Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons)
Say you hate Mumford & Sons. You hear their dirty, skinned-knee folk songs on WFNX all day long; you’ve grown tired and weary of “The Cave” and the way Marcus Mumford warns of “the noose around your neck.” Hey, folk rock’s not your thing.
But then you scan the current playing field of Top 40 and mainstream rock, and suddenly the airy banjo-picking in an era of auto-tune, pop garbage, and electronic music feels almost punk. Even Mumford singing “I really fucked it up this time” in their biggest single, “Little Lion Man,” and getting it played on the radio and stocked at Wal-Mart is a small victory in a mainstream cultural landscape typified by Dancing with the Stars.
But Mumford are just a couple of regular dudes armed with incredible songs and a fanbase whose word-of-mouth excitement was helped along by a passionate and supportive Glassnote Records. The band toured relentlessly (at affordable ticket prices) and grew not only to sell more than a million albums in the UK and US, but also to grab a couple of Grammy nominations and take home four Phoenix Best Music Poll awards: Best Act, Best Album (Sigh No More), Best Male Vocalist (Marcus Mumford), and Best Breakthrough Act. And Mumford’s “The Cave” finished second in the WFNX Song of the Year category to the Black Keys’ “Tighten Up” by a mere 15 votes.
“Can’t ask me to figure out why,” says co-vocalist/keyboardist/accordionist Ben Lovett on the phone from a tour stop in North Carolina. “None of us know. We’re quite surprised and humbled. There’s no ambitious plan, we didn’t even think a tour of America was in the cards a few years ago. We just wanted to be good enough to play in the pub.”
Like a pub band that inexplicably grows to sell out stadiums, the success of Mumford is a slap in the face to the old record-label business model. How did a drummer-less band playing bluegrass folk become one of the biggest acts in the world, playing the main stage at Coachella and alongside Bob Dylan at the Grammys — the latter a televised performance that came off as wholly authentic and pure? It starts with quality songs and grows person to person.
“That’s how I got into Mumford,” wrote industry watchdog Bob Lefsetz on his website, the Lefsetz Letter. “I kept hearing people testifying how great they were. People with no attachment to the act, who heard their music and effused.” A few months later, he added: “Mumford doesn’t need the usual suspects. It’s just the music. That’s enough.”
An incredible feat in 2011. After their US tour wraps in Colorado this week, Mumford head back to the UK to start the recording process for a follow-up to Sigh No More, but not before a few more stateside tours and some back-to-real-life normalcy. “If we rush to record after this crazy year, it might not sound like real life,” Lovett says. “If we take notes or relish any award, that’s the fastest way this could fall apart.”