For a band who had gigged pretty much nonstop since forming, Mumford & Sons’ five-month hiatus – which began when they completed their world tour for the Babel album in September 2013 – was their first proper break in almost five years. Yet their decision to step off the merry-go-round was born as much of confidence as it was exhaustion, or a desire to catch up with themselves. In the months leading up to the end of the tour, Marcus, Ben, Winston and Ted had spent time with The National’s Aaron Dessner, recording demos in his New York garage, pottering around guitar shops, experimenting with his vintage amps.

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The band reconvened in February last year at Eastcote Studios in London, where they had recorded their debut album, Sigh No More. So began an eight-month period of writing. Joining them at these sessions was the producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine, Klaxons). “He’d listened to a few of the new songs,” says Marcus, “and just said, ‘Yeah, I like them.’ No more than that. He’s so understated, but it was good for us. So we started playing, he sat behind the kit, and off we went. It felt like having an older brother in the studio. And he made it fun. It should be fun.”

Right from the opening bars of Tompkins Square Park, it’s apparent that those early sessions in New York and London witnessed a change in the band’s approach not just to writing and recording, but to texture and dynamics, too. There is a minimalist yet panoramic feel to the new album, whose sound Marcus describes as “a development, not a departure.” Which came about how – by accident, or as a result of a conscious decision? “It was a bit of both. Towards the end of the Babel tour, we’d always play new songs during soundchecks, and none of them featured the banjo, or a kick-drum. And demoing that song with Aaron meant that, when we took a break, we knew it wasn’t going to involve acoustic instruments. We didn’t say: ‘No acoustic instruments.’ But I think all of us had this desire to shake it up. The songwriting hasn’t changed drastically; it was led by a desire not do the same thing. Plus, we fell back in love with drums! It’s as simple as that.”

marcus-saloon“It felt completely natural, though,” says Ben, “like it did when we started out. It was very much a case of, if someone was playing an electric guitar, drums were going to complement that best; and, sonically, it then made sense to add a synth or an organ. We chose instruments that played well off each other, rather than consciously trying to overhaul it.”

In another development, the new album is the band’s most collaborative to date, with all four musicians putting their shoulders to the wheel, and much of the writing taking place in the studio. Moreover, in stark contrast to Babel, none of the new songs has been road-tested live: fans will come to them fresh. The shock of the new, then? “It’s an invitation,” laughs Marcus, “not a challenge.” “Working with Aaron,” says Winston, “his approach to making music is that you chase every idea; chase it to the end. Even if you don’t like the idea, stay with it, follow it.”

“He taught us more about collaborating, too,” adds Ben, “in terms of working with each other. He gave us words of wisdom we hadn’t heard before. It encouraged us to celebrate each other’s ideas, and never abandon something. And that’s not a bad habit to learn – on a personal level as well as a creative one.”

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“It was probably the most fun record to make out of the three,” says Marcus. “yeah, it definitely was,” says Ted. “It was just a much more democratic process,” Marcus continues. “We were all allowed to have an informed opinion on what the others were doing, and I think that made us more vulnerable, but more willing to accept other opinions, too. We’d sit down and thrash ideas out.” Ben: “And we were much more comfortable in a studio environment this time. It was our third bite at that, and our understanding of how a studio works was different to how it was before. Eight years ago, we’d be going, ‘What’s compression again?’”

The band who once told an interviewer that if they didn’t play live they weren’t a band at all now accept that the deeper perspective that that five-month break – and those writing sessions at Eastcote Studios – gave them was something they needed in order to progress. “One of the things I most enjoyed about being in the studio rather than on the road,” Winston reflects, “was that you could play any instrument you liked; so you weren’t thinking, ‘I have to do this, play that.’ We all felt that we could do anything we wanted, and achieve much more in the process.”

Believe, one of the new album’s key songs, was a beneficiary of this more immersive, collegiate process. “We’d all gone to a wedding on this ranch in Texas,” Marcus recalls, “and they let us stay in one of the outhouses for a week, so we could write. I left a day early, I can’t remember why, and when we next met up at Eastcote, I swanned in, late, and they were working on that song. For me, that was the breakthrough moment in terms of the writing of the album; I could enjoy singing someone else’s lyrics, as if they were my own. I adored singing it, and I think that experience, and the way the song came about, set the tone for making the rest of the album – for all of us.”

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Marcus had just come from Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, where, with Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens and Taylor Goldsmith, he had been part of T-Bone Burnett’s pop-up band setting newly discovered Bob Dylan lyrics to music for the Lost On the River: The New Basement Tapes album. “I’d recorded a vocal for that record that wasn’t high, or loud, it was a bit more subtle and embellished, and I loved doing it. Just singing – without an instrument in my hands, or bashing a kickdrum, or a tambourine. And the same thing happened with Believe; I felt like a singer. I felt free.”

