Mumford and Sons: 'There's a lot we can improve'
They've gone electric! They killed the banjo! They burned their waistcoats!
But the recent reports of Mumford and Sons' radical reinvention have been over-exaggerated.
Their third album, Wilder Mind, might be low on hoe-downs, but it retains the band's surging, anthemic choruses - albeit with a more adventurous sonic sweep.
Speaking the morning after a warm-up gig in Brighton - where mobile phones were outlawed - frontman Marcus Mumford explains the band's new sound, and why the band still have "a lot to work out".
How did last night's show go?
It was good - but we've got a lot of work to do.
In what way?
Our live show is our crown jewel. Brighton was good, but it feels like there's a lot we can improve on. We've got new crew, different instruments, a different set-up, so there's quite a lot to work out, logistically.
Did everyone obey the mobile phone ban?
Everyone did! It's quite authoritarian, isn't it? But it creates such a nice vibe in the room. Honestly, I wish we could do it at every show. At the moment, we've done it just in advance of the album coming out because we want the first time people hear it to be the recordings we've made.
But actually, the collateral from it is just that when people get into the room, they have conversations with other people rather than staring at their phones.
Have you ever got your own phone out at a gig?
I've done it. We've all done it... Arcade Fire at Reading, Vampire Weekend at Fuji Rocks in Japan, Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall, because Steve Gadd was playing drums.
I totally understand the idea of documentation. It's just been refreshing to do some shows without it.
Two days before you played Glastonbury in 2013, Ben Lovett (guitarist) was watching Arctic Monkeys from the BBC compound. Halfway through their set he said: "I don't think we've got enough songs."
[Laughs] Yes, we were nervous. Sometimes headline slots on the Pyramid Stage just don't work. But when the audience were as amazing as they were, it was a moment of affirmation for us. It was like some sort of homecoming.
Shortly after that, you announced the band was taking a hiatus.
No, we didn't! Some journalist used the word hiatus. But we didn't argue with it, because we thought: "Oh cool, we'll get some space to make a record."
And the not-hiatus didn't last that long anyway...
We'd never taken time off as a band, so it was an extraordinary thing for us to do. We had three months off and all went away to do different things.
How long did it take you to get back into the swing of things?
We took it pretty slowly to start with. Three weeks on, a couple of weeks back at home, and it was really fun.
We've never made an album in the studio before. We've only ever written songs on the road and then stolen time away to go and record them. This was much more intentional.
Is that what allowed you to experiment with new sounds?
Exactly. Because when you're writing songs on the road, you're restricted to your set-up on stage. You only have an hour to soundcheck and in that hour you're trying to play new songs to each other. That's how loads of songs came about - from both Sigh No More and Babel, which is why they have a similar sound.
Whereas going into a studio where anyone can play any instrument they want - and record it, then erase it if they want to - it suddenly opens up the restrictions you've put in place for yourself.
It doesn't feel like there's been a totally drastic shift in your style.
Yeah, but it has been fun to try out songs like Monster or Tompkins Square Park that have a steady groove all the way through. We've never written to a drum groove before - whereas Monster, we started with a drum beat and a guitar part I'd written in a guitar shop in Chicago.
So now we have medium-paced songs, rather than just being super-quiet or super-loud.
Scanning the titles, the album seems to be populated by scary creatures: Snake Eyes, Monsters, Broad Shouldered Beasts. Were there demons you were trying to cast off?
I think there are in every song you write. It's a very cathartic process. You say things in songs you wouldn't say to someone's face.
But we were writing in a bit of a bubble. It wasn't until we put all the songs together that we realised: "Oh there's quite a lot of beasties in here."
You've gone a bit Tolkien.
Ha! Yes, we've gone a bit Tolkien. But that's fine. It's not a concept goblin album or anything.
You've said the lyrics were more of a group effort this time around. Why is that?
I was knackered out by the Babel process - so we had a sit-down in Australia in 2012 and I said: "For the next album, it'd be nice if everyone wrote a bit more." That was a healthy conversation to have.
But when it came to recording, we've always said it's a competition between songs rather than writers. So now, we're going to each other saying: "How about this line? Let's tear the others up."
There's a overwhelming sense of doubt and being emotionally adrift.
There's a lot of doubt. It's all pretty autobiographical. But also on this album, we've written our very first love songs - Only Love, Monster - and that's been really fun.
What's your favourite line?
In Tompkins Square Park - "I only ever told you one lie, but it could have been a thousand/It might as well have been a thousand."
That's a great line. I didn't write it, so I can say that.
You've got some big festival dates again this summer. How are you planning for those?
Well, we still go through a process we call FBCM, which is fully blown crisis mode. We go from FBCM into chiselling the set, learning which songs work next to each other. And once we get to Coney Island, which is the first show on our tour, we need to be all guns blazing. So we're knuckling down.
And now that you've got a balls-out rock number like The Wolf, have you been trying to locate your inner Bono?
I've thought about it. You watch your favourite bands and see the stage-craft that goes into it - Mick Jagger practicing in front of a full-length mirror and all that stuff - but I'm not that guy.
I think that putting the effort into singing well is more important than waving your arms around.
Wilder Mind is out on 4 May on Island Records.