When Mumford & Sons went on break in the fall of 2013, Marcus Mumford had no idea how long it would last. But the band reconvened just three months later to begin work on Wilder Mind, their stadium-ready third album, due out May 4th. Mumford has mostly kept away from the press since the group initially took time off, but in this interview, he discusses the band's new way of working together, their upcoming summer tour and why they feels closer than ever.
I heard that much of the album has a really expansive, powerful sound. Can you tell me a little bit about how you found it?
Yeah. By the end of our touring cycle that we finished in October 2013, we kind of had dropped some acoustic instruments and started playing with electric instruments [at sound checks] and really left it there. Then we did a demo and then went to [the National guitarist] Aaron Dessner's garage in New York, in Ditmas, and it was really as a result of that song that we went away knowing that we'd come back to a certain sound. It didn't feel like a huge departure in some way, you know? It felt kind of natural to us. It sounds kind of like a jolt or something, but for us it was just where we were headed. We were never too heavily wedded to a certain type of instrument. It was more like a certain type of songwriting, but even that has changed a bit.
You've talked about how the first two albums are sort of companions. Did you know that you wanted to go for something different for the new one?
Yeah, we felt like it was the right time to do that. The first album sort of established us in a certain way with a certain sound, although I think that sound was probably more varied than the singles represented. The songs known by people who haven't seen us live are more banjo-heavy songs, where actually in a set we have songs on both albums that have the same setup that we have on Wilder Mind – they just didn't get as much attention.
One song, "Only Love," had elements that could have been on the previous album, but then when the guitar comes in, it's very powerful.
With acoustic guitars, whenever you hit them, you get back exactly what you put in, whereas with an electric guitar plugged in, with the amp turned loud, you don't actually have to hit it that hard for it to make a big sound. And we'd been experiencing that. Then of course there's the question of control, and the idea of space comes to it more, because you have to be really intentional about the space that you leave. There's also way more space on this record than there was on the last two. And that's certainly intentional: enjoying the space, enjoying the kind of more patient structures of songs. I mean, we play what we wanna play. No one tells us what to do. We're in a very lucky position in that way and it's the same with this album – this is the noise we wanted to make, so we made it.
Were there artists that you were listening to during the making of the album that have done that effectively?
Not specifically. I think all our favorite bands have albums that are really urgent, but they have so much space in them. You listen to an Old Crow album, and there's not a huge amount of space there. But you listen to a Led Zeppelin album and suddenly you actually hear the space because it's more defined by less of the noise going on. All our favorite bands, from Dire Straits and Fleetwood Mac to Radiohead, all go about it in interesting ways, and especially with a very lyrical band like ours, you have to be even more intentional about space.
When I saw you at the Barclays Center, you were playing Radiohead during soundcheck.
They are one of our favorite bands. We have a lot of deep respect for that band. And James [Ford of Simian Mobile Disco] is a great person to guide us through our exploration of more electric sounds and synths and various different electric guitars and basses even some drum machine stuff, which was fun and I guess had been off the table before. This album, there was nothing off the table. In the studio, anyone was able to pick up a synth, or a drum machine, or electric guitar and just create like that – which is a really liberating experience, musically and creatively within the band.
All the songs that I've heard have a lot of turmoil and pain. Was it a painful time for you or certain members of the band?
Yeah, this has more writers on it than the other ones did, so we shared out the lyrics more than we ever have before. We're drawing off of four people's experiences over probably a year-long period, you know? So there was plenty of content and stuff to write songs about.
How did it come to be more collaborative?
I suppose we just wanted to do it like that. And the results were coming through like that: Everyone was writing what we thought were great lyrics. We've always said that it's a competition between songs rather than writers, so it's like, whoever writes it, if it's a good song, it's in. And so the boys kept coming up with a bunch of amazing lyrics that I found really fun to sing, and that was quite a liberating experience too – really enjoying, relishing singing someone else's lyrics. We're all so close now that it feels like it's much easier to empathize with each other than it's ever been, and because we know each other so well, you don't have to ask the awkward questions about what a lyric means.