Three generations of crime, tragedy, drug addiction and alcoholism ravages the Sparks. Their stories come to life in a small, yellow house that stands alone in a field — perhaps symbolic of each character’s loneliness and distance.
It’s all part of a compilation of music videos from The Lumineers’ newest album, “III,” which was released on Friday, Sept. 13. The stories may be fictionalized, but the band knows the characters all too well. The two founding members of The Lumineers — Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites — based the song lyrics and video series off their family members’ experiences with addiction.
At an event to premiere the visual album on Thursday, Sept. 12 in New York City, Schultz told the audience how the duo began the short film process.
“I [thought we could] kind of retell this story visually and then also disguise some of the people I was singing about in a new family instead of it having to be my own family,” said Schultz. “It gave them a sense of cover.”
Their music videos, directed by Kevin Phillips, are combined to create a short film, which has already been accepted into the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
The album itself is separated into three EPs — literally called “I,” “II” and “III” — to spotlight a family member from each generation of the Sparks.
It all begins with Gloria Sparks. She’s a mother and wife, but also an alcoholic who is constantly getting into serious trouble that jeopardizes her life along with the lives of her husband and child.
Her EP sets the mood that carries on through the rest of the album, solemn and serious but paired with upbeat tunes. Schultz says his honest lyrics are paired with upbeat music on purpose to balance the songs.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with [honest content],” Schultz said. “But when isolated it can get a little dark if you just want to read the lyrics to yourself. I wouldn’t recommend that.”
Later in the bonus tracks of the album, Schultz references Gloria — and possibly his own grandmother — in a song called “Old Lady.”
“II” is all about Junior Sparks, Gloria’s grandson. The first song “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy for You” is a song about Junior’s first heartbreak. The story of this song might be lighter, but the gruesome lyrics of Junior’s bitterness match the rest of the album’s theme. The other two songs on Junior’s piece give listeners a look into the life of a child of an alcoholic, which gets lyrically and musically intense.
His father and Gloria’s son, Jimmy, bring it home in “III.” Every single song in his EP portrays the relentless pain of addiction and heartbreak. The songs become suddenly harsher than the rest of the album, mirroring Jimmy’s harsh life in the short film. One song in this section, “The Salt and the Sea,” was actually originally made for an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but was never used, so the band put it on their album.
There are three bonus tracks at the end of the album that aren’t included in the short film. They all don’t exactly tie into the story being told in the rest of the album and sound musically different.
Listening and watching “III” is a deeply emotional experience. The short film is graphic, and when paired with the haunting lyrics, it becomes extremely powerful. It brings to light an important message on addiction and family trauma — topics that are often taboo and covered up.
Schultz and Fraites called the experience cathartic, and they hope listeners feel the same way. The Lumineers will be touring North America throughout 2020 for the album. The full short film has yet to be released, but six out of ten parts are currently on YouTube.
The full album, “III,” is available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.