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Lumineers at the top

Denver's 'Ho Hey' phenoms surpass their own expectations



In 2009, Stelth Ulvang was one of dozens of Denver musicians who got a message from a New Jersey duo that was moving to Colorado and looking for contacts and shows.

"They wrote everybody on MySpace, of all things," Ulvang says. "I was one of the only people who got back to them and the only person who set up a show for them. It was just a little house show, but it's where they met a lot of people here."

They were Wes Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, who called themselves the Lumineers.

Four years after setting up the show for the guys he didn't know, Ulvang is part of the folk-rock band that's become something of an overnight sensation with its Top Five hit "Ho Hey."

Nominated for Best New Artist and Best Americana Album at this year's Grammy Awards, the Lumineers have gone from a barely-known Denver band to a full-blown success story in just over a year. Ulvang became an official Lumineer in late 2011.

The band's self-titled Dualtone Records debut was released in April 2012. By that time, "Ho Hey" was already beginning it's climb up Billboard's Hot 100, peaking at No. 3.

"We first sent it out as a demo, before the album," says the keyboardist. "It was the second song on there. I think the first was "Submarines," or else it was "Stubborn Love," those were the three songs on there. A guy on Seattle's KEXP started playing track two. I wonder sometimes if that's all it took to make that song a hit — a guy playing the second track. But you can think what you want about it. It's really up to the people. So no, we didn't see it coming."

Powered by its single, The Lumineers made it to No. 11 on Billboard's albums chart and has gone on to sell more than 1,300,000 copies.

So what's it like getting caught in a pop whirlwind?

"It's been kind of hard to keep our footing," Ulvang admits. "It's just the tip of the iceberg, though. We lit the firecracker years ago and it blew up later. I think everybody's feeling 'we got there' and it hasn't been too bad. It's really pretty nice."

Out on the road, Ulvang says playing shows is as much fun for the band as it is for the audience.

"We'll screw around on stage, throw things at each other, climb on stuff. But musically, we give it our all every night. It's like putting an eight-hour shift into an hour and a half."

Given that the Lumineers have just one album, putting together the 90-minute set is something of a challenge.

Of course the high point of the set, at least for the audience, remains "Ho Hey," which, like all breakthrough hits, will be a permanent staple of Lumineers shows, whether they want to play it or not.

"It's kind of like any job," Ulvang explains. "Maybe you work at a café that's pretty hip. You've still got to wash the dishes. Sometimes when we're not feeling it, it's kind of like that. But we're proud of it. It's a great song and it changed everything for us."

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