The band has been touring for almost two years, but Mumford And Sons remains grounded.
Photo by Rebecca Miller
Since the release of its Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Sigh No More
, earlier this year, Mumford And Sons and its rust-colored bluegrass and sincere folk has gone global. The fourpiece, which is comprised of 20-somethings Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ted Dwane and Ben Lovett, has seamlessly translated its British take on American old-timey jangle to such an effect that it has already sold out its upcoming North American tour. Through their music these lads leave their hearts wide open, letting them bleed when it’s called for, which, given Mumford’s lyrics, is quite often.
“I’m trying to find a good quiet spot in the carnage of East London to have a word,” explains Lovett over the loud sounds of engines. He’s just finished a soundcheck for a hometown show with Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings Machine. What the band didn’t realize was that John Paul Jones was on the line-up too, that is, until the Led Zeppelin member popped up onstage holding a mandolin all gung-ho and ready to join them. “We’ve got the most ridiculous life ever!” Lovett marvels. “It was a very nice surprise.”
You guys have been touring relentlessly almost since 2008.
I reckon since about the autumn of 2008 we have been on tour nonstop without more than six days off, which was Christmas.
That’s crazy. From the outside it seems like such a romantic lifestyle, but in reality it must be quite grueling.
We love it. I think that all of us are quite itinerant beings, and we just don’t feel very settled at home, but we really do love the road and we’ve learnt how to not let it get the better of us. We’ve only had to cancel, like, one show due to illness.
What are you techniques for making sure it doesn’t get the better of you?
We get our sleep—we try to get eight hours a night—and we have fun. Laughter and smiling [are] a big part of it, in terms of mental happiness. We always look out for each other. If someone’s having a tough time, no one’s really alone in this whole thing. We just go through the whole thing with our eyes wide open.
Do you feel like touring has shaped you guys musically for when you do head into the studio next?
I don’t think it has as much as you may imagine. We toured Sigh No More
for a year before we recorded it, so we were pretty used to touring before hitting the studio. But we just try to get the live sound down, so to then get out of the studio [feels] like we are home again on tour. I think [when] we go into the studio next, hopefully it will be a similar feeling. We’ve been writing a lot for the next record and we’re already touring those songs, so hopefully it’ll be more of the same.
So you use the stage as a testing laboratory for the albums?
Very much so. I think we’ve found out how to check whether a song’s got legs—it’s the best way. We feel the music we make is there to be performed, not just recorded. It’s like we’ll feel good about a track or we’ll immediately find some flaws in a song when we play it live, ‘cause you have to have a carpe diem mentality when you’re performing the songs. You play it as well as you can and everyone’s focused in front of a crowd and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t we sort of tweak it until we’re happy with it. Or we drop the song. We’ve done that a couple of times. There’s been some songs that we’ve played at gigs that we’ve never played again. Just ‘cause it didn’t feel right. I think we’ll continue to do that.
Tell me about the Collaboration EP you did with Laura Marling and the Dharohar Project in India.
We went to India for two weeks. We did a tour, but the first part of the tour involved doing some recordings for three days with a group of incredible folk musicians from Rajasthan.
What were your experiences of the country?
I’ve never seen anything like it. Even on the travels that we’ve managed to conjure up through touring, nothing compares to India. I think we have a mixture of fear and excitement heading out there, because as British folk musicians, or however people were to label us for those gigs, just turning up without any fanbase whatsoever and doing gigs in restaurants, we did some really strange locations. [laughs] We didn’t know what was going to happen. I think what we got out of it most was a better understanding of just how incredibly diverse the cultures of the world can be, and how much more music is out there than perhaps most are aware of.
We had this great moment when we were recording that EP and we couldn’t communicate verbally with the musicians we were working with—it was very much on a musical level. There was a translator who was trying to explain roughly what was going on, but we couldn’t be like, “Oh right this is in G major,” or “What are you saying in this song?” Instead we would just play with each other and figure things out as we went along musically. And so we started playing a song of ours called “To Darkness,” and they started singing these words and this song really started taking shape. And everyone felt like the song was being served without really talking about it. And then we asked them what they were singing about, and it turns out that they were singing exactly the same stuff that we were singing about.
After the end of this year, are you settling down or getting back into the studio?
We haven’t quite decided. We definitely need a few months off. We need to give our bodies and our souls a little bit of a rest. Despite our efforts to maintain ourselves, I think it’s good to come back and visit our friends and family, remind us of the beauty of being home for a couple of months. And then we’ll work out what we’re going to do next, I think.
Maybe you should plan a trip to New York for those few months.
Yeah. [chuckles] I definitely will be in New York during those few months. I run this live music event, and we’re just about to launch in New York, and I’m going to be coming over for that. We played at my night a couple of times when we were starting out as a band, and I believe in it a lot as a platform for bands who want to play to a good crowd.
What’s it called?
Communion. It all started in London a few years ago as a melting pot of different musicians and different ideas. And we found it really handy as somewhere to play, so we’ll have six live bands on a night and people just come down and hear music and jam and do whatever. And it seemed to work so well that it’s gone abroad now. It’s in Australia and [it’s] going to be starting in New York this year, I think.
It must be nice to be able to help these other bands, because you can empathize with what they’re going through.
Yeah. What’s strange for us sometimes is that people think that what we’re doing is particularly different, when we know so many great bands who do things very similar to us. Bands who have inspired us and haven’t, for whatever reason, received the recognition that people think that we have. But it is nice for me to be able to invest time into what they do and their music.
Do you ever theorize about what you’ve done that has taken off, compared to other bands who haven’t made it?
I think it would inhibit what we do. I know that we’re not trying to be anyone but ourselves. I suppose there are bands in the world who try to put on a façade or they try to be something that they’re not, and for some people that works. Some people sort of are characters through their music and they’ll write stories not about them[selves], but for us, we very much write close to home. No bullshit, in my opinion. We just do our thing.
- Marisa Aveling