There’s no good reason for the politics editor of CQ Roll Call to write about the new album by The Lumineers, let alone interview founding member Jeremiah Fraites about President Donald Trump, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, or the death of Fraites’ older brother from a heroin overdose.
But growing up in the North Jersey town of Ramsey, Fraites and his brother had a thing for sharing what they thought were amusing names they saw on TV or in newspapers. And my name became one of them when it was printed under an admittedly goofy photo in 2005 in the Bergen Record, along with an announcement the paper was reopening its Washington bureau and sending me, its statehouse columnist, to staff it.
“You know, something about your name, I just really loved it,” Fraites said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I guess it started out as a joke; I just taped it on my keyboard and I shared it with my bandmates, including Wes [Schutlz], the singer now with the band. … Honestly, I see your face every day, still on the keyboard. It’s my favorite keyboard, I still use it all the time.”
In March 2015 — after the Lumineers had settled in Denver and “Ho Hey” had been featured on Saturday Night Live and a beer commercial, leaving people humming “I belong with you, you belong with me, my sweet-heaa-aart” — Fraites shared his amusement on Facebook, revealing I was also a muse.
“Not sure who this man is,” he wrote in a post showing the keyboard and my smiling face. “But I taped it to my keyboard 10 years ago, and he has never left my side. In the studio today and looking at him assures me creativity will flow. He’s the real secret to our success — jeremiah.”
It didn’t take long for the band’s fans to find me on social media, and quickly my followers were sharing the post, too. When one of my competitors told me he was writing a story, my editor had me drop everything and crank out a couple hundred words so we wouldn’t be “scooped.”
Things got weird after that. The paper provided a download link for the photo, and it became a meme in New Jersey politics. The state Senate minority leader posted a picture of himself posing near my face on the mantel in his statehouse office.
I was interviewed by newspapers and magazines. The Associated Press picked it up, which led to more interview requests, including one from a New York TV news station. By year’s end, it made a Philadelphia TV station’s list of New Jersey’s “top weird stories” — after a pork roll flatulence lawsuit.
I tried to reach the band with no success, but news on my beat broke, and I moved on. Recently, Fraites followed me on Twitter so I DM’d him asking for an interview and he agreed.
His publicist sent an advance copy of “III,” the album released this month that, along with videos that have been compiled into a short film showing at a Toronto film festival, follow the tragic arc of three generations of the Sparks family and their struggles with alcohol and drug abuse.
Fraites said the work grew out of the pain from his brother’s death, his own fight to get sober, and Schultz’s experiences with a family member who has been through rehab, and fallen off the wagon, several times. I asked if he was worried it might be a downer for crowds that might be coming looking for more of “my sweet-heaa-aart.”
“It’s been very cathartic and emotional to write this out,” Fraites said. “We’ve played close to 60 shows now, 60-plus shows, and we’ve had some really great reactions from people.”
Since one of the band’s songs was on President Barack Obama’s first Spotify list, and the Lumineers actually played during his term on the South Lawn, it should not come as a surprise that Fraites is not a fan of President Donald Trump. He said that since his wife is from Italy, it has been difficult seeing immigrants demonized and “the xenophobic mentality kind of prevailing.”
But given his personal grief over his brother’s overdose, Fraites did give Trump credit for putting opioids in the national spotlight.
“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to say this without sounding cold, but when I saw the opioid epidemic … it almost gave me this weird sense of relief or something,” Fraites said.
He was appalled at how rampant abuse had become, but the attention also made him realize he wasn’t the only one dealing with it.
“We have this, you know, supposedly great, prosperous country, and we have these great values,” he said. “But we also have this very strange, sad, almost traumatic underbelly that people aren’t talking about. …
“So if there’s one good thing I think our current president did, I commend him on … making some legislation that helped prevent doctors from over-prescribing. … It’s like, you have all these people quite literally dying all over America from sort of a white-collar drug dealer.”
On the Democrats’ campaign to find a challenger to Trump, Fraites begged off naming a favorite. He said the band has spent most of the past year traveling the world on tour — “changing time zones almost every day” — so he hasn’t tuned in much.
But the group played at one of Hickenlooper’s political events when he was Colorado governor, and Fraites said that shortly before Hickenlooper launched his short-lived race for president, they were on the same flight from Newark to Denver.
“We were flying in business [class], we’re lucky enough to do that now, and he was in economy. And he was like ‘I’m a Democrat; I can’t fly business,’” Fraites said.
When they landed, Fraites offered to give him a ride home, and played the new album during the drive.
“And he didn’t talk too much, he just loves listening to music, and that was just a really cool — like a moment,” Fraites said. “And then I saw him making a run for it. It seemed like it frizzled real quick. And I don’t know if he really thought, to be honest, he was going to win. I don’t know if it was more of, just a political move, just to run. But it was cool.”
Hickenlooper, now seeking the Senate in Colorado, was not available for an interview, his campaign said.
The band’s tour stopped at the Jersey Shore in Asbury Park on Saturday, but it goes to Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Zurich, Munich and Vienna at the start of November. They’re due in Washington, D.C., in February.