During Mumford & Sons’ 13 years as a band, Marcus Mumford has rarely done extensive solo sit-down interviews. He likes his band to operate as a democracy writing songs, and doing interviews, together. But Mumford made an exception for our video series, “The Rolling Stone Interview,” which has recently included far-reaching conversations with Sheryl Crow, the Black Keys, and Chris Martin. Laid-back and reflective in his studio, Mumford traces how he formed one of the biggest bands in the world, all while only using acoustic instruments.
The interview happened at Eastcote Studios, where he’s been recording there since he was the drummer for Laura Marling when he was a teenager. As a student at the University of Edinburgh, he traveled to London on weekends to play with Marling, Noah and the Whale, Adele and more. But he couldn’t stay a drummer for long: “You’re kind of nervous that you might get the guitar passed to you,” he said. “But you also kind of want it to happen. It was constantly that cross between adrenaline and fear. And I still live there.”
Marcus describes how his band (keyboardist Ben Lovett, bass player Ted Dwane, and banjo player Winston Marshall) found their sound. Despite being fans of everyone from Radiohead to the Rage Against the Machine, they decided they didn’t need to be loud as soon as they sang: “When the four of us opened our mouths together, we liked how it sounded, and leaned into that.” Writing lyrics in his early days, Marcus drew a lot of influence from the Bible. “It felt like early on, people wanted to put you in a box: ‘You’re a Christian band.’ It certainly isn’t as simple as that.”
Staying together for more than a decade is not easy for a band. Marcus describes it as a marriage. They all write songs together, and also give each other a lot of shit: “Anyone starts taking themselves too seriously, we cut them down a bit,” he says. The band view fame and celebrity skeptically, he said, and he’s never had a public social media account. “I think it can dupe us into feeling like we’re present and connected, when in fact it can lead to a real isolation,” he says of Instagram. “We’re in danger of being more disconnected when we’re using this placebo drug that makes us think we’re more connected … it just eats away at your head, man.”
Today’s connected world “all feels very big,” Mumford says. “I like the idea of small. I like the idea of relational. I mean, I think it’s why we pick the tactile instruments when we first started: the things you could see and touch and feel. I think that’s why we love gigs. Because it’s a moment in time that brings people together for a shared experience. I think real connection and being present feels underrated and undervalued to me, especially in this time we’re in.”
The interview comes at a unique time for Mumford. His band is not on the road right now, after touring extensively behind 2018’s Delta. He’s in studio mode, working on the music for an Apple show by friend Jason Sudeikis, and singing on tracks by other artists. Asked if he might make his first solo album, Mumford says he’s not ruling it out. “We’ve definitely giving each other the blessing to do whatever feels right creatively,” Mumford says. “The idea of co-writes doesn’t scare me at all. It’s quite exciting. It feels like I have a lot of business to do with my instruments and my gear, so I’m excited to lean into that in the next year.”