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Q&A: Marcus Mumford on 'Babel,' Bob Dylan, and Missing Out on Skrillex

The Mumford & Sons frontman opens up before their SNL gig in New York

October 11, 2012
Mumford and sons, marcus mumford, mumford & sons, ted dwane, rolling stone, archive, magazine, ben lovett, winston marshall, big easy express
Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons performs at LG Arena on December 7th, 2012 in Birmingham, England.
Steve Thorne/Redferns via Getty

I'm terrified," says Marcus Mumford. He's just arrived at his hotel room in New York, where Mumford & Sons are in town for a Saturday Night Live appearance to promote Babel, their follow-up to 2009's smash Sigh No More. "I hope it broadens our sound a little bit," the singer, 25, says of the new album. "You feel very defensive before it comes out. I'm not going on the Internet. Some people will like it and some people won't, and I'm just getting comfortable with that."

I've heard you like to go for long motorcycle rides when you're on tour. What do you like about it?
Getting out of town and into the countryside is so fun. Because you can get into a monotony on tour that is quite dangerous – you're a hermit. You can live your whole life in air conditioners, so getting fresh air is crucial.

After the year you guys have had, you must get recognized a lot.
Yeah, it can be a bit awkward. I was just getting coffee, and this guy started shouting about our Grammy performance. I was like, "Thanks, man. Keep your voice down!"

Speaking of that Grammy performance with Bob Dylan, have you heard his new album?
Yeah, I like it a lot. He's like a rapper – he just starts ranting and then he doesn't stop. That's cool. I love the song "Long and Wasted Years." It's beautiful.

What's your all-time favorite Dylan line?
"Name me someone that's not a parasite and I'll go out and say a prayer for him" [from "Visions of Johanna"]. I think it's fucking amazing. It's so balls out. It just puts the middle finger up to everyone, including the cynics.

What were you listening to when you made Babel?
We were recording on and off for about eight months, so it was a whole journey. Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams' old stuff. And I got back into Radiohead quite heavily. It just made me fall in love with music again.

Do you have a favorite Radiohead album?
Hail to the Thief, actually.

Unusual choice.
I think it's just genius. It came out at a really important time in my life, when I was in high school, and it introduced me to the art of the album, really. They were the first band that I became obsessive about.

Backstage at a show in Maine this summer, I saw an intense ping-pong match. Are you guys competitive?
Oh, yeah. Ping-pong became the tour sport on this one. Griffin [Goldsmith] from Dawes was the champion; I was number two. We were like Federer and Nadal. My backhand is unbelievable. It's a force to be reckoned with. Your sound seems to be influencing a lot of new bands. Have you noticed that? I've heard some people talk about the Lumineers. I feel bad for them, because we got annoyed being compared to Fleet Foxes all the time. In fact, I think Fleet Foxes are much better than us.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, do you ever listen to Skrillex?
Skrillex is, like, huge, isn't he? I've never heard a Skrillex song. That's how closed-out-in-my-hermit-cycle I've been recently.

Where do you hope the band is in 10 years?
We were talking about that a little bit yesterday. I want to be releasing more records and playing more shows, but we don't have a hunger to be bigger. We're not one of those bands that want to play stadiums. This has all been very accidental, so we're kind of dealing with that as it comes. Whatever – the music industry's so fucking fickle.

This story is from the October 11th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.


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