Magazine arts show. Mumford & Sons talk to Lynn Barber about becoming an international super group and their varied influences and tastes.
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This programme contains some strong language
Come on, then, Glastonbury!
You've probably heard of Mumford & Sons.
They're one of the biggest bands in the world.
# And I will hold on hope
# I won't let you choke... #
They started in a London pub almost ten years ago,
reviving a fashion for English folk music.
# Tremble for yourself, my man,
# You know that you have seen this all before... #
But recently they've ditched their distinctive banjo sound
for something more hard-edged.
# Stare down at the wonder of it all
# And I... #
This is an important year for them.
They've toured three continents
and in July will headline at London's Hyde Park.
And this month they release a new album,
recorded in Johannesburg with one of Africa's most revered musicians.
I feel a sort of possessive interest in the Mumfords,
because their lead singer, Marcus Mumford,
is married to the actress Carey Mulligan, who played me
in the film of my life, An Education,
so I've always kept a sort of maternal eye on their career.
They rarely give interviews, but they've agreed to speak to me.
So, I'm meeting up with Marcus...
-Thanks for coming.
-Nice to meet you.
Oh, sorry! THEY LAUGH
Did we get that?
DJEMBES ARE PLAYED
VERSE SUNG IN PULAAR
Mumford & Sons are rehearsing at Maidstone Studios in Kent.
They are preparing for the first UK performance of songs written
with their recent collaborators.
# I know I love you now,
# But will I love you then?
# You can see in my eyes
# It doesn't really matter
# Cos man, I'm cold
# Man, I'm toothless
# My love, my heart is so suddenly useless... #
It's the first time they played together
since a sell-out tour of South Africa earlier this year.
SINGING IN PULAAR
Joining them on tour was Senegalese singer Babba Maal.
BAABA SINGS IN PULAAR
Is he like a, sort of, charismatic sort of guru figure?
I think Baaba, despite the fact that he looks,
-like, 20 years old, he's actually in his 60s and...
-Is he? 60s?
-Yeah, and he's just got so much experience.
But also he is a sort of political, cultural leader.
Yeah, and he's iconic, so you just know that, yeah, when he opens
his mouth to talk or to sing, you know you've got to listen, so...
Do you think, sort of, African music is the way to go now,
cos you've, sort of, shopped around a bit with...
..with musical styles, but, I mean, are you now committed to...?
It was more of the human connection than the, sort of,
pursuit of an African journey.
The music is, kind of, our way of just bonding further with these
people and it's not so much like a journey into Africa for us.
It's more like Africa just happened to be the centre of where
these new friendships are kind of...
-We're pretty slutty with our tastes as well.
Yeah, we get around quite a lot, so we have a pretty broad taste,
especially amongst the four of us.
-We like a lot of different types of music.
But that leads to accusations that you're inauthentic,
because it's very sort of pick and mix, you know,
you start being folk and then you...
Yeah, and I think we're of the generation where music,
world music especially, is massively more accessible to us than it
might have been to our parents' generation because of the internet.
And so you can listen to any type of music you want to
at the click of a button now.
You don't have to go to a special record store to go
and pick up, you know...
But it's a bit phoney if you're sort of,
"Oh, this week's Cuban music," "You know, next week..."
-Do know what I mean?
-I wouldn't call it phoney, no. I think it's being enthusiastic...
I value that music because it comes from a very specific location
and then, as it were, you float in and say,
"Oh, we're going to be African", or...
Maybe only lyrically, if we started singing like,
"Yeah, we're actual...we're Cubans"
and we started saying that, that would mean...
That would be a bit...
-Yeah, melody, it, kind of, doesn't, I don't think it is attached to any country.
-It's not like were going in and pretending to be African all of a sudden.
We're still being ourselves and using our songwriting, but just marrying it
with other musical cultures, marrying it with different rhythms, for example,
so the rhythms that we've explored on the songs on this mini-album
that we've done, Johannesburg, are rhythms that we wouldn't
have used probably on a Mumford & Sons album, but were introduced to us
through collaboration with players from different places.
And so that, sort of, broadens our spectrum in terms of, like, our...
And we like it.
We don't see any reason why we should be restricted to what we necessarily grew up with.
I mean, we grew up playing jazz.
-You know, and we're not a jazz band.
-You were at school together.
