Jeremiah Fraites has taken his licks as the co-founder of the Lumineers, having been labeled, as he puts it, "bandwagon-jumpers" by fans of fellow folk-rockers Mumford and Sons and slammed online by Alice Cooper and New Pornographers' frontman A.C. Newman.
Elton John has slapped him, too.
"It was more of a love slap, I would say," Fraites recalls with a laugh. The 27-year-old drummer is referring to the Lumineers' head-spinning night in February at the Grammy Awards, when John complimented them backstage right after they played their foot-stomping single "Ho Hey."
"I was walking with [pianist] Stelth [Ulvang] to our seats, and Elton said, 'I'm big fans of yours. I love 'The Dead Sea.' So I said, 'There's no f------ way you're a fan.' ," says Fraites, whose band will perform Sunday, Oct. 20, at Boca Raton's Sunset Cove Amphitheater. "I think I'm better at accepting failure with music the last eight years with this band rather than succeeding. So for Elton John to say he enjoyed our music, I thought, 'That's rubbish. That can't be true.' But it was true."
There is a warm humility in Fraites' voice, as if he's still dismissive of the quintet's two Grammy nominations for best new artist and best Americana album. The band's self-titled debut is anchored by "Ho Hey," a raw and vulnerable post-breakup song that's punctuated by stomping and hand-clapping and banjo-plucking. Five years of shopping suit-and-suspenders folk-pop around New York's open-mike scene all but sapped Fraites' confidence. But then, frontman Wesley Schultz convinced his bandmates to decamp for the less-crowded music scene in Denver. He remembers dim nights at Denver's Meadowlark basement club, where they treated Tuesday open-mike nights like jobs, until out-of-state bookings set them on a higher path.
"At one point, we felt like the band wasn't from Denver anymore. We weren't from anywhere, but from everywhere," says Fraites, whose two-piece expanded to include cellist Neyla Pekarek and, in 2012, Ulvang and bassist Ben Wahamaki. "We never just wanted to become a Denver band. But we also had no sense of belonging, and that had a lonesome feel to it. It's been crazy."
Lonesomeness won't be found in the Lumineers' acoustic anthems. "That's for the second album," Fraites says. But in a deluxe reissue of the Lumineers' debut album, released in August with five extra songs, including a cover of the Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," only the song "Darlene" comes close. The piano-driven, Fraites-written melody carries Schultz's angsty croon, and is more mature than the strummed-on-the-back-porch-sounding arrangements that once prompted Alice Cooper to say, "I feel like the whole generation needs to eat a steak … rock is not 'happy, happy, everything's OK.' "
"When I was 14, my older brother died of a heroin overdose at 19, and Wes' father died of cancer in 2007, so if people think all we sing is purely happy, happy lyrics, that's just really scratching the surface," Fraites says. "We never prided ourselves on being a folk-revivalist band. It was more of a selfish endeavor, just to make ourselves happy and make ourselves high."
When: 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, with Dr. Dog and Nathaniel Rateliff
Where: Sunset Cove Amphitheater, 20405 Amphitheater Circle, Boca Raton