Cover Feature Mumford & Sons: “Fuck the banjo”

After they (kind of) split, Mumford & Sons returned by ditching their trademark. It’s out with the folk instruments, in with the electrified ‘Wilder Mind’.

If Mumford & Sons ever wanted to prove a point - that they’re new people, banjo-ditching progressives with a different perspective - this was it: At separate times in the space of an hour, all four turn up to their South London rehearsal space on motorbikes. Revving through an industrial courtyard and parking up, they reminisce about “last night’s ride”, which parts of the capital they explored, and where they’re going next. Is this a multi-million selling folk sensation, or Hells Angels with good connections? A lot’s changed in the group’s last couple of years, but this might be a stretch too far.

They’re more rugged than before. Gone are the waistcoats, tucked-in shirts and dubious chinos. But what else is new? Swiftly after breaking through with 2009 debut ‘Sigh No More’, the band became poster-boys for vocal hate. Their traditional, sentimental first sound was - and still is - the antithesis of cool. Only this time, with third album ‘Wilder Mind’, they’re putting their staples to one side. The banjo’s been locked away somewhere (perhaps in a safe, sitting somewhere in the bottom of the ocean, never to be recovered). They’ve ditched the double bass, too. This third LP isn’t exactly fuelled by raging guitar solos and bold synth parts, but it’s significantly different. With early sessions taking place at Aaron Dessner’s Brooklyn basement, this is no surprise, but big chunks of the record sound like The National. The customary Mumford image - one of country barn brodowns, line-dancing and sweet, sweet music - has disappeared altogether. But how much of this is a misconception, and where has everything gone?

Judging by the immediate YouTube comments to brooding lead single ‘Believe’, Mumford & Sons’ love / hate split isn’t under any threat. “Where are the deep lyrics?”, asks one commenter. “This song needs more cowbell,” claims another. “What’s Winston supposed to do now?” is probably the best reaction. It’s a good question. Designated banjo-bearer Winston Marshall is also the most likely out of the four to break cover and say something either tongue-in-cheek or brutally honest. For years, he’s been saying “fuck the banjo” at every opportunity. Whether he was taking the piss or making a point, his wish has come true. He starts justifying the change by saying he “grew up playing in rock bands”, so it’s “kind of back to our roots”. But he’s interrupted by Ted Dwane (former double-bass straddler), who bursts out laughing. Even the band themselves find this transformation at least a little bit funny.

“When we started playing folk instruments, we didn’t have a fucking clue what we were doing,” says Marshall, trying to back up his first point. Jerry Douglas (a famous dobro player) once told Winston he was a talent at banjo because “I didn’t have a fucking idea what I was doing.” He was winging it. “It’s harder to blag it in rock, because there’s so many rock bands,” he admits.

“I stand by what I said, but it’s tiring slagging something off the whole time,” he says, giving a slight nod to the hordes of Mumford haters, willing this third album to go tits up. “For some reason, I think banjo might win. It’s putting up a fight…”

Mumford & Sons: "Fuck the banjo" Mumford & Sons: "Fuck the banjo"

As featured in the May 2015 issue of DIY, out now.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.