We make the mu­sic we want to make

Nearly 10 years af­ter they shot to fame with Sigh No More, Mum­ford & Sons re­main a fix­ture on the global tour­ing cir­cuit. The four-piece speak to ALEX GREEN about love, death and that di­vi­sive third al­bum

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RID­ING high af­ter fin­ish­ing their fourth al­bum and half­way through record­ing their fifth, Mum­ford & Sons are at a cross­roads. Look­ing back, the folk rock­ers recog­nise a time they were re­stricted by the mu­sic that made them fa­mous. Look­ing for­ward, they see a 60-date world tour and a new-found cre­ative free­dom.

“We are in a par­tic­u­larly fer­tile, cre­ative time,” the band’s ban­joist and lead gui­tarist Win­ston Mar­shall says while sit­ting at a worn wooden ta­ble, tucked away up­stairs at a bar in south Lon­don.

A few hun­dred peo­ple sit, eat and drink be­low in Flat Iron Square, a space that has be­come a cul­tural hub for the four-piece.

Over the course of an hour, mem­bers of the band traipse in and out of the room. Win­ston is con­tem­pla­tive and whim­si­cal, while singer and mul­ti­in­stru­men­tal­ist Ben Lovett sits be­hind sun­glasses as he shares the story of how he came to own Omeara, the venue he opened in one of the seven rail­way arches dom­i­nat­ing Flat Iron Square.

Then comes Mar­cus Mum­ford, name­sake and de facto leader of the group, and, af­ter him, bassist Ted Dwane. Both seem clear-minded, pre­sum­ably fo­cused by the com­ple­tion of their fourth stu­dio al­bum, Delta.

Recorded with su­per pro­ducer and “mad ge­nius” Paul Ep­worth (Adele, Ri­hanna, Florence And The Ma­chine) in Lon­don’s Church Stu­dios, the al­bum sees the group set­tle into their new iden­tity as post-Amer­i­cana troubadour­s.

Af­ter two al­bums of ban­jo­for­ward rab­ble-rous­ing songs and one of un­ob­jec­tion­able indie rock, the group’s lat­est ef­fort sees them em­brace a wider range of sounds.

Their most re­cent ef­fort was in­flu­enced by the idea of “self­serv­ing” mod­ern love, the power of na­ture and, most poignantly, the spec­tre of death.

“I’ve felt much closer to death over the last cou­ple of years,” Mar­cus says as he puffs in­ter­mit­tently on an e-cig­a­rette. “Partly per­son­ally, my fam­ily, but also with some trips with the char­ity War Child, who I am an am­bas­sador for.”

Af­ter re­turn­ing from a trip to Mo­sul, a city in north­ern

Iraq lib­er­ated from IS in late 2016, Mar­cus looked out the win­dow of his west Lon­don home to see Gren­fell Tower burn­ing.

“Like most of the com­mu­nity who live in that part of the city, I went down and stayed in­volved. That’s re­ally, prop­erly changed my life,” he de­clares.

“I’ve been lis­ten­ing lots and I’m start­ing to do a bit more.

It’s been very af­fect­ing.”

Since then, Mar­cus has re­mained in­volved, help­ing the sur­vivors of the fire that claimed 72 lives. He raised money through char­ity foot­ball matches and con­tin­ues to work with Gren­fell United, a group sup­port­ing sur­vivors and griev­ing fam­i­lies.

Delta was also in­flu­enced by the birth of Mar­cus’s sec­ond child with his wife, ac­tress Carey Mul­li­gan, a mar­riage that has at­tracted the lion’s share of me­dia at­ten­tion around the band.

“The stakes get higher. I think it prob­a­bly ex­pands your ca­pac­ity for em­pa­thy,” he says of his child’s birth last year.

“Es­pe­cially see­ing other peo­ple’s chil­dren in re­ally hard sit­u­a­tions.”

Asked about the ef­fect of the band’s gru­elling tour sched­ule on his fam­ily life, Mar­cus re­mains prag­matic.

“It’s no more dif­fi­cult than any other job,” he in­sists. “I don’t think we have any com­plaints in that sense. It looks dif­fer­ent be­cause we are away for longer chunks than if we had nine-to-five jobs in Lon­don,” he adds.

“But I think be­ing away from fam­ily is some­thing you have to do when you work.”

This al­bum also

sees the group col­lab­o­rat­ing more freely. In­stead of the usual set-up – one front­man, gui­tarist, bass player and drum­mer – Mum­ford & Sons ro­tate their roles. The group are less of a band and “more of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween four song­writ­ers than it is like a nor­mal band dy­namic”, Ben ex­plains.

This may be one of the rea­sons they are so happy to poke fun at their choice of name, which por­trays the group as a one-man band. In the past they’ve called it “rub­bish”.

“The name is for sure a mis­nomer but it feels like it’s us now,” Ben clar­i­fies. “We kind of just got used to it.”

Three years ago, Mum­ford & Sons re­leased Wilder Mind, where they es­chewed the folk sound to which they owe their suc­cess.

In­stead, they recorded an al­bum of what many crit­ics con­sid­ered mild-man­nered indie rock.

The re­cep­tion was luke­warm and some­times scathing, and Wilder Mind sold only 500,000 copies – one mil­lion less than their charts-slay­ing de­but Sigh No More.

But on Delta the band have dusted off the ban­jos, the source of both their suc­cess and also some ridicule by parts of the press.

Now, they are us­ing the in­stru­ment in sub­tler ways. Delta is a com­plex, multi-lay­ered af­fair that could only have been made in the wake of Wilder Mind.

But the group have no re­grets, deny­ing that their third record even di­vided their fan base.

Mar­cus sug­gests it was only the press who had been sur­prised by their change of di­rec­tion.

“The more we played it, the more peo­ple have un­der­stood it. I think you are al­ways a cou­ple of years ahead of your au­di­ence,” he main­tains.

“I don’t think peo­ple should have been so sur­prised and I don’t think our au­di­ence were. It was more the press.”

As the con­ver­sa­tion draws to a close, Ben says: “We just make the mu­sic we want to make. We did that with Ba­bel, and Wilder Mind, and that’s what we are do­ing now,” he de­clares.

“It’s not so bi­nary, where we are mov­ing to­wards or away from one thing. To us it feels much more three-di­men­sional.”

Mum­ford & Sons, from left, Win­ston Mar­shall, Mar­cus Mum­ford, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane

Mum­ford and Sons’ al­bum Delta

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