Cue the quiet. Mumford and Sons boasts a fifteen-year illustrious career—their 2012 album, Babel, earned eight Grammy nominations and a win for Album of the Year. Four years after the band’s most recent album, Delta, Marcus is paving a road of his own. Mumford’s debut album, (self-titled), is a ten-track journey that grapples with forgiveness and the cyclical nature of human experience.
Stacking on top of Mumford’s already monumental milestones, his solo project features a music video directed by Steven Spielberg. (self-titled)’s debut solo single ‘Cannibal’ is, in fact, the first music video the film virtuoso has ever directed. This thrilling voyage into Mumford’s new era has the singer delivering on a sonically neoteric sound. “Musically, it's my favorite thing I've ever done.” Mumford reveals, “[(self-titled) should be allowed to be fun, and silly and sexy and funny, and I want it to be all those as well. And not just defined by basically the first song or the last song on the record, but, for it to feel more like an exploration of my creativity.”
The album hosts four features, all of which are by female vocalists. Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, Monica Martin, and Brandi Carlile add to (self-titled) in a storytelling manner that amplifies the mellifluous blend of harmonies. In a Flaunt exclusive interview, Mumford harmonizes with fellow friend and occasional duet partner, Oscar Isaac. Isaac is well known for his role in Ex Machina, and most recently Moon Knight, and here discusses the layers to Mumford’s first solo project, its excavation of the past and ‘the dangers of silence.’
Oscar Isaac: I listened to [(self-titled)] the first few times, and it's just so harrowing lyrically. But then I kept listening to it. And I'm like, this is a sexy album. If you didn't understand the lyrics it sounds like a romance. It's super romantic. It's very sexy. It's really propulsive, and it sounds like a love story, you know, energetically.
Marcus Mumford: That's so funny. The first time I played ‘Cannibals’ for Blake Mills, the producer, he was like, ‘It could be a weird, sexy jam,’ and I was like, ‘It’s rock and roll…we can do whatever the fuck we want, for a start!’ But that's hilarious.
It's really funny. But that's also, I guess, wrong to say because it's about sexual trauma. It's like any good art, it's whatever you make it to be. I was sort of getting to learn about myself again, and falling in love with me again. I hear that in the music because it's not, just grief letting. And you could imagine how dark that could go energetically but the fact that you're speaking about it over this bed of energetic love that's starting to happen, it's about learning how to, without sounding super lame, to love yourself again.
The forgiveness angle that comes along, honestly, for me, is as much forgiveness of self as it is for any other third party, and I think you're totally right. Which, this period of time was like, ‘Okay, let's get down to the bare bones of who I am as a person,’ which was vulnerable, but felt right for me. I stripped away some of the ego stuff—like you have to—and what I got down to was something I really liked and loved.
And getting to a place where it's like, all that fuel, and all the ways and tools we learn to survive and to thrive and to push forward. And then you're left with the silence, and yourself. A big theme in your album is the pain–danger of silence. How intense that can be?
On the road, having put the record out, it’s been out like a month, there’s all this kind of pressure inside me to put it out. And for people to hear it. And I didn't know, I wasn't expecting any kind of particular response. But, you find yourself in a pressure cooker ahead of putting out and you're doing videos and you're doing interviews and you're doing all different rehearsals with the band and now it's out and we're on the road. Weirdly, it feels like the silence of the event and it's a really strange period of time. I really learned how to be comfortable in the silence in my body throughout the last couple of days.
I think ‘Stonecatcher,’ lyrically, it hits me really hard too, because you use this kind of biblical setting of what comes to my mind is the Mary Magdalene moment where they're gonna throw stones at her. So, it's using one of these teachings and really kind of boring into what it means to condemn, and what it means to forgive and what it means to have shame and what it means to let it go. And also the music is so soaring.
Now, what does mercy actually look like? How do we have mercy for each other, when we're really quick to judge each other? And that's where I sat at the feet of this guy, Bryan Stevenson basically just studied him and listened to him, went and visited him, would track him down. Wherever he was, whether in London or in Montgomery, or in New York, we'd go and talk or in LA. I actually convinced him to come play on that record, so he plays piano on that song. And, really just trying to study different ways of thinking about cultural mercy as well, on a macro, as well as a micro scale, then how would this translate wider.
It makes me think of the scripture, ‘He who would save his life will lose it, and he who is willing to lose his life for me, well, will find it.’ That's what’s also interesting, because it's the excavation of stories of the past. But the reason to excavate them is to realize that they're dead already, that it’s gone. And so then it doesn't have that kind of power over you.
Yeah, and the difference between retelling and reliving.
And to do that in an album, that's just nuts. But I think it's the juxtaposition of those words and with the music, it makes it feel experienced, even more than understood, which is, I think, poetry. And Spielberg directing the video, how did that come about?
Steven heard the record really early, they were kind of some of the first people outside of my closest mates to hear the record. Kate wrote to me, and she just got it. She understood it. So when it came time to put the first song out, I didn't have anything visual for it, we were struggling with timelines and stuff, and I just asked, ‘Is there any way you guys could help me figure out something for this?’ And they said, ‘Come and talk to us.’ So we went and talked for like three hours and what was so strange was that by the end of it, they felt like the safest pair of hands in the world to help me start this thing.
