Mumford & Sons On Plugging In And Turning Up

Mumford & Sons On Plugging In And Turning Up

7:07pm Jun 04, 2015
Mumford & Sons' electrified new album is called Wilder Mind.
Mumford & Sons' electrified new album is called Wilder Mind.
Ty Johnson / Courtesy of the artist

Mumford & Sons made its name and sold well over ten million albums with propulsive, rootsy acoustic music that channeled the spirit of old-time Americana. On their latest album, Wilder Mind, the four Londoners are blasting out with a new sound: the guitars are plugged in, while the trademark banjo, accordion and double bass are nowhere to be found. But there's one change that trumps all the others, according to lead singer Marcus Mumford.

"We've added a drum kit, which we never had before, so that changes the way you can write songs," Mumford says. "You can sit back, play one guitar chord every four bars, and really concentrate on singing. I don't have to be playing drums with my feet, like a kick drum and tambourine. I don't have to be hammering away with my right hand, providing a lot of the percussion. I get to really just sing, which is a real joy for me."

Mumford and his bandmate Winston Marshall spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about embracing of traditional rock instrumentation, weathering the inevitable fan backlash, and watching their songcraft evolve in the process. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit




The group Mumford and Sons - four guys from London - made their name and sold well over 10 million albums with their propulsive, rootsy, acoustic music.


MARCUS MUMFORD: (Singing) And I will wait. I will wait for you.

BLOCK: Now on their new album, they're blasting out with a new sound.


BLOCK: Goodbye, banjo. Goodbye, accordion and double bass. Mumford and Sons have plugged in.


MUMFORD: (Singing) Wide-eyed with a heart made full of fright, your eyes follow like tracers in the night.

BLOCK: Marcus Mumford and band mate Winston Marshall join me from our New York...

WINSTON MARSHALL: Colleague, ma'am - colleague.

MUMFORD: (Laughter).

BLOCK: Colleague.

MARSHALL: Mate sort of implies friendship.

BLOCK: Welcome to the program to you both.

MUMFORD: Hello, Melissa. How're you doing?

MARSHALL: All right.

BLOCK: Doing great, thanks. You know, I've been looking at tweets from some of your fans who sound kind of disenchanted with the new sound. They're tweeting with the hash tag bring back the banjo. And I wonder if that bugs you, Marcus.

MUMFORD: No, it doesn't bug me. I think we definitely feel like playing live is going to be a really important way for people to connect the dots between the first two albums and this third album. But we couldn't afford to do the same thing again. We just didn't want to. We wanted to change our sound a bit, and our songwriting is still, obviously, the same 'cause it comes from the same place. And we just wanted to be honest at the time that we made "Wilder Mind." You know, our taste was more aligned with this kind of instrumentation.


BLOCK: Winston, let me ask you this 'cause you were - you are the banjo guy. And I read an interview with you from last year where you sounded kind of fed up. You suggested just what people could do with the banjo in an obscene way. Did you feel trapped by that sound and those instruments?

MARSHALL: If you read the interview...

BLOCK: Yeah.

MARSHALL: You might notice it was at an after show for something in New York, and it was about 1 in the morning. I was pretty wasted.

MUMFORD: (Laughter).

BLOCK: You didn't mean it, is what you're saying.

MARSHALL: No, I meant it, every word.

MUMFORD: (Laughter).

MARSHALL: But I don't know. You kind of go, like, in and out of different tastes and change. I mean, some people like the same thing forever, but I don't know. We kind of, like, listen to loads of different stuff, and our attention spans aren't good enough. So there was a bit of frustration when you're, like, having to play the same thing all the time because we play all, like, loads of different instruments.

BLOCK: I think it could feel sort of like a straitjacket if people are just expecting you to sound the same way all the time. Did it feel that way to you?

MARSHALL: Not internally. It did feel it a little bit now that the new album's come out, but inside, we always felt like we could do what we want.

MUMFORD: We've been surprised how much people have latched onto and really projected, I think, onto us that kind of instrumentation. I think there's been a lot of talk about, like, one instrument when actually, the main thing about "Wilder Mind," I think, is that we've added the drum kit which we never had before, so that changes the way you can write songs. You can suddenly write to a groove and not have to worry about providing the percussion from, like, the right hand of the banjo player and the acoustic-guitar player. So that totally changes your approach to songwriting and frees you up massively. I think that's kind of a bigger deal than the lack of banjo on this new record.