Lyrically, the album comes across like a series of snapshots – diary entries, postcards, internal conversations, about misunderstandings, heartache, commitment, deception and loss. It’s a night-time record, a city record. Flitting in and out of the darkness of the shadows and brightness of the lights. Sound-tracking these clamorous emotions is music of incredible intricacy and subtlety, drama and depth, urgency and soul, which undoubtedly sounds like the turning of a new page, yet is still identifiably the work of a band whose songs struck a chord with millions because of the passion and fervour they conveyed.

“That’s the feeling that has always driven us to make music,” says Ted. “Going to a gig, standing there with this feeling of how mystifying and amazing it all is. And the danger is that you begin to lose that as you get older, especially if you’re in the music business. Which is why it’s so important to hold on to it.”

“One thing that comes from being in a band for so long,” adds Marcus, “is that you become much more sensitised to different sounds and dynamics; it’s not a case anymore of thinking, ‘We’ve got to put ourselves on the map here.’ I think the new music is much less angsty, less frantic, because of that. Instead of ‘Quick, we’ve got to get to the chorus’, you learn to give yourself more space, and that means you can find yourself going, ‘let’s do a whole song that doesn’t move beyond this level; it can just stay here.’”

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Inevitably, after such a long break, they are itching to play live again. This is, after all, the band that responded to the glaring spotlight of the Grammys, the Brits and playing a gig at the White House by heading off to the Scottish Highlands for a series of small-scale, ad-hoc shows. And who, in 2012/13, staged the Gentleman of the Road Stopover festivals in out-of-the-way locations across the world, supporting local musicians and businesses, and in the process reconnecting with their reasons for forming a band in the first place.

“Our enthusiasm for just dropping off and playing gigs was really inspired by touring in the Highlands and going to Orkney and Shetland,” says Marcus. “Those places were so welcoming, they seemed so pleased to have us there, so, when it came to planning a tour, we all thought as one: ‘Let’s do more of those.’

“Doing it that way takes you away from this small nucleus of the band,” says Ben. “You start coming up with ideas, concepts, collaborating with new people. We are proud of them, there’s no point denying that; it feels like something not many other bands have done. Whenever I speak to people we work with, they seem proudest of that. So they’re the vehicle, rather than the other way round. Of course, we wouldn’t be able to do the Stopovers without the music, but in a way, we create the music so we can go out and do the shows.” As we meet, new Stopovers are being planned. The open road beckons.

Now, though, there’s the small matter of learning to play the new material live – a task lent greater urgency by the announcement that they will headline the Reading/Leeds festival this August. When we meet, the band are one day in to a 20-day rehearsal period; endearingly, they betray the nerves of first-timers. “We’ve never played these songs live before,” says Marcus, “which is another reason the new album is so different.

“But it’s not just a case of learning to play them; we’ve got to learn how to perform them, too. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

They have, but it will be worth it. There is a clutch of new songs – Only Love, Believe, Ditmus, The Wolf, Wilder Mind, Just Smoke – that are going to soar in a live setting, and take us with them.

“There was this moment yesterday,” says Ben, “on Tompkins Square Park, where there’s this countermelody I thought I’d played on the recording, and it turned out I hadn’t. So I was like, ‘Well, what am I doing on the chorus, then?’”

Amid the gales of laughter that are always feature of hanging out with the Mumfords, Marcus adds: “And I realised that all I have to do is strum my guitar, one chord every four bars. I did think, ‘Can’t I do that on all the songs?”

Mumford & Sons release Wilder Mind on the 4th May 2015 through Gentlemen of the Road/Island Records.

Leave a Reply

25 comments

  1. Gentlemen! Thank you!! I was on the lawn at your show last night in Philadelphia, what an AMAZING Event!!
    I used to work as traveling catering (Korn, DMB, Steely Dan etc.) and runner & backline for the venues in Connecticut for 5 years. I have seen from the stage and many other vantage points how performers entertain their crowds. I have never seen ANYTHING like this! I think you set the stage by calling yourselves ‘Gentlemen’. Never have I seen a crowd of people so courteous. People so happy to be where they are that nothing can shake them. I drove 5 hours to see you (the 5 hour trip home was a pip) but I don’t regret a moment! Your care for our safety and the way you made up the time was AWESOME!!
    Next time I see you I hope to be traveling to do so, its on my bucket list. Many wishes of more music, happiness and success to you all!
    Most sincerely,
    your grateful (for making it out alive) fan
    Colleen
    P.S. You may have seen me when you left, I was the fool jumping into puddles by the gate. I love the rain, so I got my 2 favorite things last night, thank you!

