MUSIC | Marcus Mumford and Ted Dwane of Mumford & Sons: “We’re sold out without selling out”

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I arrived at First Avenue just in time to catch the end of sound check for Mumford & Sons before their Friday night gig. The four Brits were spaced out on stage, running through the set list. They started in on “Roll Away Your Stone,” and I watched them carefully, knowing that with fewer than 20 other people on the floor, this was as intimately close as one could possibly get to the immensely popular rockers before they would inevitably shake down the venue that evening. (Read Jay Gabler’s review of the show, with Meredith Westin’s photos, here.) And even when they were playing to no one, the boys sounded off with all the heart and soul that their Sigh No More album insists upon. 

With his dark looks and solemn eyes, frontman Marcus Mumford could very well be the British version of James Dean, and as I sat with Mumford and bassist Ted Dwane on the balcony of First Avenue, the difference between the reverberating stage presence I had just witnessed and the quiet, humble figures I was now conversing with was striking.

“Well, congrats, guys, you sold out the country,” I stid, and the pair laughed. “No, really,” I continued, “this show sold out in under two hours.” The guys balked and exchanged disbelieving looks. “How does that make you feel?”

“Under pressure?” admitted Mumford, smiling. “Quite excited to be here, but definitely there’s a lot of pressure, yeah…Everything [about the tour] has just been a mind blow, really.”

Dwane added, “It’s exceeded our expectations. The way people have been lining up for our shows so early…the rooms have been really good to us.”

Have they ever. Mumford & Sons have been commended by critics and adored by fans across the world for the energy of their feverish live shows, and the train of ardent enthusiasm for the band shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, riding the torrential waves of the success their debut album has seen, the band have hardly had a chance to stop touring and get down some new material.

“Do you have any plans for getting back in the studio or getting some new stuff out?” I asked them.

At this point, Mumford lit a cigarette. He started, “It’s been hard…being so busy. But you simply do it in the right order. There’s so much stuff coming through right now, songs and creativity…we’re itching to get some songs down.”

“I know you guys have pulled from historical literature in your music, too,” I offered, referring to the Shakespeare lines in “Sigh No More” and Steinbeck-inspired imagery in “Timshel” and “Dust Bowl Dance.” “Do you look to books or other artists for inspiration in your songs?”

Dwane has bright sparkling eyes, and his smile is wider than Mumford’s. He started, “Well, you write about things you care about, write about experiences you have…sometimes it’s something you hear about or read, but it’s always from a real place within us.”

“Nothing we’ve ever done has been that deliberate,” said Mumford. “We’re sold out without selling out. We laughed at our manager when he said he was aiming for the album to sell 80,000 copies. We didn’t have very high expectations on that. We were just excited to be releasing an album. To sell like we did [double-platinum in the U.K. and Australia]…that’s a scary bonus.”

That essential need for honesty in their music—and in the way they perform their music—is utterly transparent. It was clear just in talking with half the band that if things ever started to feel less than genuine, they would sooner stop playing than play what they didn’t love. I asked Mumford and Dwane what was the driving force behind their shows.

“W just like playing music and…performing together,” offered Dwane. “It’s just like playing music with your mates. We look after each other, that’s all we’ve had since the beginning… No one lets us get away with anything.”

“We definitely get very spurred on by the crowds,” continued Mumford. “We just play to the people in the room…Here, we’ve met the sweetest people…and the bands that support us, they’re so important. The whole night should be about connecting with people.”