No one expected Mumford & Sons to be bigger than Justin Bieber -- certainly not the British folk-rock band themselves.
But their sophomore album, Babel, shook up the music industry in September by selling 600,000 copies in the U.S. and 75,000, in Canada in its first week of release. That's the biggest first week sales of 2012 -- besting even superstar The Biebs.
Indeed, singer-acoustic guitarist Marcus Mumford and banjo player "Country" Winston Marshall, were unsure of just how Babel would be received after the unexpected success of their 2009 debut, Sigh No More, which went on to sell 2.5 million copies, was nominated for Grammys in 2011 and 2012 and even led to a Grammy night performance opposite Bob Dylan.
"I think we'll be more like more towards landing (after being shot out of a cannon) with the second record," says Mumford, who married actress Carey Mullligan (Shame, Drive ) earlier this year.
"We'll be able to justify playing for an hour and half in front of people better."
The band almost seemed to think they'd arrived too soon with Sigh No More, graduating quickly to arenas.
"We don't go in like thinking, 'Oh, we want to do the biggest venue,'" says Marshall, who adds fans shouldn't expect Canadian dates until 2013.
"But then at the same time, you don't want to piss off that want to see you. So it's a balance. And we're trying to work out how we can play those big rooms as well because that's new to us even if we did it last year. We were out of our element. Like, 'What the f--- is going on. This is mental.' Now we quite enjoy playing (outdoor amphitheatres) so maybe that's what we'll do."
Adds Mumford: "It was mental. (But) those were really special shows actually. They almost made us feel like we can do those venues intimately if we want to."
When it came to writing Babel on and off the road over the last three years, their influences ranged from Arcade Fire, The National, and The Band.
The sound they were going for was "unashamed."
"I think more bold, more confident maybe 'cause I think we got more popular than we thought we maybe even deserved and it could be easy thing to be like, 'No, we're not that,'" says Marshall.
Adds Mumford: "It's been a conscious effort I think to get behind those songs and go, 'F--- it, this is what we're going to do.' And not second guess ourselves and just making the record that felt natural to us and develop the sound and play acoustic instruments a bit harder and plug 'em in. Like basic stuff really, but just doing it unapologetically."
In addition to getting to play alongside The Band's drummer-singer Levon Helm at one of his last Midnight Rambles at his Woodstock, N.Y. home shortly before his death - "That was an extraordinary experience," says Mumford - there was that earlier performance on the Grammys with Dylan that Mumford says they barely got through.
"Only just, only just, it was terrifying - it was live televison with Bob Dylan, it was terrifying," he says.
"It's kind of hard to articulate the feeling," says Marshall. "Surreal feels like an understatement."
"F---ed up," sums up Mumford with a laugh. "Obviously, it was pretty fun."
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