Something else that you start the whole album with, and you end it with, is the question—How? Not drawing any conclusions, but just asking the questions already is enough of a starting place. And it reminds me of this play I'm gonna do next year by Lorraine Hansberry. There's a line that my character says, which is: the ‘why’ of why we are here is an intrigue for adolescents. The ‘how’ is what commands the living. What’s amazing is you never ask, ‘Why did this happen? Why me?’ Immediately you're just going like, ‘How do I move forward with this?’ which also is about really an acceptance as well.
Everyone was like, ‘You can't call the last song on the record ‘How.’’ And I was like, ‘Why not?’ You can do whatever you fucking want. You can call it an emoji if you want.
Why can’t you call it ‘How’ you think?
I don't know what it was. But I just, I put my foot down on that one. Because that's the important bit to me. It's the ‘how’, it's not the ‘why’ or even the ‘when’, honestly. Progress, and the ability to just begin again. When you stumble or when you come up against something you’re really struggling with, you lose your attention, you can just begin again, and that’s how the record starts. The idea that it's not like a one and done process, ever forgiveness just isn't.
Right here on top of the page is the experience of becoming.
That's it. I studied this stuff a lot during lockdown, actually, I went and did a class. As I did classics originally, and hadn't done any Plato for a long time. Virtue signaling was everywhere at the time. And I was kind of like, what do we mean by that? And was struck again by how straightforward a lot of it is. His whole concept is: if you want to be honest, you practice honesty. I mean, there's a lot about it that's problematic to me as well. But, the idea of practicing something to become something. Be a forgiving person, you can practice forgiveness.
Who's the person that's becoming? There is no self that needs to become, it's just the becoming. That's also about letting go, you know, letting go. So, in that sense, what is grace to you now?
Grace to me, just feels like the opportunity to begin again. I don't know, I think, at least to me, and the place that it occupies on this record. It feels like it's the opportunity to begin again. Even halfway through a conversation with my mother about really intense shit that she can no longer control and can't change. And the opportunity that we can just begin again, a conversation begins again, and our relationship can begin again. That is just overwhelmingly like Grace to me.
I feel like I had a sense of that recently, too. There's been a lot of this idea for me, you have to remember yourself into existence. Right? You remember the context of who you are and where you came from. If you pass out, when you come to they're going to ask you questions: What's your name? What year is it? You have to remember yourself into existence, right? But then there was this moment, and I guess it's of grace where I was like, that also means you have to forget yourself into existence sometimes, too. You have to forget all that and also be the thing that's here now, that isn't all the stories and isn't all that stuff too. And that's also a form of beginning again.
I love that. I love it.
At what point after that first song did you think, ‘Oh, this is going to be, I'm going to write a whole album’?
I didn't really. I wrote the first one and then I wrote the second one quite quickly after it. Originally, the demo for ‘Grace,’ the second song, was called, ‘I Just Want to Fuck Around.’ Quite an intense period of time working on ‘Cannibal’ I just want to fuck around with my electric guitar now. On the demo I still have it, it’s called ‘I Just Want to Fuck Around.’ So I wrote ‘Grace’ in response to ‘Cannibal’ and then really, the songs just led one after the other. I think ‘Better Off High’ came next then ‘Stonecatcher’ came quite quick. Then, I sort of was able to stand back and piece it together. Okay, I really want ‘Go In Light’ for this record. Now, I need some levity, I need ‘Better Angels,’ I need a bit of abandon here as well as all the more kind of intentional shit I wanted some stuff that felt loose and fun, as well.
I was in denial about making a solo record, right up until the end of last year. Because I think I was nervous that if I called it, if I named it something, then it would have to exist in that space.
And I, at that time, just needed to be writing songs for the sake of writing songs. And trying to keep the Bowie mentality of ‘just go out into the water till you're slightly out of your depth.’
But I guess it's also a way to not become self-conscious about it.
I didn't think about the audience tool until I was done, basically. I didn't think about how it's going to go down, I didn’t think about how people would respond to it. I couldn’t. I have some weird codependent relationship with my audience, then that would feel strange. So, I don't think I needed anything from it when I put it out. But now it gets to live a new life on the road. Playing this, I wanted to start in more intimate spaces. So we've been playing in theaters, which is dope. So, it's been fun starting off, but I hope the songs now take on a bit of a life of their own.
How are you feeling playing it in those different settings? The big versus the intimate?
The intimate ones feel best, but there was a sort of hush over the crowd at ACL which was quite special. We played the sunset slot, so the sun's going down. So the beginning sets and daylight in the end is in night. So that was kind of powerful and beautiful.
I really allowed myself to sit in silence this year. I took the whole year off and found myself doing stuff, but not being on a set, not pretending to be someone else, which I’ve always preferred to being myself. And maybe I’m speaking for you but I think some of that silence comes from realizing it doesn’t mean anything on the other side of it. It is just playing. The universe just plays and that’s it.
And being comfortable in your skin, for me that’s a challenge, always has been. Being like ‘I made this piece of music and I’m really proud of that.’ And the natural thing for me is to play it to people. That’s a natural way to present a record that I made. And I’ll do that from time to time and then I’ll go back to my day job. You’re right, all of it is a little bit silly. My most private things, I write them in melodies and then I publicize them as widely as I can. What the fuck? But a lot of musicians find it really hard to be out on the road right now so I’m really grateful to be on the road at all. It’s a privilege.