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Darlings of Denver

The Lumineers embark on their first headlining tour, with a hit record to their credit

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It's been an eventful year so far for the Denver-based folk-rock band the Lumineers.

After a pair of EPs, the trio saw the April release of their full-length debut album, The Lumineers. Near-constant touring has followed, with the group spending most of their time supporting such acts as Old Crow Medicine Show, Brandi Carlile and Pokey LaFarge.

They've also appeared on VH1 and CMT, and were guests of both Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. All the while, The Lumineers has been gathering retail steam, selling more than 130,000 copies. Not bad for an indie band in this day and age.

As you might imagine, band-member Jeremiah Fraites was relieved to be home for 12 days a couple of weeks ago. "It's nice to have a breather," said Fraites, a drummer, percussionist and mandolin player, via phone from Denver.

The band—which also includes guitarist and lead singer Wesley Schultz and classically trained cellist-pianist Neyla Pekarek—will be back on the road by the time you read this, for their first headlining tour, which will bring them to Tucson this week. Bad Weather California will open the show.

Later this fall, the Lumineers will head to Europe to open a tour of arenas for the Civil Wars.

Like groups such as the Decemberists, Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men and the Avett Brothers, the Lumineers bring folk music into the 21st century, imbuing it with an indie-rock edge, a boisterous spirit and barreling momentum.

Fraites and Schultz started playing together about 10 years ago as an indirect result of a heartbreaking loss they shared.

Schultz had been best friends with Fraites' older brother, Joshua, since childhood. In 2002, Joshua died of a drug overdose. In the process of healing, Schultz and Jeremiah discovered they could write and perform songs together, and that they were pretty good at it.

Back then, Fraites and Schultz hadn't yet moved to their adopted home of Denver.

"Wes and I grew up in Ramsey, N.J., which is sort of a suburb of New York City, and we were always making music and trying to play in the city. But there is so much competition there, and very little opportunity to play."

They eventually moved to Denver, the main impetus being "pretty much the cost of living in New York. Wes lived in Brooklyn, and he would have to work so much just to pay rent and bills. We also kind of wanted to move as far away from our parents and be out from under their influence."

Once in Denver, Fraites and Schultz de cided they wanted to add new textures to their sound. They thought a cello would sound good in the mix, so they placed an ad on Craigslist, Fraites said.

"Neyla was quite literally the first and only person to respond. She's a great cellist, which was obvious, and after a quick audition, we also knew how much we liked her singing style. We just knew she would fit it."

Pekarek's voice adds richness, balance and a feminine presence to the Lumineers' arrangements.

"Musically, female vocals are a good thing to have to accompany Wes," Fraites says. "I always try to back him up with shouting in my not-too-pretty voice. She can sing a lot prettier than I do. She actually has won a world championship in barbershop quartet-style singing, too."

By the time of the making of The Lumineers, the band had attracted some interest from major record labels. The group turned down the offers they received from the majors and released the album on the Nashville independent label Dualtone.

"We did pass up several offers," Fraites said. "They just didn't seem to be a good fit. We were kind of scared of getting lost in the shuffle at the major labels. Major labels don't have anything to lose, but artists do. And (the labels) have more money than they know what do with. But we wanted to work with a label that had human beings."

In Denver, the Lumineers found a home base and a thriving music scene. But Fraites finds it ironic that, with the touring, they spend less and less time there.

That's not the only way in which the lives of the Lumineers have changed.

"As little as two years ago, or last year at this time, all these songs on the album were new. In just that period of time, they've risen from the underground, so to speak," Fraites said. "And where we used to play to a few people in small bars—or once or twice, there were more of us onstage than in the audience—now we're playing to full theaters. It's great, but a little weird, too."

Sometimes Fraites gets asked odd questions by fans or journalists.

"Some people say, 'Are you sick of playing these songs?' And I have to say no, because it's a whole different experience now to play 'Ho Hey' and 'Stubborn Love' when people are actually listening.

"I mean, we have rehearsed and performed these so songs so much; we do know them pretty well. But it's important to remember that many people in the audience may be hearing them for the first time. And it may be a cliché, but every gig is different, and when we show up in Tucson, it's going to feel completely different to play these songs for these people than it does in any other town."

Fraites is also taken slightly aback by the occasional fans who follow the group from gig to gig. "Sometimes, I'll be talking to people after a show, and I'll hear about someone who saw us the night before and drove 11 hours to see this show. I mean, that's amazing."

It wasn't long ago that Fraites was driving for hours to concerts by his favorite bands.

"When I hear that, I remember 10 or 12 years ago, and Coldplay was playing in Connecticut, and we'd drive for maybe 2 1/2 hours, and it was a big production. We had to buy beer, and maybe pot, and sandwiches, and get hotel rooms. It was pretty crazy sometimes. And I still appreciate what people might go through to see our shows."

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