Sweet spot

Finding balance with Lumineers multi-instrumentalist and Fort Collins native Stelth Ulvang

Credit: Blydie Smit

Fort Collins native Stelth Ulvang captured lightning in a bottle when he co-founded the now-legendary Colorado band Dovekins in 2009. Merging sea shanties with the quirkiness of Paul Simon’s Graceland and the energy of early Arcade Fire shows, the quintet soon carved a name for itself on the Front Range and beyond. 

It’s hard to hold on to lightning, though, and by 2012 Dovekins was defunct and Ulvang was a full-time member of a fledgling indie-folk band called The Lumineers. He moved from bass to piano, and accordion, and now joyfully describes himself as not only The Lumineers’ pianist but also its “hype man.”

“Look, NWA has members that are known very well for their lyrics and members that are known for just a good fucking voice,” Ulvang says. “It’s good to be a hype man and I think I’m starting to feel more pride about that being a talent as opposed to an insecurity … which has taken 10 years.”

Ulvang, now a husband and father, is currently balancing a life playing big venues around the world with the Lumineers and expressing himself more personally with his solo work and the band Heavy Gus — a more rocking, Built to Spill-inspired project he formed in 2019 with his wife, Dorota Szuta.

Highlighting Szuta’s gorgeous vocals, Notions by Heavy Gus was released last year, and the group has been hitting the road in between Lumineers tours. Meanwhile, Ulvang says he’s written more than 150 songs since the pandemic started, and he’s slowly trickling his recordings out to the public. His latest release is the eight-song Take Time, marked by a lo-fi quality and personal lyrics.

While Heavy Gus will perform at Macky Auditorium on April 29 as part of the Bluebird Music Festival — alongside marquee roots music outfits like Watchhouse and Shovels and Rope — Ulvang will play a sold-out solo show at Chautauqua’s tiny Community House on Sunday, Feb. 12. He says he’s not sure what to tell folks to expect.

“I haven’t played solo in Colorado in years,” he says. “I want to try to get as many instruments on stage as I can, and try to play all of them. I’m a little more rambly alone — stories and da-da-da-da. I like to make it immersive. Hopefully it’s not only music. I also have all these new songs.”

Asked whether he has the perfect kind of fame — playing blissful arena shows with The Lumineers for thousands of people who might approach frontman Wesley Schulz on the street, for instance, but not the group’s pianist and “hype man” — Ulvang points to a time-tested cliché: “The grass is always greener.” But ultimately the Grammy-nominated musician says he’s happy where he’s at. 

“Sometimes I wish I was a little more famous, but I’m also in a sweet spot and I don’t have to deal with as much business and anxiety. But I have that with my own music — I have anxieties and fears and insecurities … that doesn’t go away once you’re a bigger musician,” he says. “We opened for U2 and I don’t think Bono is insecure about his stats, but he might be the only one, and that might just be a Bono thing.”

Insecurities aside, Ulvang’s “sweet spot” holds space for the past and the future of his career as a celebrated songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. At a Dovekins reunion show in 2020, just a few weeks before the pandemic began, he conjured the old days by swinging from the rafters of the Mercury Lounge in Denver. With the same Lost Boys gall he had when Dovekins was born out of a failed boat trip from Hawaii to Seattle, Ulvang vows to swing from the rafters once again during his much-anticipated Colorado homecoming. 

ON THE BILL: Stelth Ulvang with Alex Woodchek. 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, Chautauqua Community House, 301 Morning Glory Drive, Boulder. Sold out. | Heavy Gus with Watchhouse and Shovels & Rope. 6 p.m. Saturday, April 29, Bluebird Festival at Macky Auditorium,
1595 Pleasant St., Boulder.