With gigs in the UK, America, India and pretty much all over the world, you must have been on the road for a very long time now, haven’t you?
Ben - We’ve been on the road since we started. It started a bit more sporadically, taking breaks between touring, but still, touring is basically all we’ve done since 2008.
Sigh No More came out in the US a couple of months ago. Did it feel like everything suddenly started all over again?
Marshall – Well, we haven’t done that much touring over there yet. Next month we do our first full length US headline tour, but that’s like going back a step, because in the UK, before the album came out, we toured for a year and a half, going everywhere twice. Now the album is out in the States, but we still have to do that, play gigs in the same big towns and small towns two or three times.
Did the massive success that Sigh No More has achieved change the dynamics of the band and the way you went about your career?
Marshall – Actually, nothing’s really changed. Maybe we’re slightly more busy since we’re always gigging. Which was what we wanted in the first place, we all get off on playing live. It’s certainly my dream to play every now, and there’s been sort of a consistent growth in the amount of gigs we’ve done. I know it might not seem that way in the public’s eye because of the radio play, but from our perspective, the venues keep getting a little bigger. We’re still playing every night, we’re just playing for more people.
Now here’s a question with an obvious answer. Did it surprise you that Sigh No More became such a phenomenon?
Ben - Mate, we really don’t think it’s a phenomenon. In any country.
But still, I don’t recall having witnessed an album featuring folk songs played with banjos, mandolins and according ever climbing to the top of the UK charts before?
Ben - We had a meeting with our management after the album was out talking about how this year was going to plan out, and we didn’t see this one coming, this wasn’t the plan. We own the record and told Universal, who we licensed it to, not to market it too much. So they didn’t push it in the UK, and it went straight into the charts, simply because our fans were so loyal after all those tours we did. So there wasn’t really a need to push it, because we already had a big fan base. And then radio picked up on it from there, and I think that’s what surprised everyone in the UK…
Why didn’t you want Universal to roll out the PR machinery?
Ben - We don’t want to be a commercial entity as a band. We just want to play gigs and we were fine doing that, but then we made an album that we really care about and put it out there. Our fans bought it and told their friends about it, and then radio started playing our songs, so the album spreading by word-of-mouth is really what has contributed to the small amount of success we’ve had so far.
I know it seems a bit daft asking you about a record that’s been out for six months, but what’s your current perspective on Sigh No More?
Marshall – I think that record was the best record we could make at that point. We put our best into it, but we didn’t set out to change music, not then and not since. But it also got us thinking that our second album needs to be better than Sigh No More. I personally don’t think all my playing on that record is all that great, but I wouldn’t change it. I’m certainly not speaking for the rest of the band, but at that time of my life, it was what I was doing, but I know now that I could do better with a different record. And I can’t wait to do that.
Ben - The way I look at it, with Sigh No More, I wanted to make the ultimate set-list. You might already have picked up on this, but we love playing gigs (laughs), so the album was trying to capture the live sounds, a big sound as if you were in a venue. But in terms of the selection of songs and track listing, we wanted it to introduce the listener to what we’re about and then take you through the songs like you were at a gig, with the ups and downs and the ebbs and flows, if you know what I mean? I think our next album will be the same. A studio album that shows what the band is about on stage.
You had been touring for months on end before you went in the studio to record it. Tell me about the recording of the album?
Ben – It was four weeks in a studio in London, it was produced by a man called Markus Dravs and engineered by a man called Francois Chevallier. The first few days, we went in and played them our songs. Neither of them had seen us live, but were up for taking the challenge on.
Marshall - We did it all live, but also wanted to get the best out of the individual instruments and sounds, so we put those on top of the live tracks.
Ben - Markus Dravs said this very interesting thing about how he wanted people to be able to listen to this record next to a Jay-Z record. Sonically, it needed to be, in his mind, competitive. Not commercially, but in the quality of sound. And that’s something we never got right on our ep’s. We were all about the feel and the vibe, so we were bringing that, but he wanted to make sure the first album…you know, you only have one chance to do your debut album. We didn’t really know what was going to happen when we first went into the studio. We’re a ramshackle group of people, and we didn’t even have all our instruments sorted out for the songs, so we needed a strong leader in the studio in terms of recording this album. I think we really improved in the studio. I think some of the mistakes we had been making, came under a spotlight. Our harmonies improved and so did our instrumental parts of the songs. But as soon as the record was done, we were desperate to go back out there and tour.
People say you spend your entire life making your first album and a couple of months making the next one. With all this touring, do you find the time to write songs?
Ben - We’re still writing. All the time. We just recorded an EP before we went over to Europe, and we do a few of the new songs at our gigs now. We’re hoping that by autumn, we’ll have most of the new album incorporated in our gigs. But we write all the time, between gigs, on the road, in hotels. Once we have the songs done, we’ll make the album, and we hope it’ll be out early next year.
Have you given any thought to how you want the next album marketed? Universal’s probably going to be keen on giving it all they’ve got?
Ben - We get to say no to that and that’s the beauty of it. What has really worked well for us is saying no if we don’t feel right about it. Sometimes putting up posters and doing TV shows is the right thing to do, but for the most part, we don’t want people to get sick of us or judge us before they’ve heard us, so we like to maintain that balance. We really put an effort into that.
You have managed to mix country music and Americana with British folk. Where do you see the common ground between those two types of music?
Ben - Country music has actually been a bigger influence on us than Americana. Americana, to my eye, is like Bright Eyes and so on, but we love country music in its essence. They’re pretty wholesome songs, three chords and the truth, loads of harmonies and just basically singing with your mates. Country music nails that and I think that’s coming into what we play.
Marshall –There’s never been a conscious effort to mix country music and British folk. It’s always about what feels good and what suits the song best.
Ben – Ted (Dwane, bass –ed.) loves Nick Drake, John Martyn and Fairport Convention, you know, all the British folk stuff, and I think Win here can take the credit for bringing in a lot of the country into the band, but we all have our different individual influences, and when they all come together, that’s where we find the middle ground.
What do you listen to on the tour bus?
Ben - On this tour, we haven’t found our tour cds. I remember one of the first tours, we’d listen to the first MGMT record, a lot of Old Crow Medicine Show and the Avett Brothers. It really does change around.
You mention the Avett Brothers, and they’ve certainly experienced a lot of sudden success with their new album, the one Rick Rubin produced. I’ve read a lot of reviews that seems to think that this was their debut album. Have you experienced anything similar to that, people not knowing about your history?
Marshall – I think people don’t understand our history, how we came about and how we play music together. Like I said, we’ve been on the road since we started, but because the album kicked in and put us in the public, people thought that was were it started for us. I don’t really mind it, cause I probably make the same mistake myself all the time. I’ll hear of a band and not know that they’ve been around for ten years, and the Avett Brothers probably have the same problem as well. But I guess I really hope people will give us the time to grow ourselves, cause we’re a young band and nobody wants to get judged too soon.
You probably already know this, but Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More is out now on Island/Universal. If not, head straight on over to Mumfordandsons.com