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Mumford & Sons change, but not just for change's sake

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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There was no immediate need for Mumford & Sons to drastically alter its sound.

At least not as far as the outside world was concerned.

The British group's brand of folk-rock has been enormously successful since the 2009 release of "Sigh No More." That title reached No. 2 in both the U.S. and the U.K., while 2012's Babel debuted at No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2013. Add multi-platinum sales and more prizes from the Billboard Music Awards, the Brit Awards and the Ivor Novello Awards, among others. And Mumford was credited with paving the way for like-minded bands such as the Lumineers, as well as helping to shine a light on its own heroes such as the Old Crow Medicine Show.

Things clearly weren't broke and probably not in need of fixing.

So Mumford's third album, "Wilder Mind," came as a surprise, if not a complete shock. Electric guitars and drum kits have been added to the mix, and the rootsy charm of its two predecessors has given way to a more forceful and muscular full-on rock sound. And the band is making no apologies for the switch -- although frontman Marcus Mumford says there was no grand plan behind it.

"We never had a discussion before any of the albums about style, really," explains Mumford, 28, who co-founded the group during 2007 in London with Winton Marshall, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane. "We just got in and started writing songs, and if we liked them we went for it. We love so many different types of music, and...the goal is really just to kind of succeed in putting down the version of this band that we wanted to at this (particular) time.

"So it wasn't so much proving anything to anyone. It wasn't so much a statement or to screw with people or whatever. It was just, like, 'this is what we like, what we want to do right now, guys. We hope you like it, too."

"Wilder Mind" did, however, put a cap on a particular wild time for Mumford & Sons.

Things were going swimmingly during 2013, in the wake of "Babel's" success, and the group was looking forward to a summer full of high-profile festival appearances. But after a pair of early June performances in Austin, Texas, Dwane checked into the hospital complaining about a headache, and doctors found a cranial blood clot. Dates were canceled, and while the group did play a few shows later in the summer, that September it announced a hiatus for "a considerable amount of time."

"It literally takes, like, a brain injury for us to cancel a show," Mumford notes. "And "Ted actually wanted to play. He wanted to go straight back on the road because of the kind of person he is. But we all felt like the guy needed a bit of a break...We were gutted, but we thought it was exactly the right thing to do."

Mumford & Sons stayed out of sight but began writing new material for "Wilder Mind" during the late winter of 2014. But, Mumford reiterates, there was on preconceived notion about where the music would go, and he adds that the hiatus did not impact on the band's direction.

"It wasn't so much proving anything to anyone," explains Mumford, who's married to actress Carey Mulligan. "It was more just being honest about our own intentions and about our own taste. We're not very good at pretending, so we wouldn't want to make a record that pretended to be something that didn't come from a real place within us.

"If we had done even the instrumentation from 'Sigh No More' and 'Babel' again, that wouldn't have been honest, because we have a lot more within our taste range than just the instrumentation from those two records. We just wanted to make a record that we wanted to make, and that came from a natural place for us."

Any apprehensions about how "Wilder Mind" would be received proved moot, as the album again debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. Mumford & Sons purposely chose not to play any shows before its release -- "We wanted people to hear the album on its own, without crappy YouTube live versions of the new songs," Mumford notes -- but it's back on the road with a vengeance, mixing headline dates with festival appearances (including a Bonnaroo headlining slot Mumford calls a "redemption") and its Gentlemen of the Road festivals.

"We're just...so excited to stop talking and start playing," Mumford gushes "We've missed playing live so much because that's where it all kind of slots into place for us. We've done too much talking, too many TV shows, and now we need to just go and play our instruments and see how it goes."

He adds that fans don't have to worry about the "Wilder Mind"-ization of the older material,. however. "There's bits and bobs, but for the main part wer're just sticking to the same kind of vibe," Mumford promises. "We love those old songs. We're proud of them,and they're really fun to play. We tried rearranging a few of them, and there's a couple that we have.

"But I always kind of find it slightly frustrating, unless it's awesome, when a band (messes) with their formula of the songs that you know and love. It doesn't quite hit the mark. It's got to be...awesome if you're going to do that. And we love variety, you know? We love being able to do more than one thing."

And, he says, Mumford & Sons is also happy to be back with another album's worth of material to play.

"I've always been jealous of some bands, like, Neil Young, and he just has so many songs to choose from," Mumford says "(Bruce) Springsteen will play for three and a half hours and only scratch the surface of his catalog. So now having three records' worth of songs it's really fun to be able to pick and choose which songs we play."

Mumford & Sons, The Maccabees and Son Little

6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 16.

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township.

Tickets are $65 pavilion, $35 lawn.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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