The vocalist and cellist from US Americana outfit The Lumineers, Neyla Pekarek, meets Rob Garratt to consider Grammys, technology and life on the road, ahead of his performance at RedFest DXB on Friday February 14.
Now, you’ve got rather successful rather quickly. If you could tell the ‘you’ of five years ago you’d be where you are today – jamming airwaves and playing to thousands – what would the ‘younger you’ say? (without swearing, if that’s possible).
Five years ago I had just finished up college and was in pursuit of a teaching job, so to think this would have happened in five years time would have come as (and is currently) a big surprise. I had also never been in a band before, so I probably would not have believed it.
Why does the world love retro-flavoured acoustic Americana in 2013-14? What happened?
I think we are living in a very technology driven world right now. Everywhere you look, people are glued to some sort of device, and I see a lot of people in various industries trying to get back in touch with nature and people and real life. For example, in the restaurant industry the "Farm to Table" movement is huge right now; people are growing their own vegetables and raising chickens in their backyards, things that were not common a few years ago. I think it's the same in the music industry. Pop music has been so heavily reliant on synthesizers and laptops and computerized drum beats. I don't think there is anything wrong with that kind of music, but it certainly is a novelty, especially to young people, to see people on stage playing actual instruments in a very simplistic way. Music listeners were ready for that sound this year.
The Grammys: Did you feel a bit like a fish out of water there? You don’t seem to come from the same place as most pop music...
That is a very good way to put it. It was a crazy experience. I felt like I was just walking around wide eyed and gaping at people, "was that seriously Elton John?!" I said at one point. I'm glad we got to experience it, and if we are so lucky to have another go at it, I think we would have a lot more fun the second time around.
The whole thing about your style is the acoustic sound and approach. Do you guys listen to any electronic music, or are you purists in your tastes, too?
We all listen to really different kinds of music. I definitely like some bands in the electronic world like LCD Soundsystem and , but I think we all have eclectic music tastes. I came from a background of listening to a lot of classical and jazz and old standards like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, so it's very different from what we are doing now, but I think we all bring something different to the sound for that reason.
You describe your music as ‘super-simple’. Do you have any ambitious to develop your sound? A free-jazz workout in the wings...?
I think we strive for a "simple sound" but there's so much that goes into that. It's not simple to create it. It's easy to stack more and more sounds onto a track, and we all have to hold back to achieve that simplicity. I'm not sure what direction the next record will go in, but that is what we have done in the past.
Are there new bands coming up that you’ve got your eyes on?
We have a great scene at home in Denver with so many good bands. We've been lucky enough to take a few of them out on the road with us such as Nathaniel Rateliff and Paper Bird. I'm was also really excited to tour with Thao and the Get Down Stay Down in Europe this past winter. I've been a fan of there's for awhile, and to be able to share the stage with them was a real delight.
Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Johnny Cash – who would you rather listen to, and who would you rather have dinner with?
That's a tough one. I'm a fan of all three, and I imagine dinner with any of them would be quite an experience! My dad is a huge Dylan fan so I grew up listening to a lot of him and he remains my favorite song writer. Dinner with Johnny Cash would probably be crazy. I think I would like to witness that.
The three best albums I heard in 2013 where...
Since we've begun touring as much as we do, I listen to much less music than I used to, but I loved Janelle Monet's newest record. She's amazing. The whole band is a fan of James Blake. And our friends at home, a great rock band called The Outfit released an awesome EP called Tough Kids.
The best and worst things about being a member of The Lumineers are...
Being able to travel and play music for a living is something that is so rare, and I am so lucky to be doing it. I have a really really cool job. Anything is excess is hard though, and anyone who travels for a living can tell you that it's just a difficult lifestyle, even if you love what you do. I think we're all looking forward to a break to spend time with loved ones and cook in our own kitchens and to sleep in the same bed for a few nights in a row.
Anything else to tell Time Out’s readers? Go on...
We never thought we would have the opportunity to travel to your country and we are so grateful to get to do so. We feel very lucky to have fans so far away from home and look forward to our shows there.