  2. Jamie_Angelo says:

    Finally was able to see you live last night in Camden… By far the BEST show I have ever been to in my life! The performance was exceptional, the energy of the crowd was addicting and for a moment in my life, everything just felt right!! Absolutely LOVE you guys!!! Please come back soon, and for a couple of shows in a row! Next time I am getting pit tickets!!!

  3. savyguthrie says:

    Just saw you fellas in Philadelphia last night and it was the best show I have ever been too. I was one of the idiots standing on the lawn during a lightning storm and you were worth the risk!! love you

  4. Brad_Isaak says:

    My fiance and I are marrying in July. She is a huge Mumford and Sons fan. She saw the band in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada a couple years ago and then we had the privilege to see them open for U2 in Vancouver a couple weeks ago! We were among the fortunate ones who got through security in time for the start of the concert. She was more interested in M&S than U2. Ali has been through significant trials in life, including a horseback riding injury when she was 15 that led to multiple surgeries over the following 23 years. She finally made the courageous decision to have a below the knee amputation 2 1/2 years ago. Her faith in God’s goodness and her love of life have brought her through all these experiences. Ali loves music. When I found out M&S was opening for U2, I knew we were going, no matter what it took. It was a pre-honeymoon! M&S has been her favorite band and helped bring her through some dark times. She loves their soulfulness. Thank you M&S for bringing joy to my soon-to-be-bride’s life. If you’re in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on July 8, you’re invited to the wedding!!

  5. David_Roen says:

    So I have been trying to figure out how to ask you guys questions I am going through cancer treatment from a glioblastoma tumor in the brain. But my friends and family are putting on a benefit for me and so I was wondering if you guys would be willing to donate anything. My benefit is on May 13 thank you all for the great music

  6. a2brooks says:

    My wife, Andrea is the biggest Mumford fan ever. Since the first Grammy preformance, awesome by the way. We have been to four shows thus far and will try to go this year in Camden NJ. I might add she could be the greatest tamborine player to ever live, should you be looking for one for a couple songs. Granted most of her performances have been in a small dive bar in New England but talent is talent. I am sure she would wave her normal fee if you need someone, anything for the cause. Let us know and see you at the show.

  7. silverPanther says:

    To Denis_Massaro:
    I read your words here and appreciate so much what you said. I am also a big fan of M&S and they have impacted my life, too, in unexpected ways. Their song “Hot Gates” is what brought me up from the darkness into the light. Their style of writing songs is unique and I think it’s because they really do show their hearts when they play live concerts. They are natural performers because they keep it real. I’m a fan for life! In the lyrics from “Just Smoke” they say, ‘Let’s live while we are young’. I think in my case it could be ‘Let’s live while we are alive’ because I’m 62 years old and I’ve never been so alive and happy. Thank you for sharing those words.

    I wonder what the chances are that any of the four of them will read these comments or even be told about them.

  8. CarlaStreet says:

    I”m so excited that you are continuing. My husband and I are great fans. I discovered you on Paladia and we have your Babel album. I’d heard you had dropped out and was delighted to hear you are continuing and am looking forward to the new songs. It’s going to have to be on our bucket list to go to your concert. Unfortunately we can’t go to the Seattle one but I’m signing onto your site to see if someday we can catch you in the future. Welcome back.

  9. i know you guys are preforming at Boston calling but my mom won’t let me go. so you should come on tour near Boston while you are here because i have loved your music since i was in 7th grade. please

  10. julianjones says:

    How do you become a verified fan?

  11. Evelynvillanueva says:

    I love you guys ❤

  12. Nathan_Cade says:

    Hey guys. I hope to see you guys in May in Seattle. My girlfriend has know idea about the concert and I plan on keeping it that way. Any who our first date lion man was playing . Since then every anniversary I have gotten her one of your albums ever since bonus materials all of it. Also just have to say that you guys have differently had an impact on our lives and I plan on popping the question that night if i can get the tickets in time and it will be for our 4th anniversary together so big time dinner afterward but anyway have a great one guys

  13. Nathan_Cade says:

    Hey don’t know if your going to read this. However, just have to say that you guys are one of mine and my girlfriends favorite bands. Oddly enough lion man was the song playing on our first date. So now every anniversary, since we have been together i have bought your albums one after the other as anniversary presents to kind of be a reminder that I love her and that i still remember the little things in life. However I hope to see you guys live with her and pop the most massive question of all and ask for her hand. And well anyway love you guys. and just wanted to let you know how much you have influenced my life and hers. We love you guys

  14. JenD72 says:

    @DENIS_MASSARO Stay strong! I have the same intense relationship with this music. Peace.