-He grew up playing heavy metal.
-He grew up playing blues.
But folk was how you, sort of, started from that?
Yeah, as a band, it was, yeah.
# Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine
# Together we can see what we will find
# Don't leave me alone at this time
# For I am afraid of what I will discover inside... #
We were all playing, sort of, acoustic instruments
and were in London at the same time all together
and started with that.
Everyone was playing every type of instrument playing, like,
banjos and we were, kind of, the backing band to a lot of bands.
-Kept getting fired, though.
-Kept getting fired.
-Was Laura Marling the, sort of, glue in the beginning?
-A huge part of that.
-Huge part of that.
# Your beauty is beyond compare
# With flaming locks of auburn hair
# Ivory skin and eyes of emerald green... #
When we did finally become a band,
she brought us on tour for a long time.
Our first US tour.
First couple of UK runs...
She was very generous with our band.
# Jolene, Jolene, Jolene... #
In 2009, the band self-financed their debut album, Sigh No More.
# Cos you told me that I would find a hope
# Within the fragile substance of my soul
# And I have filled this void with things unreal... #
It sold millions, was nominated for the Mercury music prize
and won Album of the Year at the Brit Awards.
Everything got much bigger,
quicker than we had expected or ever imagined.
What do you mean, in terms of scale...
We never really thought that hard about the name of the band or any of those kind of things.
And you've said, that you regret that the name Mumford & Sons
because it singles you out.
Well, you just don't... When you're starting out as a band, like,
21-year-olds in a pub in London, you...
You just don't think!
You don't imagine ever getting much further than Brighton.
And then, suddenly, we had this thing that we were kind of,
not uncomfortable with, but stuck with,
and we didn't like being stuck in a hole.
# But it was not your fault, but mine
# And it was your heart on the line ... #
fresh off the farm in hay carts or something,
that had become a bit of an exaggerated stance and...
It came up in every interview we were doing.
-And we were aware of the problems...
What, you were being accused of being sort of...
Not really accused, just people talked about it a lot.
We had taken photographs in 2007, just wearing whatever we had lying
around - suddenly became the image that was projected around
-You were stuck with?
-Way more than we had expected it to be.
And all of our singles that were on the radio
-had pretty prominent banjo parts...
And that was the kind of most recognisable instrument to people.
So people just kept using the word "banjo" around us
and kept talking about, you know, exactly the things that you
just said and we thought it was quite funny, so we decided to
parody it with some friends who we thought were really funny.
With that video, you blew it apart.
Sort of took the mickey out of your own
folksy, English hayseed image.
And that showed that you were aware that you had maybe gone as far
as you could go down that path and you were ready for another path?
Wasn't comedy, but, yeah!
# And my ears hear the call of my unborn sons
# And I know my choices colour all I've done... #
In 2013, you announced an indefinite hiatus
-and it was obviously a bit of a traumatic year...
-May I just jump in?
Because that was a quote that came from me having a conversation
with a journalist from The Rolling Stone America.
-And I said, "We are going to take some time off.
"And what it definitely isn't is an indefinite hiatus."
Oh, really! SHE LAUGHS
-And so, that got taken and then
the words "indefinite hiatus" were inverted, as is the way.
So ... Yeah, no, we never felt like we were taking an indefinite hiatus.
We just thought that after what was by that point, five or six
-years on the road...
-You needed a break?
-It would be good to take a couple of months out.
-I think we were... We were just exhausted.
-I think it's like, most bands
do generally have a little rest every now and then.
And it never occurred to us to do that.
Until 2013. Whenever it was, yes.
But you actually said, it's all over and then your PRs picked it up
and said, oh, no!
So, did you actually think it was all over?
I genuinely got into the catering industry.
And had a great time.
What were you going to do as a caterer?
Well, the business itself didn't go very well,
but I took a lot of joy out of it and...
-Well, we were just continuing the cycle.
Well, no, talking about the time that we ...
Inevitably, the band's personal lives have also been
the subject of press attention.
I noticed a photograph of you and Carey Mulligan on the Tube,
-And I mean, that sounds like a daring thing to do, was it?
Did it feel like that?
No, it doesn't feel very, no, it doesn't feel very daring.
-Yeah. We make pretty intentional choices so we don't have to ...
Because we want to play music, we don't want to be famous.
