Entertainment

Mumford & Sons reinvent their sound with 'Wilder Mind'

By Jane Stevenson, Postmedia Network

Wilder Mind is a suitably metaphoric title for British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons’ latest album.

The group, previously known for their stripped-down energetic bluegrass, have ditched the banjo and other acoustic instruments on their third disc, with new producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence the Machine) on board to help create a more synthesized rock-pop sound.

And while it’s not quite the same moment as when Dylan “went electric” with The Band back in the mid-’60s, there are similarities given Mumford & Sons won the 2013 best album Grammy for their second disc, Babel.

So much for, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’

“Change was necessary,” said lead singer Marcus Mumford with lead guitarist Winston Marshall at his side during a recent visit to Toronto.

“I think we had to change. I think we had to do something different because we wanted to get towards being a proper band quicker.”

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And they weren’t before?

“A proper band, I think, do lots of different things and express themselves in lots of different ways and can explore different genres of music and still have an identity,” explained Mumford, with his leg up on a chair after tearing a ligament playing soccer.

“I think we were a new band before. I think we want to be an established band, which means that we will have explored more musical territory than what we did on (their 2009 debut) Sigh No More and Babel.”

Hopefully, the fans “will come with us,” said Mumford. “Some people won’t and that’s fine. We don’t NEED everyone to like us.”

Marshall, who recently took over the band’s Instagram page by employing “lots of middle fingers,” says the change occurred after exploring new sounds at bassist Ted Dwane’s London studio and then at the Brooklyn studio of The National’s Aaron Dessner after meeting the group earlier in Chicago.

“This (record) was having the time off that we weren’t stuck to those (acoustic) instruments we had in soundcheck or whatever,” said Marshall. “We could actually pick up electric or synth or random toys, new pedals, and f--- around with them. So actually this is us completely free from those shackles of writing on the road.”

The songwriting process was more democratic too, after Mumford wrote most of the lyrics on the first two albums, with Marshall in particular really feeling inspired for Wilder Mind.


“He was doing loads of writing, the rest of us were being a bit lazy,” said Mumford looking at Marshall.

“I think I was probably a bit more burnt out than you were, just ‘cause his stamina on the road is like ridiculous.”

Added Marshall with a laugh: “I don’t do much on stage, you do f---ing (more).”

“I didn’t play any instruments for like three months,” continued Mumford. “I listened to music for the first time in a long time. Quite a lot Springsteen, quite a lot of Radiohead, I was listening to a lot of demos for (London-based) Christian Letts, ‘cause I produced his album straight after that, stuff like that. No music with acoustic guitars in it. ‘Cause just naturally when you do something every day for six years, or whatever, you want variety, and as a music fan, I got my vinyl collection out, which I don’t take on the road with me, and I listened to Neil Young’s first record... And then by the time we got back together, we sort of met up in February last year, just over a year ago, and sat down to write together and (Winston) produced like 10 amazing songs and we were sort of like, ‘Oh, Win’s been busy.’ And the rest of us really didn’t have that much to show for it. So then we started the process, and those songs really helped us. (He) spearheaded the writing.”

Marshall said it was Dessner’s influence more than anything that inspired him.

“Near the end of touring Babel, Aaron Dessner invited us into his studio in Brooklyn, and we’re massive National fans, he’s really inspiring, I couldn’t believe he invited us,” said Marshall.

“So in August 2013, before our last tour, we got into the studio in the last couple of days, got drunk, played all the songs we had stored up inside us ... and THAT moment — having all these songs, high energy, and drums and stuff, keys – that was quite important for us so that when we went away on our hiatus, we knew there was something exciting to come back to.”

Added Mumford: “We’d just bought new guitars as well so we were all quite excited.”

Mumford & Sons, rounded out by keyboardist Ben Lovett, also changed producers for Wilder Mind after using Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork, Coldplay) on their first two records.

“We sort of looked at the songs that we had and thought about who would help us out,” said Mumford of using Ford over Dravs.

“It’s slightly sensitive because we’re still massive fans of Markus Dravs and he’s a really great friend of ours and he came to our show in London. And (he’s) somebody we’d like to work with again but in the same way that actors don’t do every movie with the same director, it’s the same for making this album. There was a point where we were like, ‘Okay, who would we like to try doing this with, James was like at top of our list and so we asked him and thankfully he said, ‘Yeah, I'll give it a go.’ Very (understated) English. We played him like 30 songs and he said, ‘There’s three great songs there.’”

Wilder Mind is available May 4.

MUMFORD & SONS' LIVE SHOWS WILL BE DIFFERENT

Mumford & Sons like to keep fans, and themselves, on their toes.

So if their recent surprise show at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace in front of 600 concertgoers (myself included) back in early April is any indication of what their handful of larger Canadian outdoor and arena shows will be like this summer, you can expect to hear almost all of the new songs off their electric third album, Wilder Mind.

They played 11 of the 12 new songs in just under an hour.

“It’s f----ing hard work for the audience,” said frontman Marcus Mumford of the experience. “And quite hard work for us. No one’s heard the songs so it’s quite a challenge for the audience. And we’re really having to push our performance to engage people and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And it’s really good training. It’s like doing weights or it’s like sparring or something.”

But what about older songs? Will they be re-imagined and plugged in?

“We haven’t actually tried them out yet,” said Mumford at the time. “We’ll go home to rehearse and try and answer that very question... I think once we put the new songs next to ones that people recognize and know, I think sonically it’ll work because we plug in and play pretty loud, like we hit our guitars and pianos and banjos pretty hard. It’ll be fun to do the variety and now having three albums to draw from is a real treat.”

As for playing Canada this summer, the group appreciates the fans they have here.

“I think Canada might be the most generous nation towards our band,” said Mumford.

Added lead guitarist Winston Marshall: “Our manager told us that, per capita, this is our best country for record sales.”

Mumford & Sons' Canadian 2015 tour dates:

JUNE 15, THE COMMONS AT BUTLER’S BARRACKS NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONT.

AUGUST 7, SQUAMISH VALLEY MUSIC FESTIVAL, B.C.

AUG. 11, REXALL PLACE, EDMONTON

AUG. 12, SCOTIABANK SADDLEDOME, CALGARY

Twitter: @JaneCStevenson

jane.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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