  15. Hey!
    I don’t really know how to start everything that I have to say to you guys…
    I’ll first present myself, my name is Denis Massaro, and I come from Belgium. I speak french, and have some basics on english, and google translation is here to help me, so i want to apologize to every mistake i make, the intention is there, but the language barrier don’t allow me to explain exactly every though i have, but I’m pretty sure, if one of you really read this one day, he will understand what I mean.
    I start my story how i feel it’s needed to be told, so like 3 or 4 years ago, i was a young boy in search of love, of friendship, of myself, and i heard for the first time a song that you made. I immediatly felt in love with what you guys are doing, i can’t explain why, i’ve listen to a lot of things, but your music touched me deeper than everything else before.
    I’m not the kind of guy who tell everybody every little thing i feel, I’m not really discreet, i’m the one who set the mood up for everyone.
    I want in Werchter 2016 and in Germany to see you. That was really amazing. I’m sure you can understand, if you really like eminem,…Every word he’ll say is gonna be awful, because you love what he say, you interpreter what you say.
    This is the same feeling I have with your songs.
    I’m not crazy, don’t misunderstand what i’m saying.
    But.. I really want you to know that you saved somebody’s life, and more than once.
    Every friday, when i come back from party where i pretend to be happy in the front of everybody, my favorite moment is when i can put on my radio in my car, and sing the song which means a lot for me.
    Maybe i sound really weird, but actually, you guys are the things that keeps my head up from water.
    Twice you saved me, when i was so deep that i didn’t know how to get out of this depression, anxiete,….

    I want you to know that you are all really awesome.
    Thank you for what you do, keep it up, you give me back the smile i thought i’ll never get back.

  16. ITChick2010 says:

    I love you guys! Y’all are amazingly awesome, more talent in one band than should be legal. You’re obviously travelers; if you’re ever up Yellowknife, Canada way drop in for a song or two. :) Keep on rockin’.

  17. LMitchell55 says:

    I watched the Dust to Thunder movie last week. It was WOWWW!! So glad I watched it. :-)

  18. Fingers crossed for a gig in Hull, East Yorkshire. One of my favourite bands and would LOVE to see you live. ❤

  19. I just bought tickets for the “movie” in NC! I saw Mumford and Sons in Charlotte earlier this year and, of course, no disappointment there. This band has changed my life and their music has been in a constant for me in the worst of times. I’ve never been so touched in my entire lifetime as I am when I turn my radio all the way up and listen to songs from Sigh No More or Wilder Mind. Despite the change in music, the lyrics and the meaning behind them haven’t changed a bit. I’m so proud to say that Mumford and Sons is my favorite band but it runs so much deeper than that; this group has changed my life in such an amazing way. Thanks guys, can’t wait to see what comes next. (:

  20. Evan_Brown2 says:

    Here’s a weird one: does the hit song “Little Lion Man” have anything to do with the name/title Inside Llewyn Davis. I’m currently in the hospital with my wife recovering from labor. It’s been 24 hours and we still haven’t named our beautiful baby boy. A top candidate has been Llewyn since I’m a huge Coen Bros fan. Llewyn however does not seem to be a real name, but Llewelyn is and in some cases is defined as “lion like”. Since the suffix -yn is used to form masculine diminutives I was just wondering if there’s a connection. Surely a stretch but anyone know if there’s anything to it? I’ve read that the song is very personal also. Obviously a complete shot in the dark…

  21. Khgalloway says:

    Like many, M+S music has enriched my life. The two shows I’ve been privileged to see in NC have been truly ethereal experiences. Thank you and I look forward to the work you continue to do :)

  22. Deanna_Few says:

    Best band EVER!! I can’t get enough of their music. The concert in Tulsa, OK this year was absolutely amazing, it was the best concert I have been to. I can’t wait until they are back!!

  23. Come to jersey Channel Islands! There’s a small intimate gig waiting to happen!

  24. eli0717 says:

    Please come back to Chicago! Thanks!

  25. giacomovaresigmailcom says:

    Hey guys,

    last July 4th I was at your fantastic concert in Milan Assago.
    You are magnificent, a show for the heart, the eyes and for the soul.
    When you will come back in Italy why not put in the set list also Sigh No More and Whispers In The Dark?

    Winston you are amazing!!!! FORZA INTER

    Thanks for all
    Jack