The phrase “hit the ground running” might have been coined to describe
The British folk rock quartet has literally been on the move with very little time to dither about what direction to take since officially coalescing into a band in 2007.
The four young men who would become Mumford & Sons – Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums, mandolin), Marshall “Country” Winston (vocals, electric banjo, dobro), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion) and Ted Dwane (vocals, double bass) – never dreamed of superstardom and hit albums. Instead, the group grew out of a shared appreciation of country, bluegrass and folk music, as well as a passion for playing live whenever and wherever possible.
Lovett told Pollstar he and Mumford were schoolmates at 7, started a “jazz covers” band at 12, and met Winston at 15.
“When we finished school and could play music a bit more freely, we were all in backing bands for different singers,” Lovett explained. “It was very loose. We were just session players. We didn’t even get paid. That’s when we met Ted. After about 18 months, we decided we’d have a go at it ourselves.”
It was at that point things began moving at lightning speed.
“Basically we went straight out on the road,” he said. “I guess partly because we’d made so many friends through what we’d been doing we got asked to go out on tour even before we’d finished writing enough songs to play a set. And we’ve been pretty much touring ever since.”
That flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants ethic also extends to the songwriting in Mumford & Sons. New tunes go directly into the band’s sets almost the second they’re finished.
“Whoever’s in the frame of mind at the time is writing,” Lovett said. “That goes on kind of a loose rotation. It works out great because we share experiences, but we share the music as well.
“We’ll try a song out at soundcheck to see if it’s ready. We don’t really put much thought into how we play it though. It’s sort of what comes to us naturally.”
The band’s sound, described as everything from “ferocious” folk to “an apocalyptic racket” by the U.K. press when their debut, Sigh No More, broke there last year, took a little more forethought according to Lovett – but not much.
“It wasn’t very cerebral. We certainly weren’t trying to be a folk band – I still don’t think we are. We were just massively influenced by simple songwriting. I suppose out of all the genres, that’s what folk takes pride in most: the joyous simplicity of the songs. Even modern acts like The Avett Brothers or Old Crow Medicine Show are writing songs that have a simple but universal message.
“We weren’t, and we’re still not, trying to create a sound in particular. It’s just that the instruments we picked up lend themselves to those sounds. But we all listen to different stuff. Winston loves rock ’n’ roll. I like a lot of contemporary pop and electronic stuff, as well as jazz and theatrical music.
“Ironically, Ted is the best guitarist in the band, but he’s playing the double bass. It’s a bit of a weird melting pot.”
Mumford & Sons’ impassioned live set made a believer of Billions’ Adam Voith, who told Pollstar he was turned on to the band in early 2009 when a friend sent “a link to something as boring as their MySpace page.”
“I followed them around that year at South by Southwest in Austin, where they played many shows,” Voith explained. “Each time I saw them play a set, I was more impressed. It became my No. 1 priority to work with them.
“The authenticity of the live shows is one of their most winning characteristics. There are a lot of bands that can put on an authentic face, but it’s a thin veil. It’s very clear that this is actually who these guys are. The place they’re coming from is a true place. You can’t miss it, it’s part of the music.”
Despite the group’s success in the U.K. and elsewhere, everyone connected with Mumford & Sons is a little taken aback by the reception they’re getting in North America – even Everybody’s Management’s Adam Tudhope, who’s worked with the band since the very beginning.
“From a business point of view, it’s quite an exception to sell out every show in advance of the gigs,” Tudhope told Pollstar. “It’s pretty extraordinary really, given that they’ve only ever toured here once before as support in small venues. Obviously word of mouth about their shows has spread from the U.K. and Australia.”
Both Tudhope and Voith believe the blanketing strategy the band has used before – even going so far as to play a barge tour of the Thames in order to reach out-of-the-way places – will serve them well here too.
“In the first few discussions I had with them it became very clear to me that they’re not looking to conquer New York City and L.A.,” Voith said. “This is a band that, especially with regard to North America, wants to build a fan base far and wide.
“It’s going to be a balancing act though, because they’re experiencing success worldwide. Every territory would love this band to come play because the shows are so fantastic. It’s a testament to how hard they’re working that they’re playing places like Bloomington, Ind.”
As for the band’s runaway success, Lovett thinks perhaps in the end it comes down to something as simple as honesty.
“We try to write and perform as true to who we are as people as possible – a bunch of guys from London trying to figure out what to do with their lives – without shying away from sensitive issues. Because life isn’t just rock ’n’ roll, you know?”