to Billy Joel.
Wesley Schultz grew up listening to the piano-pop maestro, and still, in four albums and a career in The Luminaries for more than 15 years, he refers to the “true master of writing incredibly dense songs.”
Jeremiah Frits (or “Jer,” as he is referred to) on drums, piano and percussion, the lead singer, guitarist and pianist, Schultz is preparing for Friday’s release of the group’s “Brightside”. It is a compact production – nine songs, 30 minutes, more storytelling – compiled with original pop flavors first experienced on their 2012 breakout single “Ho Hey”, as well as hits “Stubborn Love” and “Ophelia”
“The idea that Billy Joel brought gravity and depth to the level of what he was doing – even when pop disguised – (Bob) Dylan and The Beatles did – there was an appeal to bring this aspect to the songs. ”By phone from Schultz New York.
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“AM Radio,” “Big Shot” and the title track have been circulating on rock radio since the fall. Schultz reveals stories behind some notable tracks And lyrics on “Brightside”
Q: I don’t know where we are, but it is correct.
Wesley Schultz: The Poet in Jer is out on this album. Normally, 99% of the time I write lyrics, but he has these gems. He sent me that line and there was a power, straightness to it and it turned my wheels. We have this hook and I have evolved this metaphor for a car accident that happened 10 years ago, (where) you are driving on the road and everything is smooth and the accident happens very quickly and then you spend years picking it up. Pieces of it. Overall it feels like we have been in that car accident for the last two years and it feels like a more interesting way to talk about (the epidemic).
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Q: In just four minutes, the ‘Birthday’ background vocals recall The Beatles. Is that an intentional quote?
Schultz: The bass is also McCartney-esque! When you hear comics that start to wander in the water, they shouldn’t be with radioactive content. It is a bit wrong to sing about ‘Birthday’ with the music, the hook (because of the Beatles song of the same name). But Jer sent me this voice memo (The chorus begins to sing) “It doesn’t matter. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s your birthday, my dear.” As we begin to play it live, there is still the fact that there are still weddings throughout this epidemic, still babies being born and birthdays going on. Do we choose to celebrate them? Does it feel nonsense? It brought a sense of nonsense to the time.
Q: ‘Big Shot’ is such an introspective piano ballad that someone sounds about a particular person. Oh Howda, Howda?
Schultz: It is written about introspection. A lot of people get up on stage and win an award and hold a trophy and say they are very humble and that’s what happened to be humble (with the epidemic). We are unable to travel and have our staff and bandmates in a holding pattern, It is Being humble.
Looking back, I was burnt out. We toured for 10+ years and it started to mingle together. I think I took a lot of things for granted and how little stock I took. There is such a feeling of vulnerability that your world gets a bad health diagnosis that turns on a dime. The song is about realizing how I got a little ahead of myself.
Q: ‘Roller Coaster’ has such a melancholy feel. Is the line ‘everyone died only to live’ specific about what we all live for?
Schultz: The song is probably the most nosebleed of all the songs on the album, and in some direct way refers to the epidemic. At the risk of sounding clich ,d, the most divisive and song I have ever seen in our country is these vague vignettes and the feeling of cultivating some degree of compassion for what you consider to be ‘the other side’ rather than easily offending one another. Its part of the time of grief is almost like a lullaby.
Question: On the ‘re-entry’, you return it to the opening track ‘Brightside’. It’s musically upbeat with that foot-stomping, jangly chorus, so is it intended to end on an optimistic note?
Schultz: Someone explained (‘reprise’) that the Rorschach test. If you want to look at it positively, it’s in your head – I’ve seen ‘lights’ (in literature) as someone is dying, but it can also be a person in a Cadillac that drives in the sun: ‘I am waiting on the sun / on the sun tonight.’ I think the song felt like a record tied together. It seemed funny to us. It made us laugh, it made us happy.