PLAYER SPOTLIGHT - Marcus Mumford
By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
“You’re kind of nervous that you might get the guitar passed to you,” he said. “But you also kind of want it to happen. It was constantly that cross between adrenaline and fear. And I still live there.”
- Rolling Stone Magazine
"I grew up in a Christian home," John told the Vineyard Church website. "My father had become a Christian when he was at Cambridge in the 1920s. Both my parents loved the lord and served in a local church. It’s where I grew up. I served with them as we went every Sunday as a family. We prayed together, read the Bible together, and that was entirely natural. It just never occurred to me to do anything else. It wasn't a chore; it was a wonderful heritage.” - Marcus Mumford - Hilary Weaver for elle.com
We find ourselves on a spiritual journey and this edition lends itself to a truly hard-working and inspiring musician of the modern era. This weeks artist displays the true power of folk music in the right hands, a talented and exceptionally gifted songwriter and musician.
Born in California but never really touched down, whisked away to Wimbledon before words hailing from an Irish heritage please be upstanding for Mr Marcus Mumford.
A Musicians Musician & Hardworking Melody Maker.
As a society we magnetise towards idols, heroes and icons, this is an aspect of our existence that is more true than ever in music and with musicians especially with guitar heroes of the obvious nature.
This instalment focuses on a character that is more the Everyman that everybody wants to be.
Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford was born on 31st January, 1987 to English parents, John and Eleanor, in Yorba Linda, California.
Before reaching the age of one Marcus’s family moved back to England and Marcus was to grow up in Wimbledon Chase, Southwest London.
Being born into a strong religious family has its influences and disciplines. Marcus praises and embraces his religious heritage and uses it to his advantage in regards to his songwriting and creativity.
It almost feels it’s a tradition to not start out playing the guitar but end up playing with guitar just by chance. Mumford actually started out as a drummer and a very accomplished drummer at that.
After leaving the Kings College school in Wimbledon Mumford went to the University of Edinburgh but dropped out after the first year-or-so of study to pursue his interest in music back in London.
Marcus did well to move in the right circles on the music scene within London, one of his first session jobs was with British folk singer-songwriter Laura Marling who wasn't a fully established artist herself yet but well on the way up.
Being around this particular unit of musicians Mumford found himself involved with current artists on the rise such as Noah and the Whale and even Adele.
Absorbing experience on the road and on tours Marcus began to piece together songs and creative work of his own quite quickly.
Marcus is one of those musicians that is very private and gives away very little in the way of his creative process or his musical history or how he found music and the instruments he now favours such as the guitar.
A rare insight into the man, the musician, and the creator can be found here at this very intricate and beautifully shot interview by Rolling Stone Magazine: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/marcus-mumford-interview-mumford-sons-967338/
“It felt like early on, people wanted to put you in a box: ‘You’re a Christian band.’ It certainly isn’t as simple as that.”
Marcus Mumford - For Patrick Doyle
Winston Marshall and Marcus Mumford photo by Rob D [CC BY 2.0]
Mumford continually speaks of having to be in a room full of musicians to make music and create, as a multi-instrumentalist he finds the focus lies with the social side of musicianship and cannot be left to his own devices to create in a solitary environment. This statement perfectly captures his character and outward look on musical expression as a concept.
He always reflects on the fact that he was part of many different bands but never the front man, never actively wanting to be a front man but feeling that he had something to say or express.
Mumford & Sons
"We get accused of inauthenticity because we play the instruments we play”
- Winston Marshall - By Tom Lamont - TheGuardian.com
The beauty and the mystery of Marcus Mumford as a musician is the fact that he isn't solely focused on one particular instrument. Although he now gravitates towards the guitar as his mainstay, it's his approach to the guitar that’s really the interesting part.
We all know a drummer that has the urge and tendency to just pick up your guitar in a rehearsal room or in a sound check and they grab it and have a great old time chopping away on it. 🤦♂️
A key detail I've always noticed is how most drummers/percussionists approach playing the guitar, it's mostly to do with the attack, timing and the voicing. They approach guitar with a drummer's mentality, this always creates a really interesting result in what they play and how it comes across.
The minds of guitarists and drummers are at two different ends of the spectrum, so what transposes onto guitar from the drummer's mindset is somewhat of a unique expression.
For me this is one of the key driving forces in Marcus’s most notable musical venture.
“Mumford & Sons, British folk-rock band noted for its raucous, fast-paced, sonically dense instrumentation and for lyrics that had a spiritual focus subtly grounded in Christianity.” - Patricia Bauer - britannica.com
This epic band was born from a culmination of musicians moving in and around the same circles. All from varied musical backgrounds they came together and fused their collective inspirations into an an uplifting folk sound with stomping rhythms.
Marcus’s approach to guitar and instrumentation in general is fuelled by his percussive attack and overall dynamically accenting feel; less of a technician and more of a feel player that responds ands communicates musically with his fellow musicians and surrounds.
The band went on to phenomenal success worldwide and are widely received and transferable in all countries and cultures - a very rare thing indeed. 🤘
“In 2009 Mumford & Sons signed with Island Records. The single “Little Lion Man,” released that fall, shot up the charts, and the band’s first studio album, Sigh No More, which contained that track, debuted at number 11 on British charts and climbed upward. Sigh No More was released in the United States in 2010 and was equally well received there. The album won the prize for British album of the year at the BRIT Awards in 2011, and later that year the band received a Grammy Award nomination for best new artist.”
- Patricia Bauer - britannica.com
String Percussionist 🥁 …
Mumford is a self-confessed multi-instrumentalist and doesn't class himself as one or the other; he is just as much a vocalist as a guitarist, as a drummer, as a mandolin, ukulele & melodica player.
He has often been quoted as saying he enjoys moving around different instruments as it helps being out of his comfort zone on an instrument, it generally leads to greater productive creativity.
Marcus’s strings choice truly reflects his playing style and percussive nature. The following video put together by Elixir Strings showcases his tour guitars and we get an in-depth view from his guitar tech Alex Oakley.
As expected we find out that Marcus prefers a heavier gauge string favouring ELIXIR Nanoweb E16102 Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings 13-56 Medium.
This is of course the desired choice for a number of reasons, durability, lifespan and reliability. Strengths we often hear associated with Elixir continually. 😎
As highlighted by Alex in the video above Marcus has his acoustic tuned to open tunings C and D, the heavier gauge would also help retain a decent level of tension in these detuned set ups.
As we move to his electric guitar set ups we see the heavier gauge is still in use across his Fenders and Gibson guitars.
Alex describes again how the heavier gauge is there to withstand Marcus's full-on and ferocious playing style. Great dynamics can be created from the heavier gauge string along with the reliability of Elixir.
What we learn from his string choice here is that he requires a heavy duty string that can withstand a continuous heavy playing style that has the ability to keep up and keep giving out without giving up.
As stated by Elixir perfectly, these are clearly the strings for the job for a multi-instrumentalist percussive songwriter 🎼 .
“WHY USE ELIXIR STRINGS?
BRIGHTEST TONES. JUST-RIGHT FEEL. LONGEST-LASTING TONE.
The ability to effortlessly lose yourself in your music. That’s why so many players turn to ELIXIR® Strings. Eliminate distractions like endless tunings and inconvenient string changes. Achieve the sound you want for longer with strings that feel just right.”