Well, our reason for doing this is just to play music.
People who do want to be famous maintain that I hate being famous,
but I can't help it that outside my hotel are a billion girls
screaming their heads off. But actually, I always believed
that the PR has summoned the screaming girls, as it were.
There are decisions you can make to intentionally try
and avoid that stuff.
Yeah, but, screaming girls ...
Do you know that your wife played me in a film?
I did know that.
-I did know that.
-And does she happy memories of that?
-She does, indeed.
# With a heart made full of fright... #
Well, then you slightly reinvented yourselves for Wilder Mind,
And all started turning up in motorcycles
and leather jackets and trying to look not banjo-y.
As it were.
# You better keep the wolf back from the door
# He wanders ever closer every night... #
Was that a sort of conscious decision,
or were you just a bit, you were saying let's try something new?
It's been well-documented that we have worn leather jackets
for our entire musical careers.
-Oh, you have?!
No, it was one of those things, we...
After having that hiatus that was indefinite or definite,
whatever, we just created space and time to write
and it was the first time we had really done that as a band.
So, inevitably, we were going to evolve.
And it wasn't, I don't know, it wasn't
really a reactionary thing, it was just an inevitability, I think.
# Hold my gaze love, you know I want to let it go
# We will stare down at the wonder of it all... #
Am I right in saying Wilder Mind was a more considered album,
that you spent more time over, is that right?
With the writing of the album, we had a lot of time to
reflect on lyrics, but at the same time,
a lot of the origination of a lot of those lyrics was
stream of consciousness, very quick and then they stuck.
Do you have any sort of, voting system, as it were,
saying, I like that line and I think that's rubbish?
-I mean, how does that work?
-Yeah, we do. We've had to...
I think it has taken us a few albums to get better at it, as well.
-Now we will feel a bit more secure around each other to be able
to say, I love you, dude, but that's a crap line!
Cos it's quite a vulnerable thing, you know, offering up what
you've created to someone for them to criticise it to your face.
And once a lyric got all four of us to sign off, then it was a keeper.
A lot of Shakespeare gets in, doesn't it? Um...
Well, it's free!
You can just nick it, it's great.
Can I please ask what the lyrics of Little Lion Man are?
# Weep for yourself, my man
# You'll never be what is in your heart... #
-CROWD SINGS ALONG
-# And weep, little lion man
# You're not as brave as you were at the start
# Well, rate yourself and rake yourself
# Take all the courage you have left
# And waste it on fixing all the problems that you made
# In your own head... #
I mean, do you get people writing theses
-on the meaning of your lyrics?
-Cos I've been sort of
going through them, thinking, "What does that mean?"
I get phone calls from my mum. She's like, "Is everything OK?"
-No, it didn't make me think that, but why Little Lion Man?
-Whose...? Was that you, Marcus?
-Er, I think it was, yeah.
-I think it was me.
-Little "lie-in" man, cos...
-I love a lie-in.
-..he was always oversleeping and missing bus call.
Oh, OK, cos I read something about it was from Chretien de Troyes
and it was, er, I don't know, a medieval saga or something.
-Anyway, to get back to...
-That sounds cool!
-Let's say that, yeah, yeah!
Can you write that down?
# It's not your fault, but mine
# And it was your heart on the line
# I really fucked it up this time
# Didn't I, my dear?
# Didn't I, my...dear? #
You're keen on touring and touring leads to collaboration,
because you meet other interesting musicians.
-Do you find it sort of musically nourishing to...?
I think this band, ultimately, is a collaboration in its own way.
You know, we just consider ourselves to be four collaborators
and so we welcome people to the party.
They've played with musical giants
like Ray Davies, Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan and, every year,
host a series of festivals in places off the usual gig circuit.
-You all right?
We're very excited to be here in Lewes!
The line-up has included bands like The Flaming Lips,
the Foo Fighters and The Vaccines.
We love collaborating with all types of artists and some you
would've never heard of and some you might've done, but for us,
it's just meeting a new person with their own stories
and own skills and you make music together and it's a really...
-It is a very kind of enriching experience.
HE SINGS IN PULAAR
Their collaboration with Baaba Maal
is one of their most adventurous to date.
He has been singing for over four decades, is one of Senegal's finest
musicians and, in his home country, is regarded as a cultural leader.
