Mumford And Sons: Foot-Stomping British Folk The music of the West London band Mumford and Sons features banjos and mandolins that conjure images of American folk. The group's rich harmonies have even drawn comparisons to Crosby, Stills and Nash, but members Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett say that that's only part of a large cast of influences.

Mumford And Sons: Foot-Stomping British Folk

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(Soundbite of song, "Sigh No More")

MUMFORD AND SONS (Music Group): (Singing) Serve God, love me and man.

GUY RAZ, host:

The band Mumford and Sons is being called this generation's answer to Crosby, Stills and Nash.

(Soundbite of song, "Sigh No More")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) Live unbruised, we are friends. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

RAZ: Those voices you're hearing are led by 23-year-old Marcus Mumford and that sound? Well, you might think it's distinctly American, maybe a front-porch performance at the foot of the Appalachians. And yet Mumford and Sons is very much an English band.

(Soundbite of song, "Sigh No More")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) Sigh no more, no more. One foot in sea, one on shore.

RAZ: The Mumford and Sons record is just out here in the U.S. It's called "Sigh No More." I asked front man Marcus Mumford if the band was calling upon an American folk tradition in its music.

Mr.�MARCUS MUMFORD (Mumford and Sons): No, we were just reclaiming what's already ours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Music that we stole from Ireland and Scotland.

Mr.�MUMFORD: Yeah. I think we've always had quite a healthy relationship in exchanging music across the Atlantic Ocean, and I don't think we had anything specifically in mind when we picked up those instruments. We just loved them.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: For the first couple years, Mumford and Sons was basically this hard-working, hard-touring you're still hard-working and hard-touring, but in London, and then you got noticed for your song called "Little Lion Man."

(Soundbite of song, "Little Lion Man")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) Weep for yourself, my man. You'll never be what is in your heart. Weep, little lion man, you're not as brave as you were at the start.

RAZ: I'm really intrigued by the lyrics: Weep, little lion man, you're not as brave as you were at the start. Marcus Mumford, tell me about this song.

Mr. MUMFORD: It's we were actually playing it the other day, and we play that song, like, a thousand times. We play it again and again and again. I completely forgot the lyrics, completely forgot

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: I have them in front of me here.

Mr.�MUMFORD: So it's nice hearing you say them back. Maybe I should ask you that question. What do you think it's about?

RAZ: Well, I don't know. I mean, it seems like it's accusatory, but then in the chorus, you say, but it's my fault.

Mr.�MUMFORD: Yeah, it's kind of a dialogue, a monologue-y dialogue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�MUMFORD: You can tell I'm making it up as I go. I find it difficult when you write a song, it's kind of like sometimes it's in kind of a desperate moment, when you can't really articulate it. What I love about lyrics and stuff is like what T.S. Eliot said, that good poetry is felt before it's understood. And like, I'm a real believer in that, and so it's one of those moments when you sit yourself down, and you review your life, and you talk to yourself in the mirror.

(Soundbite of song, "Little Lion Man")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) But it was not your fault but mine. And it was your heart on the line. I really (deleted) it up this time, didn't I, my dear? Didn't I, my dear?

RAZ: How important are the lyrics to you? Are they I mean, is it something you sort of struggle over? Or are lyrics, in a sense, a kind of vehicle to showcase your voices?

Mr.�MUMFORD: No, I definitely don't think they're a vehicle. I find personally, a song with a really strong melody, I'll listen to and I'll enjoy, but a song with a really strong melody and slightly weaker lyrics, I'll just sort of drop after a while. I feel like sometimes, lyrics are the things that breathe longevity into a good melody, whereas I don't really think it can work the other way around. I don't really think like, a good melody can breathe longevity into bad lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, "Timshel")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) Cold is the water. It freezes your already cold mind, already cold, cold mind.

Mr.�MUMFORD: After about a year of playing with the setup that we have, you know, with minimal kind of percussion and then like, piano sounds, organ sounds, banjo, acoustic guitar and double bass and vocals, I then went back and listened to The Kinks. It was, like, oh. They were doing this like, 40, 50 years ago. We're actually not original at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�MUMFORD: Nothing is original

RAZ: I mean, do you ever pick up records and think, that's how I want us to sound?

Mr. MUMFORD: No because I think that can be unhealthy. But then at the same time, not denying the fact that everyone steals from each other, and that's what's so great about art. I admire people that can lock themselves in a room for like, five years without any other influences around them, and write these amazing songs. And I know people that can do that - but I don't think we're like that.

RAZ: All of the tracks on this record, they somehow sound like they came from an earlier time and yet, there's a really fresh sensibility. And I'm thinking about the song "The Cave," for example.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cave")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) But I will hold on hope. And I won't let you choke on the noose around your neck. And I'll find strength in pain. And I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again.

RAZ: There's such an intensity in that song, and I'm wondering: How do you guys figure out when to bring that sound - the sound of the banjos - up, and when to bring the vocal harmonies up?

Mr.�MUMFORD: It's very instinctive, actually, for the four of us. When we are in the process of writing a song, someone will come with an idea, with a bunch of lyrics and usually a chord structure and a melody. And then we'll sit down and everyone will go, oh, I can really envision this happening there. And then when it comes to singing harmonies, there's never really that much of a discussion that goes on. We just sit down, and everyone just starts singing.

Like, big pop stars have musical directors in their band, but for us, it's very much because we're mates, because we love each other, and without it getting all a bit too hippy and smoky-weedy, when we go out on the road and we play these songs live, we all feel like we can put our hearts into it equally because we feel like an equal ownership over the song.

(Soundbite of song, "The Cave")

MUMFORD AND SONS: (Singing) And I'll find strength in pain. And I will change my ways. I'll know my name as it's called again.

RAZ: That's Marcus Mumford and his band, Mumford and Sons. The new record is called "Sigh No More."

And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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