BLOCK: What does that do for a song, like, say, "Tompkins Square Park"?

MUMFORD: Well, it basically means that, like, as a singer, for example, you can sit back, play it one guitar chord every four bars and really concentrate on singing.


MUMFORD: (Singing) Oh, babe, meet me in Tompkins Square Park. I want to hold you in the dark one last time.

I don't have to be playing drums with my feet, like a kick drum and tambourine. I don't have to be hammering away with my right hand, providing a lot of the percussion. You know, I get to really just kind of sing, which is a real joy for me. I'm loving it, you know? And you get to enjoy this groove going on behind you. So there's a lot of energy coming from the back that you don't have to provide yourself when you're, you know, providing the percussion track, basically.

MARSHALL: And from a writing point of view, that's song's a good example where the groove means that melodically, you can have more space. That song has a lot of space in it where there's not singing at all, where, even within the melody, there's a lot more space between the parts and the melody, and it kind of can be stretched out. And that's because you can sit behind the groove and just kind of enjoy the groove of it.


MUMFORD: (Singing) Oh, babe, I really wish you would not cry. I only ever told you one lie when it could have been a thousand.

BLOCK: Is there another song where you feel like because there's more space for the instruments to breathe in there, that it came out in a really different way than it would have before?

MUMFORD: Yeah. There's a song on the record called "Monster" which is basically played to a drum loop which was two drum kits me and the producer James Ford in the studio both played together at the same time and then a guitar part that I wrote when I was literally in the guitar store at the end of our tour in 2013.


MUMFORD: Winny and I went to a great guitar shop in Chicago.

BLOCK: I'm sorry. Who went with you?

MUMFORD: Winston and I. Winston, who's sat with me here.

MARSHALL: Hey (laughter).

BLOCK: You call him Winny.

MUMFORD: Winny, yeah, yeah. We call him plenty of different things. And we sat in this guitar store, and I picked up this electric guitar - the first electric guitar I bought - and played it for, like, three hours in the store and wrote the guitar part for "Monster" which - that has a lot of space in it.


MUMFORD: It was something we really enjoyed doing, you know? I mean, it's almost like being in a brand new band again. It's almost like being a teenager again.

BLOCK: Really?

MUMFORD: You know, when you first get in the garage and you're like, oh, cool, like, you know, there's a drum kit; let's - you know, it was that - we had the same kind of enthusiasm and passion for our instruments as we would being, like, 16-year-olds, which is really fun when we've been a hard-touring band, you know? We really had a breath of fresh air, and really enjoyed making this album. And it also, I think, means that we kind of have a free future ahead of us as a band, you know? I think we could make whatever kind of music we want to make. And if we weren't able to do that, we'd just stop. You know, we wouldn't be a band, I don't think.

BLOCK: Do you guys get tired of talking about the new sound and people who keep harping about the banjo?

MARSHALL: No. Let's talk more about it.


MARSHALL: I think we feel like have a responsibility to explain a bit of what we're doing. But also, there's only so much talking, and we're not very good at talking anyway. So there's only so much that can sort of get you so far, and eventually, you've just got to play. So we're kind of at the stage now where we feel like we can't quite explain it to people. They've just got to hear it. And the best way to hear it, I think, is live, so...

MUMFORD: We're gearing out to get on a bus tonight and stay on that bus, basically, for 18 months. So still, it feels like kind of the story of this album's just starting, and I feel like playing it live is at least half, if not more, of that story. So there's a lot more to come, I think, from this album for people, hopefully.

BLOCK: Well, Marcus and Winston, enjoy the tour. Thanks for talking with us.

MUMFORD: Thank you, Melissa.

MARSHALL: Thank you.

BLOCK: Marcus Mumford and Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons - the new album is "Wilder Mind."


MUMFORD: (Singing) But this is all I ever was, and this is all you came across those years ago. Now you go too far. Don't tell me that I've changed because that's not the truth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Support your
public radio station