Keyboardist Ben Lovett tells 'The National' the big-selling folk group want to forge a new relationship with the UAE
Mumford and Sons' future is an open road
The challenge of being self-confessed “road warriors” is that you always need somewhere new to go. After conquering arenas and festivals across Europe, Australasia and South America, the British folk rockers Mumford and Sons are set to finally make their Middle Eastern debut as part of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Yasalam After-Race concerts on Saturday.
The promise of new crowds, says Welsh keyboardist and vocalist Ben Lovett, is the primary reason for the band singing up for the Yas Island gig. “Events such as these are, and pardon the pun, great vehicles to get bands across for the first time and hopefully they can build a relationship with that audience and come back and do more gigs,” says Lovett.
“We have been done over a thousand shows since we started and travelled to a lot places but there are still some parts we have yet to visit, like Abu Dhabi, Moscow and China. It feels at times that we played too many shows in the wrong places and we need to spread ourselves more.” That new approach can be found in this latest jaunt, which will have the five-piece travel to Senegal after Abu Dhabi to headline a roots festival in Dakar.
It also serves as a welcome - and relatively exotic - break for the group who, for the past year have been holed up in studios recording the much anticipated follow-up to their 2015 divisive third album Wilder Mind. Speaking to us between recording breaks in New York City, Lovett says the group are still feeling their way through the recording process. “We are writing and recording. We have written some new songs which we will hopefully play in Abu Dhabi and we have some other songs where we don’t quite know where it’s going to take us. There is no plan yet on when to release it but we are hoping to have it out soon.”
Whenever the album is out it is sure to be received by the faithful with open minds. Mumford and Sons made sure of that with the release of Wilder Mind. Not only was the album bereft of their signature banjos, some fans were horrified by the addition of disco beats, synths and and pop sounds. Lovett explains the album was a conscious attempt to move away from the tags ascribed to the band – the biggest of which is that they are "folk revivalists". “I think we are very much from today and not what people identify us with,” he says. “People very much like to pigeonhole and categorise, and we found that, before we’d even hit our late twenties, we have been defined by some broad stroke identity from our point of view. We want to continue doing this in 20 and 30 more years from now so we didn’t want to be confined by certain genres or instrumentation.”
That said, Mumford and Sons' rustic aesthetics have struck a nerve with the public. Formed in 2007, the group of multi-instrumentalists (including guitars, keyboard and traditional folk instruments such as the banjo and mandolin), the zippy yet alluring songs led to them touring Europe and the United States only a year into their existence.
Powered by the chart-topping single Little Lion Man, the group’s debut 2009 album Sigh No More sold well both in the UK and the US and paved the way for the 2012 follow-up album Babel to become an international success. It was nominated for the prestigious Grammy Award for Album of the Year and led to the band headlining the UK’s Glastonbury Festival.
Lovett doesn’t agree with the suggestion that Mumford and Sons’ unexpected success is down to a reaction to a pop landscape dominated by studio-manicured songs and the juggernaut of dance music. “It's hard for me to accept that, because I guess it would be reducing what we've done,” he says. “In some ways if we were just a part of a reaction, we could've been any band. But I do take your point in that there is the hunger for experiences these days, that people just wanted to actually go and feel and experience things live, and we've built our career on the premise that we are a live band.”
Ironically, when it comes to his own experiences in being part of one of the world’s biggest bands, Lovett says his recollections are sketchy. “I find it very hard to even relate to them,” he admits. “There was just those moments where it really felt like there was no mountain too big and we were headlining these massive festivals. These were moments I wish I can relive because these incredible things. Because they happened very close to each other, like day after day, they just pass you by in a flash.”
But some moments are savoured for life, such as Mumford and Sons enlisted as the backing band for Bob Dylan’s 2011 Grammy Awards performance. Lovett recalls working with the enigmatic singer-songwriter was just as he expected.
“We did a day of rehearsals in Los Angeles in this big hangar and Dylan was you would always want him to be. The man is mysterious. He doesn’t just turn it on for the cameras. That is just who he is,” he recalls. “I would give anything to be able to go to back to those moments and just be there again. And now with some hindsight, I would just go and appreciate them more.”
Lovett’s reflective and polite demeanour has him dubbed by frontman Marcus Mumford as the “grown up in the band.” As well as running his own music label Communion, Lovett can be found handling some of the group’s administrative tasks – media duties included. With Mumford the figured head, banjo player and vocalist Winston Marshall as the most rock'n'roll of the group and bassist Ted Dwane as a man of few words, Lovett says each member contributes to the band in their own way. With all members sharing song writing credits on all albums, Lovett says the band’s strength lies in its unity. “I think we have successfully managed to main that equality over the ten years,” he says.
“The tricky thing comes from the external divineness that comes with people looking to separate from the pack. And we always like to think and represent each other as if we are speaking for each other as much of ourselves. Our decisions are made very much unanimously so we just don’t let anything potentially weaken us because we know we are stronger as a foursome.”
With Lovett confirming the band will spend up to five days in Abu Dhabi as part of the tour, fans should follow the group’s social media accounts for local citing’s.
“I know we are pretty much looking forward to it,” he says. “We will be around for a bit of time so I am happy to be going around the city and doing some exploring.”
Mumford and Sons will play at the Du Arena, Yas Island on November 25. Doors are open from 6pm. Access to the shows is only available for those purchasing tickets for the corresponding race day. Tickets are available online at www.yasmarinacircuit.com, through the Yas Marina Circuit Call Centre (800 927) or +971 (0) 2 659 9800.