What leads a person to success? Is it passion? Talent? Hard work? Is it just being in the right place at the time? Stelth Ulvang, a pianist for the indie folk-rock band The Lumineers, solo musician and songwriter and Fort Collins native, says perhaps, “It is the disappointing mash up of all of them.”
Ulvang is an extremely friendly, humble soul, with a wanderlust heart and a passion for music. He describes his time spent as a musician as an adventure that he juggles like Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire – a man caught between adolescence and adulthood.
He’s a coveted artist – if you’ve ever heard the song “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers or any of his original music, you can relate – who credits his beginning to a job he had in his late teen years at a quaint little 24-hour coffee shop on Laurel Street in Fort Collins — the Alleycat Coffee House.
“Like every teen movie, that café was a conduit which I used to try to reinvent myself. They had a world map on the wall and a piano in the corner.” The piano in the corner had a sign on it that jestingly read, “No Chopsticks, or you are banned for life!” – a reference to a very annoying and well-known four-barred tune that every pianist learns at some point in their career. After working at Alleycat for a few months, Ulvang was put on the night shift when he started to learn Ben Folds Five (an alternative rock trio) songs on their piano. Soon, they replaced the “No Chopsticks” sign with “No Ben Folds!”
“We traveled first on trains to Boulder and Wyoming, eventually to Washington or Illinois, and eventually the oceanic boundaries seemed limiting, and we all saved up and learned shortcuts to flights to travel cheap and ever curiously around the globe. These songwriting ventures became my first band, Dovekins, and we started touring madly,” Ulvang said.
Ulvang, along with his two friends, (Laura Goldhamer and Griffith Snyder) played in house shows, galleries, parks and libraries. They even snuck into festivals. They kept contacts from people they met and played with along the way. One day in 2009, Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites from the then not-so-popular Lumineers reached out and asked if he knew of an artist willing to tour with them. Ulvang was one of 40-some artists who Schultz and Fraites contacted. It just so happened that Ulvang became perfect fit for the Lumineers.
“After their [the Lumineers] move to Denver, our bands played scattered shows together, learning each other’s songs from our respective extended play records. Dovekins EP was the first album I’d ever had songs on, and we ended up putting out two full records while the Lumineers started the slow perfecting process of their debut album we all know and love. I made the slow transfer around this time, recording some shouts or piano here and there with the Lumineers – you can at times pinpoint my squawk on ‘Ho-Hey.’”
Since recording and touring with the Lumineers, Ulvang has since released a record of his own called, “And as Always; The Infinite Cosmos”— an album that debuted in 2015 that he says is “an all-too-serious lament to astrophysics.” He has also started doing what he loves best: traveling the world and digging deeper into songwriting.
For the last few weeks, Ulvang has been in Africa, experiencing the culture of Zimbabwe and a little bit of Uganda, which has inspired some of the music on his new record, “American Boredom.”
He says the songs are about depression, death, oppression, colonialism and love, and they also “narrowly escape a cliché and toy with all that’s already been done” – real issues and lyrics that not only people in Northern Colorado understand and have dealt with, but lyrics that people from all over the world can relate to – whether rich or poor.
He is going on tour this year with his own band, Dovekins, and is also preparing for another tour with the Lumineers in 2019.
Tag: Be sure to see Stelth Ulvang’s show live at New Belgium Brewery April 5-6 at the Denver Syntax Opera House. For more information, please visit http://www.stelthulvang.com .