Mumford & Sons
|“We wanted to do something unashamed,” says Ben Lovett. “We’re confident and happy to be where we are as a band — everything that’s happened with us has exceeded expectations, and it’s all been a surprise, it’s all much bigger than what we were prepared for. So when we came to recording this record we had a choice: to shy away from that, or to realise that people dig what we’re doing, and make something robust, with that energy.”
It was December 2010, and Mumford and Sons had been on the road since the previous summer: a glorious, eventful, yet relentless time. Standing somewhere between exhilarated and exhausted, the plan now was for the band’s four members to spend a few weeks apart, write, recuperate, and then reconvene in Nashville in the New Year, with the intention of trying out material for their second album.
The informality of the set-up in Tennessee perhaps helped to dispel any nerves they may have had about following up 2009’s "Sigh No More" — an album that had gone four times platinum in the UK, three times platinum in Australia and twice platinum in the US. The band assembled in the front room of a house and set about sharing the songs they had been working on alone. “It was a coming together, a sharing of some stuff,” explains Lovett (keys, accordion, drums), “a pool of ideas that would come out of our time apart. So if there was nervousness, it wasn’t nervousness about the record, it was nervousness about how a couple of these new song ideas would go down. But we knew we were going to play music, and it wasn’t time to get into the nuts and bolts of it, it was more like we were starting another year from this point. And that felt very good. Very fresh, and natural.”
Babel’s identity Dwane describes as simply “Very us. When we made the first album it was to be a snapshot of Mumford & Sons in 2009. This is exactly the same — but it’s us now, and there’s a lot of the live energy in there — that was very much what we were trying to capture. Creating the album over the course of a year, going into the studio then back out touring, then back into the studio … it’s almost as if the road has rubbed off on the album.”
The influence of the phenomenal live band Mumford and Sons have become is much in evidence on "Babel", from the fire and fury of the title track to the keen and tender yearning of the album’s closer, 'Not With Haste'. “I think over the past few years we’ve realised how much we have to play the songs that we’ve recorded,” says Mumford. “So we thought harder about these songs, feeling confident that we could play them again and again and again, and that however you record a song gives it its own life.”
As a result, several songs on "Babel" were recorded live. “When you’re in a room with headphones and microphones and no one else, you play it quite differently to how you play it live,” says Mumford. “Having played live as much as we have these past five years, it’s probably made us a bit more high-octane, a bit more adrenaline-filled, but because of that we probably also need to counter it more. But we really wanted to allow permission for quiet songs on the album, so that we could allow permission for them live as well.”
More than anything, there is a real a sense of completeness to "Babel", a satisfying wholeness and a kind of musical and lyrical wealth — romanticism tempered by strength and vigour; a brawniness balanced by beauty. “I think there’s more subject-matter on this album, and I think we’ve grown up a little bit,” says Mumford. “I feel like it’s more exposed, more naked. Ted always talked about wanting to make an album like a story,” he adds. “Not necessarily one that has a plot, but one that you can listen from top to bottom and it makes sense. I think that’s what we’ve tried to do, and what we’ve done.”
Winston concludes, "And now we've finished it we can get touring again, which is what we set out to do when we started the band. Back to business."