The Lumineers’ success — their album has sold about 900,000 copies — leveraged Denver’s cozy, supportive local scene with East Coast ambition. Until Mr. Schultz and Mr. Fraites picked up and moved to Denver, the Lumineers had been, in Mr. Schultz’s blunt term, a “failure.”
Mr. Schultz and Mr. Fraites grew up in Ramsey, N.J. and have been writing together since 2005. Along the way, Mr. Schultz said, he changed from being a wordy singer-songwriter to prizing melody first.
“Your melodies make people want to hear what you’re saying,” he said. “They’ve got to be open to hearing it, almost hum it. And if they want to go deeper there is something there.”
Trying to get noticed they played open-mike nights in New York City and aspired, in vain, to move up to the small clubs on the Lower East Side. “We always wanted to play the Living Room, or Pianos, or the Mercury Lounge, but we never got anywhere close to that,” Mr. Fraites said. “We thought that was like Madison Square Garden.”
At the city’s coldly competitive open-mike sessions, “everybody comes in and sees their friend’s band and shuffles out,” Mr. Schultz said. “It was impossible to build, to break through that.”
Mr. Schultz, now 30, was living in Brooklyn and scrambling to pay the rent. When Mr. Fraites, who is 27, graduated from college, they decided to move elsewhere.
They considered London, Philadelphia and Boston. “And then,” Mr. Fraites said, “we said, in our ignorance and naïveté: ‘Let’s move to the middle of nowhere. Let’s go to Denver.’ The idea was to eliminate distractions. It wasn’t necessarily Denver.”
This is the world of ironic demography. Shrinking cities are getting smarter and younger. Rapid aging grips boom towns. The biggest, baddest cities spit out more people than they take in. In order to get ahead, you move down the urban hierarchy.
Steel sharpens steel. "Coldly competitive" begets "East Coast ambition." Rust Belters run roughshod over Portland:
I found getting work ridiculously easy; I had a job within a week. But a lot of people here really struggle. I work with 28-year-old people who make $8.50 an hour and smoke pot all the time and come to work and they're lazy. You could not go to Wooster, Ohio, and do what people do here, or Columbus or Cleveland. I don't understand the structure of it, or why people would want to do it. In five years, what are you going to have, if you're not building real relationships, if you're just doing what you feel like doing? I hired (a guy) at Grand Central. He's one of the nicest people, but he's 42 without any roots. He has no savings; he's living on his sister's couch. He's the quintessential Portland person. If Portland is Neverland, he's Peter Pan.
Is density the magic of cities? No. The greatest density in the world can't hold a candle to migration when it comes to creativity and innovation. Move or die, Brooklyn.