Mumford & Sons: In These Bodies, We Will Live. In These Bodies, We Will Die.
“We’ve all contributed some lyrics to the second album, which didn’t happen with the first record,” Lovett confirms the next day as he burns CDs for a DJ gig he has later that night after the band’s set. The band had writing sessions where they were each tasked with coming up with ten songs during the course of a day and would present their material to one another over dinner (and presumably drinks).
It was from this type of exercise that Dwane’s “Reminder” came into the fold along with Mumford’s “Where Are You Now,” which ultimately didn’t make the record. Sometimes the constructive criticism found choruses becoming verses.
“There was more of an open-table discussion about lyrics on this record than there was on the first record,” allows Mumford. “Presenting lyrics was less of a dead set thing. It was more like the lyrics were put on a trial a bit more which is good—I think.”
Trial or not, there’s a surprising consistency in lyrical tone not only throughout Sigh No More and Babel, but also between each 12 song album. If it’s not a love song in some form (the majority of tunes), then it’s likely dealing with man’s temporal existence on earth (about two on each). With Sigh No More, the latter two both had their genesis in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (“Timschel,” “Dustbowl Dance”).
With Babel, it seems that the obvious outliers (“Babel,” “Beneath My Feet,”) take root in the band’s experience throughout these last few years and their determination to remain humble. Rarely has a band been so direct about not letting fame get the best of them as they are in “Beneath My Feet”: Keep the earth below my feet/ For all my sweat, my blood runs weak/ Let me learn from where I have been/ Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.
The reason behind naming the album Babel appears to be twofold. The Biblical story of Babel is that of God thwarting man’s attempt to reach heaven by his own means. Working together—in part because they all spoke the same language—mankind began building an epic city with a tower that they planned to make high enough to reach heaven. While initially proud of mankind’s teamwork, once God got wind of their plans, he scattered everyone, caused them to speak different languages and ravaged the city. The moral of the tale, as applied to Mumford & Sons, is essentially this: Check your hubris lest you be smited. If a potentially multi-platinum album title isn’t a big enough reminder to keep your ego in check, then I don’t know what is.
The second reason the band agreed on the title Babel was through a “boldness” and “confidence” in the band according to Mumford. “It was like, ‘Yeah, people will say stuff about it but fuck it. That’s what we feel the album should be called,” he says in reference to the religiosity people might infer about the members or their beliefs. “We made the album in a time when a lot of shit—either personally, in the world around us and things around us—some of it was falling apart.”
In a similar way, Lovett says that the band had to actively try to not “retreat” on Babel in being overly conscious of “the vultures that are press and media.”
“We’re not there expecting to be judged, we’re writing music to communicate,” he says. “Music is expression but when you take into account the fact that now a lot more people are going to dissect it, you can end up trying to enshroud it with another layer of protection—of making it ambiguous or whatever….I hope the record’s as accessible [as the first] and hasn’t been muddied by those waters.”
Between the aforementioned numbers and the love songs (some of which are expectedly torturous), Babel’s overall sentiment feels fairly buoyant and, yes, accessible, despite some less than cheerful lyrics and melodies. But, as of last December, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
“We sat down and listened to what we had and it felt pretty dark, dense and heavy,” reveals Mumford. “We made an intentional decision as a band to try and balance that out with songs like ‘Reminder’ and ‘I Will Wait.’” He says the aborted songs were more akin to “Broken Crown,” a feverish meditation on allegiance that hears him singing in a shouted growl.
“[The rest of the band] said to me, ‘We’re lacking a little bit of the directness that we had on the first record—it’s all becoming a little obscure,’” continues Mumford. “We sat down and had those discussions, which are hard discussions to have because everything is so fucking personal.”
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Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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