I was very, very surprised to see these guys, er...
to be very, very open,
not just on the music, but like, human beings,
because they go easily to people to talk to them
and, er, to their audience, when Marcus jumps on the stage,
and go into the audience, and to go give himself to the audience,
it's something... it's an example of that.
When I see them, with their crew that they're working with,
it's not just the people who come to work for you,
it's the people who go together in a kind of process, in a project.
This is everything that I saw in these guys
and I think this is why we became friends, because they were
very open, very respectable to me and to all these people.
# There is a time, a time to love
# A time to sing, a time to shine
# A time to leave A time to stay... #
As soon as he opened his mouth to sing something,
he has everyone's attention and then, that really led us
to making this song that we made, like...
-We had a few chords we started playing around with
and, when something inspires him, he starts singing
and you've got to press record, cos that'll be it, you know,
all in one take, then, as a result of what he's sang over a few chords
we're playing around with, we then wrote the whole song...
-..There Will Be Time.
CHANTS IN PULAAR
SINGS IN PULAAR
And you actually recorded an EP in two days flat?
I mean, that is extraordinary, isn't it? Is that normal?
It was... Yeah, er... Well, er, I don't know if it's normal.
-It's not normal for us.
It was the first time we'd done something that quickly.
Does is it make a sort of spontaneity?
Yeah, and it gives you an urgency that you might not get
if you were in some fancy studio in London...
-..or in Los Angeles for weeks on end, you know.
We're just in somewhere which is pretty restricted technology-wise,
in terms of the studio itself, like a lot of stuff we had to bring in...
-..recording gear and stuff like that.
And also, the fact that we had two days to try and do four songs,
which we did, we just worked really hard
and there weren't any distractions, cos we were basically in a bunker...
-..and, er, and, yeah, it was really exciting.
-You seem to be writing the lyrics sort of on the hoof?
-Yeah, we did.
-Yeah, we did a lot.
-Perhaps that's why
I can't understand what they mean? LAUGHTER
HE SINGS IN PULAAR
# In the cold light I learn to love and adore you
# It's all that I am It's all that I have
# And in the cold light, I live I'll only live for you
# It's all that I am It's all that I have... #
SINGING IN PULAAR
But isn't this thing, and with some of these world music things
that you've been talking about, that you have to be authentic,
you have to sort of be in that world, and - shock, horror -
-when Bob Dylan played, um, electric music...
..it sort of felt like people's world falling apart.
-There's a lot of examples of that.
-A hell of a lot of examples in jazz music.
A lot of people thought, every time someone came out with something new,
whether it was swing, or bebop, or fusion, it was always, like,
-"You're a heretic!"
"torn down the walls that we've got to know and trust!"
-And we were this tight little gang!
-Yeah, so, actually...
But those were some of the biggest heroes of those supposed genres,
-right, so Dylan is still regarded as one of the best...
..kind of folk musician storytellers of our time.
Miles Davis, who constantly broke down those laws. Or Charlie Parker.
You know, I think, for us, we just want to make sure we're constantly
being honest about our expression and we're making music that
we like and we care about, rather than necessarily serving...
-..to sort of whatever people think they want to hear from us.
-You know, we're taking the front foot with our music
and, hopefully, we'll always do that.
Isn't it you who said something about you hate the banjo,
but also, you love the banjo?
I mean, what...? LAUGHTER
I've got a very short attention span.
-Oh, OK! So you can hate it...
-So I love it again now!
Oh, do you? OK! LAUGHTER
Now I hate it. ..Now I love it!
SINGING IN PULAAR
# There is a time, a time to love
# A time to sing, a time to shine
# A time to play, a time to work
# There is a time, a time to cry
# A time to love, a time to live
# There is a time, a time to sing
# A time to love... #
I read somewhere that you're meant to be collaborating with Kanye West?
Is that going to happen? SOFT LAUGHTER
He hasn't called us back!
So, basically, forget it, I would say!
Well, thank you. Thank you all very much.
I very much enjoyed meeting you.
-Thank you very much.
-MUSIC STOPS, CHEERING
In a rare interview, Mumford & Sons talk to Lynn Barber about becoming an international super group, their varied influences and tastes and their ongoing collaborations with musical giants.
In 2016 they have toured three continents, will headline at London's Hyde Park, and in June release a new album, Johannesburg, recorded with Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal.