Standing in line on a crisp April day in Madison, I spotted a girl barely old enough to be a teenager and felt a sense of familiarity, a sense of déjà vu. I watched her as she waited energetically, expectantly. She reminded me of someone. My gaze floated through the palpable excitement emanating from the line of thousands of people eagerly waiting for six o’clock.
After waiting in line for hours, 10,000 of us packed into the Alliant Energy Center awaiting the much-anticipated concert that sold out in minutes.
On walked four band members adorned in tweed vests, lazily buttoned shirts, and suspenders, to the dimly lit stage: Marcus Mumford, Winston Marshall, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane; better known as Mumford & Sons. No introduction needed as the crowd exploded into cries and applause. The band launched into song, strumming their guitars at full volume.
Mumford & Sons is an indie folk rock band hailing from the United Kingdom. The four band members are deemed literary geniuses with lyrics alluding to acclaimed authors from Shakespeare to Steinbeck. They started deep in the underground London folk scene, climbed to number one on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and arose to attain a Grammy award for Album of the Year for their second album Babel.
The band’s core instruments were the acoustic guitar, piano, double bass, and the banjo for the first two albums: “Sigh No More” and “Babel”. By the time their third album came along, they had developed a blasé attitude towards the banjo. After touring with it for years, they decided to exchange it for an electric guitar, trade the double bass for a full drum set, and appropriately name the new album “Wilder Mind”. Their musical influences switched from Bob Dylan and Bon Iver to Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. Thousands of fans, myself included, were heart-broken by the news of change. The banjo was our symbol of solidarity. It set us apart from the rest of mainstream rock and pop. Mumford and Sons has attracted a unique bohemian inspired, counter cultural, mainstream shunning, hipster-like following with their banjo plucking and euphoric harmonies.
The verdict was that Mumford & Sons must have had a new son and named him Chris Martin because their new sound, full of electric guitar and synthesizers, sounded like the lovechild of Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. Which is okay… if you like that kind of stuff… Those bands are good, but they’re not Mumford. Most fans craved the original sound that lured them to the band in the first place. Naturally, they did what seems to be the norm in this day and age: fans took their opinions and their angry thumbs to social media to create the hashtag #bringbackthebanjo.
“excuse me mumford and sons you have seem to forgotten your banjo in your new song.”
“So, judging by the new Mumford and Sons track, they’ve decided to become Coldplays of Leon.”
“Mumford and Sons have gone electric?!? This is a hipster natural disaster. Stores will soon start running out of goat milk and herbal chai.”
Of course, you can only imagine the tumultuous applause of 10,000 passionate fans that greeted the banjo upon its entrance on stage.
Whether it is your tenth or ten thousandth time listening to these songs, you can still glean new meanings that are universally applicable to many situations. These songs are like your favorite pair of leather boots: perfectly broken in just for you, but go with everything because they are timeless. The lyrics explore relationships, spirituality, pain, death, and love on a much deeper level rather than repeating that the “DJ got us fallin’ in love.”
Song lyrics are similar to poetry; sometimes they rhyme, sometimes they tell a story, but usually the intent is to convey emotion in a written or musical form. We observe this in the lyrics of “Below My Feet”:
Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
So keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
One commentator theorizes that this song is about, “a death causing a crisis of faith and rejection of an old belief system, which is followed by a new view on religion and life. I think it is also about humility. He’s going to learn by doing, and serve by watching and listening, because what better way to serve people than to make them feel watched and listened to”. These singer-songwriters employ the perfect amount of ambiguity to be open for personal interpretation.
Not only are their lyrics poetic, the music composition is as well. The tune begins in a subdued, austere, and unassuming manner when singing about struggles. Then come the harmonies, one or two at first as to not overwhelm. It feels as though a friend or two have come alongside you to help share your burden, but not the whole village, as not to overwhelm–not yet anyway. One author expresses, “the tune builds from the simple and passes into another realm of runaway wild, fireworks passion unselfconscious and warm” (Smith ).
Before long the crowd and I jump to our feet, balancing steadily on one foot while the other stomps along to the raging tempo. The band’s British accents are belting out the literary lyrics with such intensity that I sense they are singing straight into our collective soul. We have no choice but to lose ourselves in unselfconsciousness. There is light at the end of our struggles and we now have the weight of a village behind us, cheering us on.
And just like that, it dawned on me. It wasn’t a feeling of déjà vu but rather reminiscence and nostalgia from my own personal experience. It was me. I was that girl’s age–barely a teenager–when I first started listening to Mumford & Sons. I was inspired by the passion exuding from the timeless and emotionally charged lyrics ever since they penned their first album in 2007. Soon after, I found myself shopping for my first acoustic guitar and spending hours scouring YouTube for how to play my newly acquired instrument. Mumford and Sons inspired me to step meekly out of my comfort zone to convey my own emotions on paper. Even though this was a struggle, it did not matter. I had the weight of that village behind me; I could do anything.