Eight years ago, we’d be going, ‘What’s compression again?’”The band who once told an interviewer that if they didn’t play live they weren’t a band at all now accept that the deeper perspective that that five-month break – and those writing sessions at Eastcote Studios – gave them was something they needed in order to progress.In the months leading up to the end of the tour, Marcus, Ben, Winston and Ted had spent time with The National’s Aaron Dessner, recording demos in his New York garage, pottering around guitar shops, experimenting with his vintage amps.The band reconvened in February last year at Eastcote Studios in London, where they had recorded their debut album, Sigh No More. Joining them at these sessions was the producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence The Machine, Klaxons).Moreover, in stark contrast to Babel, none of the new songs has been road-tested live: fans will come to them fresh. “It’s an invitation,” laughs Marcus, “not a challenge.” “Working with Aaron,” says Winston, “his approach to making music is that you chase every idea; chase it to the end.Even if you don’t like the idea, stay with it, follow it.”“He taught us more about collaborating, too,” adds Ben, “in terms of working with each other. It encouraged us to celebrate each other’s ideas, and never abandon something.We didn’t say: ‘No acoustic instruments.’ But I think all of us had this desire to shake it up.
This is, after all, the band that responded to the glaring spotlight of the Grammys, the Brits and playing a gig at the White House by heading off to the Scottish Highlands for a series of small-scale, ad-hoc shows.
For a band who had gigged pretty much nonstop since forming, Mumford & Sons’ five-month hiatus – which began when they completed their world tour for the Babel album in September 2013 – was their first proper break in almost five years.
Yet their decision to step off the merry-go-round was born as much of confidence as it was exhaustion, or a desire to catch up with themselves.
And who, in 2012/13, staged the Gentleman of the Road Stopover festivals in out-of-the-way locations across the world, supporting local musicians and businesses, and in the process reconnecting with their reasons for forming a band in the first place.“Our enthusiasm for just dropping off and playing gigs was really inspired by touring in the Highlands and going to Orkney and Shetland,” says Marcus.
“Those places were so welcoming, they seemed so pleased to have us there, so, when it came to planning a tour, we all thought as one: ‘Let’s do more of those.’“Doing it that way takes you away from this small nucleus of the band,” says Ben.