Neyla Pekarek of The Lumineers modeling her namesake dress in the ModCloth studios!
Unless you’ve been residing beneath a rock for the past year, chances are you’ve heard folk-rock band The Lumineers‘ rollicking hit “Ho Hey” at least once. The band’s self-titled album has received accolades for its irresistible mix of Americana-influenced folk and classic pop sounds, and has not only been on heavy rotation across the airwaves, but at the ModCloth offices as well.
Formed by childhood friends Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites, the New Jersey group took to the road in 2005, landing in Denver, where fate — or, rather, Craigslist —stepped in. The first person to respond to Schultz’ and Fraites’ ad for a cellist was classically-trained Neyla Pekarek, a Colorado native and one-two punch of talent and versatility.
Currently in the middle of a world tour, Pekarek was kind enough to pay a visit to our Pittsburgh office before playing a sold-out show with the band. After meeting with our ModStylists to model a few looks — including her namesake dress, the Neyla Dress (pictured above) — Neyla sat down with me to discuss her musical background, life on the road, and more. Keep reading for behind the scenes peeks of her time with us, and to learn more about this marvelous musician!
Story time! We’d love to know more about you. Can you tell us a little about your background? We’ve heard rumors that you’re an a cappella champ!
It’s true! Well, The Lumineers is the first band I’ve ever been in, I’d never been [involved] in anything like this before. Prior to joining the band I was studying vocal music in school and I was really into barbershop quartets and a cappella music. We had a lot of a capella groups there; I had an a cappella group called Vogue in my last year of college, 2009.
Is a cappella still a passion of yours?
It is, and I’m bummed that my lifestyle right now doesn’t allow me the time to do it, but it’s a great art form [to be involved in] because you can do it until you’re like, 80 years old! I was in this chorus of women in college — 180 of us — and the youngest member was 19 and the oldest was 87. So I can probably do it when this slows down a little bit.
Do you think that your background in a cappella informed the variety of instruments you play?
Absolutely. And, as a [music education] major, you take classes in every family of instrument, so I took a guitar class and I took a brass class and a percussion class. A semester isn’t enough time to really experience those instruments, but I was at least introduced to [playing] a lot of different things. I think [a cappella] definitely had a significant role in that.
So besides being well-versed in a number of instruments and vocals — any other hidden talents?
I don’t know about a talent, but I’m trying to become a very good bowler. It was one of my New Year’s resolutions.
Congrats on The Lumineers’ recent Saturday Night Live appearance! You always seem so relaxed while on stage; do you ever get nervous, or is it second nature at this point?
It’s funny, because we’ll do interviews and other things that I’m not as well-versed in, and I get a lot more nervous about those things. But [I'm not nervous on stage], especially with these songs we’ve played so much. If we have a new one in the set, sometimes I’ll get a little bit of nervous energy about it, but it’s always exciting. With Saturday Night Live we were all a little bit nervous, but then you start performing and it’s something you’ve done a million times.
The Lumineers have not only been nominated for two Grammys (Best New Artist and Best Americana Album) but the band will be performing at the awards show as well. Do you feel ready for a stage of that magnitude?
For the performance part yeah, I think we’ve played “Ho Hey” enough times that we’ll be alright. Everything else I’m very concerned about — the press and the photos and just kind of meeting a lot of people all at once — I think it will be really fun though!
Did you always see yourself in the music industry, or did you aspire to have another career at one point?
Well, as I mentioned before, I got a degree to be a teacher, so I thought I would be teaching music. I knew I would be doing something in the field of music, but not in this way at all. Yeah, this was not in the plan for sure!
Do you have a favorite song off the band’s debut album, The Lumineers?
I’m pretty partial to “Dead Sea” …We had rough draft versions for the majority of songs that went on the album on a demo, and that was one that wasn’t done before we went into the studio, so it had a lot of room to kind of go in any direction we wanted. [The song] was really different than how we had been playing it live, and what ended up on the album is how we play it live now. I just think it’s really different than the rest of the album; it has this really neat Motown feel.
Do you find it refreshing to change up your sound?
I think we’ve grown a lot since we recorded the album. We recorded that about a year and a half ago, and since then we’ve had two new members join the band. We’ve stayed fairly true to the album, but there’s always just little nuances that change on a daily basis — you get a little bit tighter, a little bit better as a band.
Do you have any essentials you keep handy while you’re on tour?
I pack a lot of things that are so silly to pack, like stationery and stamps. I write a lot of letters when I’m on the road. I’ve gotten worse about it since I got an iPad! I write a lot of letters back home, so I have this kit that has stickers and rubber stamps and things like that. It takes up way too much room in my luggage, but I feel good when I have it with me.
Letter writing sounds like a great way to occupy the time while you’re on the tour bus…
Absolutely! It’s something that’s not surfing the internet or watching TV.
Who are you listening to right now? Any favorite artists or albums to recommend?
Right now I’ve been listening to the new Vaccines record. What I’m listening to is so different than what we’re playing — I feel like I kind of make an effort to do that, because if I listened to all folk artists I would proably go crazy! I like to listen to something a little bit louder and higher energy sometimes, like The Vaccines, and I listen to a lot of my friends’ bands in Denver — there’s a band called The New and a band called The Outfit that I really like.
We’re always so enamored with your on-stage style, where do you find your fashion inspiration?
It’s kind of a hodgepodge of things. I like to wear something I feel really comfortable in. I’ve had a couple of bad experiences with people trying to dress me in something that totally wasn’t me or didn’t feel right, and I never like to feel that pressure. I have a really open mind, but I like to feel comfortable and feel good in what I’m wearing.
Any tips for staying stylish while on the road?
Pack things that can go with various looks. Shirts are easy to pack, so you can have a lot of different tops but wear the same bottoms, so that’s good. I’ve discovered dry shampoo recently, which is really important, especially with my new bangs — they get greasy so much quicker — so it’s nice to just put some of that in [and go]. Sometimes you don’t know when your next shower is gonna be! (We’ll get hotels every once in a while, our tour manager makes sure that we don’t stay dirty for too long!) You just have to be prepared.