A 52-week tour, eight million Spotify streams in a week, four million début albums sold, one Hollywood wife: this is the extraordinary story of how four polite twenty-something men from London became Middle American megastars.
Early evening in Laramie, on the high, wide plains of Wyoming. America’s one-time Wild West, where no street or corporate sign is complete without the silhouette of a bucking bronco and a Stetson-wearing rider. Was there ever a better place to catch up with a bunch of cowboys?
In one of Mumford & Sons’ four buses, “Country” Winston Marshall – perhaps Britain’s first “banjo rock star” – is discussing the tattoos on his left arm.
Why the word “tour”?
“Um,” he replies, “because I love tour.”
Not “touring”? Not even “tour!” with an exhortatory or celebratory exclamation mark? Could he only afford the four letters?
“Yeah, at the time…” The 24-year-old musician grins. “I’ll add the ‘ing’ now. I know it’s not very imaginative.”
While we’re at it, why the nickname “Country”?
Marshall shakes his head.
“I’m not up for it any more; I’m going to change it. It was from an old band where we had pseudonyms. I kept it because I thought it was fun. There was Hillbilly Harry, Duvet Crocket, Kid Fiddler… The problem is, at the time, for me, country music meant bluegrass. Now I’ve spent time in America I’ve realised I don’t actually like country music. It’s awful.”
Even in a band built on let’s-do-the-show-right-here exuberance, four-way decency and sharp banter, the bearded Marshall stands out as Mumford & Sons’ quick-witted joker and also as the ace up their collective sleeve. When things start to get a little chin-strokey around the astonishingly successful folk-rock troupe, here comes Marshall with a spring of kid-in-a-sweetshop effervescence. Marshall goofs around, both on and off stage. His Mick Jagger impersonation is, according to his band mates, to die for.
When this band with no drummer and four singers performs live, Marshall does the crowd-pleasing quips; double-bass player Ted Dwane, 28, seconds as a guitarist; Ben Lovett, 26, (accordion and keyboards) undertakes traditional on-mic frontman duties; while actual frontman Marcus Mumford, 25, looks all doe-eyed, singing as if his life depended on it but keeping crowd patter to a minimum. They’re that kind of band. A bit wonky. A bit, well, wrong. But Mumford & Sons like it that way. As must the four million-plus people who bought their 2009 debut album Sigh No More. The follow-up, Babel, is this year’s fastest-selling album, selling more than 600,000 in the first week, going straight to No.1 in the UK, being streamed more than eight million times on Spotify in its first week.
The foursome might be big here – they won the 2011 Brit Award for Best British album; arena shows are on the cards – and in-demand all over the world (the Australians are particularly keen), but they’re even bigger in America. The band’s performance with Bob Dylan at last year’s Grammys rocket-powered their American profile – despite Mumford & Sons failing to win either of the two awards for which they were nominated (Best Rock Song, Best New Artist).
Back home, however, admitting to liking Mumford & Sons can be social suicide, especially if you paddle in trendier waters. As the true heirs to Coldplay’s feel-good, sing-along, emotion-punching arena rock, Mumford & Sons are not cool. The XX are cool. Azealia Banks is cool. Mumford & Sons? Too joyous, too hootenanny old-timey, too earnest to be considered cool. And have you seen what they’re wearing? Waistcoats are hard to pull off at the best of times. Not, of course, that being cool matters one jot to the band.
Read the full article over at GQ.