Tonight, Mumford & Sons will kick off their largest U.S. tour to date in Cambridge, Mass. Spirits will rise, smiles will widen and feet will be stomped. One the most energetic Americana-folk bands are not to be missed. Their debut album, Sigh No More, features touching ballads and intense country-stomping tunes. One thing the band doesn't lack is passion.
Last Friday, after the British elections that left nobody in power, I talked to lead singer, and one of my favorite people, Marcus Mumford about being raised on American music, writing deeply personal songs and crying after reading reviews. I would like to welcome Marcus Mumford to this space.
Growing up, were you exposed to American folk music?
Indeed. My brother was a huge influence on me growing up, as well as my mum and dad. My mum had a lot of Bob Dylan vinyl and The Animals' House of the Rising Sun, which I fell in love with. I remember I could use a record player early on growing up.
My brother was a massive Bob Dylan fan and he and his friends would make me these mix CDs of obscure bluegrass and country. It's always been a part of my upbringing.
Is there something you identify with in American folk music having grown up in Britain?
I'm actually American born. So I...
Wooh wooh, rewind. You're an American?
I am. Born in California. I have duel citizenship.
Your accent doesn't sound American.
(laughs) Both my parents are British who were living in the U.S. for a few years. We moved back to Britain when I was six months old. We came back every summer because they had lots of friends back in the U.S. So I'm well-steeped in American music and culture. I would come home with beach blonde hair and riding a skateboard through this proper little British town.
So do you feel more British or American?
Definitely more British blood running through me. I've just spent more time here in England. Although, I've spent long periods of time in America. I lived in Denver and California for eight months. I do think I identify more with the U.S. than the average Brit.
How did you adopt your sons?
(laughs) Wellllll, it's not quite like that. Basically, we were all in the same place at the same time. It's not a very sexy story. I had known them all before and I had been writing these songs. We were hanging out together and our creative paths collided. That's basically it.
Starting a band in the crowded London music scene is pretty tough....
I actually think it's harder to keep a band together.
Interesting, you also have to recognize that your band is unlike any that's been popular in the scene in the past 3 or 4 years.
Well, it just seemed natural to play our music our way. I don't think we can form any other type of band but this. We don't have to try hard to sound like we do. It's actuality, we didn't feel like we were apart from the music scene at all. We make music our own way. It's essential to who we really are.
What were those early shows like? Were you playing to an empty room with three people in it.
I think we have played in rooms with three people in it. They were fun because those three people made it worth it. Things did start happening pretty quickly. People started coming to the shows just to see us and then telling their friends about it.
Were those first songs you performed eventually make their way onto the debut album?
They pretty much all did, maybe two or three didn't make it. When we initially formed the band, we just went right out onto the road. Rather than waiting around playing local gigs, we just wanted to get on with it. By the end of eighteen months, we had a collection of songs we felt represented us. We did wait a bit before recording them. I think we just enjoyed playing live too much. Waiting to record helped us because it aloud the songs to develop and evolve naturally. Eventually, the songs were fully formed by the time we hit the studio.
Obviously, "Little Lion Man" is an emotional song. Does it take a leap of faith to write a song that's so vulnerable and personal?
It's .... it's ... hmmmm. I think so. When I was writing the songs, I never thought they would be heard by anybody. I agree with you, writing a song is a private thing. Then suddenly, it's on a public stage and hundreds of people are singing along with you. It's the weirdest thing. You just can't plan or predict those things. For the kind of music we play, it's healthy not to predict how people are going to react.
I'm sure you recognize that people anticipate certain aspects of your songs. Those moments were they can jump up and down and stomp their feet like in "Roll Away Your Stone".
Again, you can't predict audiences' reactions when writing and recording. We don't design songs to create particular emotional responses.
Did you record with vintage instruments?
Yeah, that was great. We used a 100-year old harmonium that I love. Although it's at my parents house, because I can't fit it in my flat. We borrowed a bunch of vintage guitars off people we knew. We don't own that many old instruments. We tour with relatively new guitars that about ten years old.
Were you nervous when the album came out in the UK?
Oh God yes (laughs).
We're you hanging out at HMV in Oxford Street just to see if anybody was buying it?
Luckily, we were on the road in Birmingham. I remember reading two reviews that day and I started crying. I decided that I'm never reading a review again.
Oh, come on. They couldn't have been that bad.
They were actually quite positive. It's just that they picked up on things that I was insecure about and commented on things that I knew were weaknesses. It was brutal for me.
In your shows and in your band photos, you have a distinct look with the vintage clothes, like collarless shirts, suspenders and vests. Is that something that's important to you?
Nope, that's what we wear. We don't sit down and map out those type of things.
When did you know that the band was working out and that you were gaining an audience?
I think when we found out that people were buying a lot tickets in advance for the shows. That's a cool feeling. Eventually, we started seeing people singing a long, which is wonderful and strange.
What I find great is that you are selling out shows here in America pretty quickly for this tour. Do you understand why? Have you wrapped your head around that?
I have no idea. Our last tour in America was short. This tour is our largest one and it will be interesting to see how it goes. We worked really hard in the U.K. in terms of touring. So I feel that we have earned our success and that it's not hype. It wasn't the labels pushing it or a TV appearance, it was us going out and putting a lot of effort into the shows. We definitely want to have that feeling in America as well with these shows.
You have been living with all these songs for a two-three years now. Are you itching to get back into the studio to work on new material?
We do have three or four new songs that we've been adding to the setlists. We do want to get into the studio before Christmas to get things done.
Last question, are you covered in volcanic ash now?
(laughs) No, I'm not.
Most of this tour is sold out, good luck getting tickets. Sigh No More is out now.