We just make the mu­sic we want to... we’ll keep do­ing that

Mum­ford & Sons – on tour to pro­mote their fourth al­bum – revel in their new-found cre­ative free­dom

The Herald Magazine - - Arts MUSIC - ALEX GREEN

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 are mid­way through a 60-date world tour (which in­cluded the Glas­gow SSE Hy­dro last month) 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 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. Mar­shall is con­tem­pla­tive and whim­si­cal, while singer and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist 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 singer Mar­cus Mum­ford, the 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 + 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 banjo-for­ward 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 “self-serv­ing” 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,” Mum­ford 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 Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists in late 2016, Mum­ford 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.”

Mum­ford is still 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 Mum­ford’s se­cond child with his wife, ac­tress Carey Mul­li­gan, a mar­riage that has at­tracted most of the 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, Mum­ford 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. But I think be­ing away from fam­ily is some­thing you have to do when you work.”

The 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 a band and “more a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween four song­writ­ers”, Lovett 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,” Lovett says. “We kind of just got used to it.”

Three years ago, Mum­ford & Sons re­leased Wilder Mind, where they

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