For a new band to land a big hit song in this day and age, it generally requires a lot of exposure -- maybe even overexposure. Perhaps nobody knows that better right now than Wesley Schultz, frontman of the Lumineers, the group whose catchy folk-pop hit, "Ho Hey," has caught on in TV commercials, online ads, radio playlists, you name it.
"I was watching the NBA Finals with some friends, and the song came on TV," said Schultz, who's as charming and congenial to talk to as his Denver band is to watch onstage. "I'm a big sports fan, so it was a pretty proud moment."
However, he laughlingly added, "I was trying to watch this other band's video online, and up popped a Bing ad with our song in it. I had to sit and wait through our song before I got to the song I was trying to hear. That was kind of weird."
A jangly, all-acoustic song with "hey!" and "ho!" shouts among its many singalong moments, "Ho Hey" might be better recognized for its hook, "I belong to you / You belong to me / You're my sweetheart." It has been heard in those Bing commercials as well as Blue Moon beer ads (from the band's hometown mega-brewery, Coors). It shot to No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and wound up in steady rotation locally at both 89.3 the Current and Cities 97, the latter of which helped land the group a main-stage slot in Saturday's Basilica Block Party just three months after it sold out the tiny 7th Street Entry.
Schultz said he has no qualms about licensing "Ho Hey" to so much commercial use since, he said, "We've been doing this for about 10 years, and now all of a sudden it's like we're on the fast track, in a very exciting and surreal kind of way.
"These kind of [advertising] placements, if done right, are a great way for a new band to get exposure. It's a start. Hopefully, you do have a good album to back it up once the song does get out there."
The mass net-casting of "Ho Hey" is just one of several shrewd moves made by Schultz and his co-founding band mate, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah Freitas. High-school pals originally from New Jersey, they first made the obvious leap to Brooklyn to try to make it as musicians. The better decision, Schultz said, came almost three years ago when they moved to the much more affordable Denver.
"I kind of wish every artist who lives in an expensive place like New York -- and who doesn't have financial backing of some sort -- would try to go somewhere else," he said.
"It's just logistics. If you really want to be an artist but spend 40-plus hours a week at a job you don't care about, bartending or whatever it is, that simply doesn't leave you with enough hours a week to spend on your art. For me, it was very infuriating to not be able to work on my craft more."
Once settled in Denver, the duo took out a Craigslist ad looking for another bandmate and wound up with cellist/pianist Neyla Pekarek (two extra musicians also now tour with the band). They then got to work on the songs that would make up their debut album.
Issued April 3, "The Lumineers" boasts 11 downbeat songs with mostly upbeat tempos and all acoustic, rootsy folk arrangements reminiscent of Mumford & Sons and another Basilica 2012 party act, the Avett Brothers (hot names that certainly perk up the ears of radio programmers and advertising execs). The disc was issued by Nashville-based indie label Dualtone, which also had a hand in the Civil Wars' breakthrough.
While some of the Lumineers' songs are sadly haunted by the death of Freitas' younger brother from an overdose at age 19, he said "Ho Hey" simply grew out of a bad day: "I was living and working in Brooklyn, and really nothing was going right for me. It was one of those powerful moments, for me, where I know I couldn't do much except write a song, and maybe that'll make things turn out better."
As for the "ho" and "hey" shouts that spike the song's rhythmic punch, those grew out of another shrewd idea the Lumineers have been working on for several years. Another example of it can be found in their follow-up single, "Submarines," which is laden with several quick-bursting drumbeats and shouts of, "Sub-ma-rines!"
"That comes from playing a lot of crowded bars and noisy places, and a quick way to cut through the din is to do something with punctuation, something that gets people's attention," Schultz said. "It's sort of a trick to get someone to stop talking for just a moment. That's half the battle, but then the other half is to have something good behind that punctuation to keep them listening."
That part will certainly be put to the test Saturday in front of 10,000-plus fans.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib