Marcus Mumford doesn’t get nervous a lot. But he admits he’s a little apprehensive the day before Mumford & Sons release their fourth album, Delta, and launch a 63-date arena tour. The band spent months working on the LP, looking for a balance between the folk singalongs of its first two albums and 2015’s plugged-in Wilder Mind. A new single, “Guiding Light,” combines acoustic strumming with a dance beat; elsewhere, the group pulled from its love of electronic music and hip-hop.
“Our hope is that people enjoy it with us, but we know not always everyone will,” Mumford says, calling from Dublin after a rehearsal. “If you try to pander to some audience, you can lead yourself awry. I hope it pushes the boundaries of what people choose to define us as.” A few days after our conversation, Delta will go to Number One.
Few bands are as divisive as Mumford & Sons. You’re either loved or hated. Have you ever thought about why that is?
We became successful quite quickly, and that certainly puts me off bands sometimes. I’m sure a lot of people think our music is really shit. I believe in taste — I don’t want to just out-and-out disagree with them. But writing a band off just because of their reputation disappoints me. I still feel like we’re pretty privileged to be in the position we’re in.
Were you surprised when Wilder Mind, where you ditched the banjos, got mixed reviews?
No, I wasn’t. But the response to those songs live has been wicked. I think people are starting to realize we all have ADHD and never stand still for too long. I hope that people are up for the ride, even if there’s a record or two they don’t like.
Do you ever see the band returning to the stripped-down sound of your first two albums?
We did on this record, if you listen to “Wild Heart.” Instrumentation seems to be more important to the media than it is to us. We don’t think about it nearly as much as we have to talk about it.
Ben Lovett, the band’s keyboard player, said this album is “about the four D’s: death, divorce, drugs and depression.” What were you going through personally?
[Writing] this record, I had two kids and I sat with my grandmother as she died. They all came quite close to each other. I also saw Grenfell Tower burning from my window in North Kensington in London [72 people died in the June 2017 fire]. I became very close to a lot of the survivors, and that changed my life. They’re some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.
Do you think your personality is suited to being famous?
When you sign up to be a musician, you never think through the repercussions if you become successful. You’re just expected to be good at it all straight away. Bruno Mars seems like he was born for that shit. The Gallaghers don’t give a fuck. But I certainly feel like I’ve had to try to get better at it.
How have you pulled that off, if it’s not something you’re naturally good at?
Our first tour manager told us, “If you ever become successful, you have two choices: You can surround yourself with people who only say yes to you, and you will become a cunt. Or you can surround yourself with people who are willing to say no, and you can avoid that pitfall.” And he was right. We’re honest with each other. That’s led to massive disagreements, but that’s just how a relationship should work. Democracy is slow and can be quite boring, but as Churchill said, it’s the least-worst form of government.
Last spring, you were caught on camera yawning at the royal wedding. What was that like?
Hugely embarrassing, obviously. I got more text messages for that than I got for headlining Glastonbury. It was a long morning. I was convinced that there wouldn’t be many cameras on us, because there’s all these fucking famous people in the room. I said to my wife [actress Carey Mulligan] at one point, “Give me a smooch, babe.” She goes, “No way, there’s cameras everywhere.” And then, of course, they caught me yawning. Amazing wedding, though.
How are you friends with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, anyway?
Privately. That’s probably all I’ll say about that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from one of your heroes?
I was in a bar with Noel Gallagher last year, and I say, “I’m taking a break. I’m finding it hard to write.” He’s like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Go write a fucking song!” The next week, I wrote “Delta” and “Guiding Light,” because Noel Gallagher told me to get off my ass.
The Onion has written stories about you with headlines like “Mumford & Sons Take Home Coveted ‘Vest of the Year’ Grammy.” Do you ever get sick of that old-timey image?
The first photo shoots we did, we didn’t really think about what we were wearing. We were kind of goofing about a bit. That ends up being your image. We grew up playing heavy-metal guitar, and then suddenly we’re the banjo guys.