Lumineers Explore Spiral of Addiction With Shocking New Series of Music Videos

Frontman Wesley Schultz opens up about the familial inspiration behind "Gloria" and other videos from the upcoming "III" album.

Lumineers Explore Spiral of Addiction With
Danny Clinch

Last month, the Lumineers debuted their raw, emotive new single “Gloria” with an intimate performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” complete with a living room stage design and vintage home movies looping in the background. The nostalgic, homegrown feel was intentional — an overt nod to their upcoming concept album, “III,” set for release in September. But there was little indication there of just how provocative the group would go with the “Gloria” music video, which is being released today, or two more thematically linked and equally startling clips, for “Donna” and “Life In The City,” which come out Tuesday and Wednesday.

Drenched in emotional catharsis from the start, the new clip for “Gloria” highlights the destructive path of addiction, and was initially inspired by one of frontman Wesley Schultz’s own family members caught in the spiral of alcoholism. “So many people are touched by addiction, way more than is talked about,” Schultz says. “It’s a lot like cancer in that it is this way too common thing in our culture.”

But the songwriter is quick to acknowledge his own preconceived notions about addiction, and admits previously thinking about it as a failure of willpower as opposed to a complex web that involves brain chemistry, mental illness and trauma. “Trying to love an addict out of drinking, or put them in rehab, or using any resource you have to get them through it, everything we tried failed miserably,” he says, referencing his family member’s struggle with the disease. “We tried to put her in rehab almost a half dozen times overall, and nothing worked. We tried all of these spots for her to succeed in and ‘beat this addiction,’ but it’s become a really humbling experience. That whole willpower thing was thrown out the window really quickly.”

After swapping stories with friends and folks on the road over the years, the singer-songwriter realized that it was a much more widespread problem than he had previously understood, especially in the music industry. “I get a lot of common ground with people that I never knew were dealing with anything like that, so that part has been eye opening,” he says. “It does feel like there’s this force beyond you and beyond the person you care about that is at work and at play, and no matter what you do, it seems like the disease is going to do what it wants to do and takes over this person you really care about. You’re with them through the ups and downs.”

Director Kevin Phillips took on the unique challenge of creating visuals for every song on “III,” including “Gloria,” which presents the “roller coaster of life” involving an addict, involving the protagonist’s hospital visit, car accident and subsequent escape from authorities.

Schultz poached the filmmaker after admiring his work on Netflix’s “Super Dark Times,” which he describes as a coming of age story a la “Stand By Me,” “but darker.” “The characters had this credibility or believability; they looked and talked like real people, and just had this aesthetic of authenticity,” he adds. “There’s a grander vision behind it as opposed to a disparate or scattered vision that you get if you hired a bunch of different directors. It’s much more clean.”

The concept of recording a trilogy LP first materialized over a decade ago in Schultz’s journals, which he rediscovered after a recent move. The loose origins of “Gloria” appeared in those notes, along with a tentative album title: “Love, Loss and Crimes.” “We didn’t have the right music for it then,” he admits, referencing the band’s sunnier disposition in its early days, with hits like 2012’s “Ho Hey,” off the group’s eponymous debut LP, which last year was certified triple-platinum. “This time around, it was interesting to look at the songs we had and the characters within those songs and try to make sense of it. Could three groups of songs be dedicated to one character each, and who are those characters?”

Cue Gloria Sparks, the fictional matriarch for the family on “III,” and mother and grandmother to its other tragic heroes of her son Jimmy and grandson Junior. “Gloria is an addict. No amount of love or resources could save her.  She’s now been homeless for over a year,” he says. “Loving an addict is like standing among the crashing waves, trying to bend the will of the sea.” The unique “alchemy” of this joint narrative allowed him to unpack his family’s own trauma through three fictional generations.

The Catskills served as the prime setting for the songwriting and recording of the introspective LP, with Schultz and band co-founder Jeremiah Fraites working alongside producer Simon Felice (formerly of folk/rock act The Felice Brothers) at the Clubhouse studio in Rhinebeck, NY. Felice previously helmed their sophomore effort, “Cleopatra.”

“I have a cabin up there and just love spending time there so much. There’s such a history to that region, and artists that flocked to the Catskills and to Woodstock back in the ‘70s, like Dylan and Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison, just a long long list of people,” he says. “There is some sort of energy out there that reminds me of when you go to Taos, New Mexico and people talk about the strange vortex of energy that artists seem to thrive on. There’s a lot of natural beauty with the mountains and scenery, but you also have these houses that are obsolete or boarded up, this history that has been forgotten. It’s an older part of the U.S., and has these ghosts, compared to if you move west, where it’s a much younger part of the country as far as how much history is there.”

The band’s core duo of Schultz and Fraites also both became first-time fathers in 2018, which further pushed the familial narrative of their latest project. “Strangely, the busier you are, the more productive you become,” Schultz says. “When you know you only have this much time to work, or eat, or whatever, you go full force at that task. For me, part of having a son has just been forcing me to use my time more wisely.”

Rather than his child appearing all over the album’s lyrics, he instead used the songwriting sessions as “therapy” for coping with unresolved familial demons. “I thought [having a kid] would be a big obstacle to being productive as an artist, but I just feel lucky — it’s a beautiful new fold of life that gives me a lot of reflection on a daily basis. You realize your actions aren’t anonymous anymore. You have someone that you’re going to have to answer to someday, when they’re old enough.”

The Lumineers are currently in the midst of a headlining tour in support of “III,” which includes stops on the global festival circuit this summer at KROQ’s Weenie Roast (June 8), Bonnaroo (June 16), Australia’s Splendour in the Grass (July 21), Japan’s Fuji Rock (July 26) and Montreal’s Osheaga (Aug. 2).

One big milestone for the band, Woodstock 50, is unfortunately still up in the air, although Schultz is hopeful. “To be honest I don’t even know if they’ve officially cancelled that,” he says. (They haven’t.) “We’re trying to figure it out — I texted my manager a night or two ago and asked and he said he’s not sure yet. It’s in limbo, for sure; we’ll be really disappointed if that does get cancelled. It’s that area that we spent a lot of time making this album and it’s a great place to have a festival.” With such recent start-up festival disasters like the infamous Fyre Festival, Schultz accents the importance of event promoters having all of their “ducks in a row” well in advance. “It’s a huge undertaking nowadays,” he says. “Unlike the original Woodstock where it seemed like they were flying by the seat of their pants.”