By Leah Greenblatt
Updated October 01, 2010 at 06:01 PM EDT
Rebecca Miller

Image Credit: Rebecca MillerFierce London-based folkies Mumford & Sons have become one of 2010’s most unexpected slow-burn success stories—a band whose sound defied mainstream American radio formatting, but whose full-length debut, Sigh No More, has still managed to gain a passionate following Stateside.

We didn’t know any of that back in March of 2009, of course, when leader Marcus Mumford played uncredited backup for singer-songwriter Laura Marling at an Entertainment Weekly‘s SXSW day party. (Though our own Simon Vozick-Levinson did note: “Maybe it was just the heat addling my brain, but Marling’s multialented accompanist on accordion/drums/finger-snaps/mandolin looked eerily like a young, British version of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights.” Truth?)

Today, Mumford took time out from a U.K. soundcheck to speak to EW about the band’s rise, his recent time in the studio with legendary Kinks frontman Ray Davies, and why his mum went to the mat for her son’s on-air profanity.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So we were just saying that when your album came out, we were like, isn’t that the same guy who played our EW party with Laura Marling in Austin last year?

MARCUS MUMFORD: Yeah! I remember that. You gave us cigarettes [ed note: Actually, those came from the event’s sponsors. Kids, don’t smoke!]. That was excellent, really. Thank you.

What I remember from that day mostly is you playing an unholy amount of instruments. How many you do really actually play?

[Laughs] The thing is, you can’t really count the ones that I don’t know what I’m doing on, so like, Laura would show me the two buttons that I press on the accordion, then I make a noise and it’s in the right key. Sometimes I would even put stickers on the buttons so I knew what to press. But really, I can only play the drums—I can fake-play the guitar and the mandolin and ukelele and the banjo, but I don’t really know what I’m doing a lot of time.

Did you feel, touring first with Laura as she was making her way with her first album, that it prepared you for when you stepped out on your own?

Oh, yeah. I think I sort of picked things up, the way things work, definitely. We were quite lucky in that way really, because we had a bunch of friends going through that, the contracts and all that, so we got to learn a little bit more, get more experience before we even started.

So would you say you have a posse? There is definitely a group of bands you’re associated with…

We actually kind of get scared at the idea that we would have one of those, because we became a band through a community of bands, ones that offered us shows and put us on their MySpace friends and stuff like that, and it was all from the fact that people weren’t exclusive. The word “scene” we hate very much, the idea of exclusivity, a little team, a little club that doesn’t let anyone else join them.

So maybe community is a better word?

Yes! Much better. That’s absolutely what we’ve found with bands like Old Crow Medicine Show. we just finished a tour with them last week, and they were so talented, so incredibly nice, we just became friends. And that’s how I think it should be, inclusive like that.

You were scheduled to go into the studio with Ray Davies for his upcoming album, has that happened?

The single actually just came out this week in the UK. We went into the studio with him for two days. He was really kind, a very gracious very patient man, and very respectful, he was really lovely.

But could you settle down and work, or were you just dying to talk about the Kinks and fan out on him?

[Laughs] Yeah, I kept wanting to ask him Kinks questions. He mentions his brother a lot, obviously they don’t really speak. We made the mistake of saying “Strangers” was our favorite Kinks song, we got all ready to play it, all excited, and I guess the guy who was producing it knew, but Ray finally told us, “My brother wrote that song.” Uff.

We were having an office discussion recently about songs that prominently use the word “f—” in them, and your “Little Lion Men” (embedded below) is a prime example of that.

When we were recording it, we weren’t going to put it on the album, actually, but Winston [Marshall, vocals and banjo] was the real champion:“We’ve just got to!” I was very reluctant especially, but he was right, and I’m really glad we put it on. There were [industry] people asking, “Is there any way you can write a different word? We’ll do anything!” we were like “No, there’s no other word, we tried it and it was just horrible, it didn’t work at all.” But I now have my parents agreeing with me as well. My mum’s justifying it to other people—“There’s no other word that fits, it has to be that one!” [Laughs] We had a guy who mixed our album called Rory who’s a genius, brilliant guy, and he did a really good job on the radio edit. But we really didn’t pick a single, we just gave them a bunch of songs, and this is the one they went towards.

This a question we always ask — what have you been listening to lately?

I’ve just been trying to work through the Delta blues guys — Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, because I know I need to learn more about that. Also, massive amounts of Gillian Welch and the Dave Rawlings Machine, and I can’t stop listening to the new Arcade Fire record. Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard Johnny Flynn’s new album, we’re actually going on tour with him soon.

Well, we look forward to seeing you here later this fall — but we can’t promise you more cigarettes.

[Laughs] That’s alright.

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