The band has just flown in from Copenhagen, Ben tells us from Hamburg, a brief stopover before they depart for Dusseldorf at 3am. It’s not unusual for bands to travel time zones twice in one day, with jetlag being the calling card for many international musicians and stars alike, but recording an album in two days? Unheard of.
Mumford & Sons are about to release their latest offering, an EP entitled Johannesburg – after the city that inspired the project. But less of an afterthought and more of a token of gratitude, the EP was created to celebrate the band’s first trip to the African continent – a stop well overdue according to Ben.
“We couldn’t just go there and play a gig, we had to go there and go deeper, really engage and figure it out – make more of a splash I guess.”
Their way of ‘engaging’ was partnering up with Senegalese legend, Baaba Maal, and London-based, Malawi-inspired duo, The Very Best. Somewhere along the way, Mumford & Sons also acquired the talents of South African pop group Beatenberg. This collaboration culminated in a sound that speaks from the heart of the continent; tracks filled with a rolling fervour, a perfect marriage between the almost-tribal heart of Mumford and the passion and soul of African music.
The success of this creative partnership is largely attributed to the astounding talent of Baaba, an exuberant force on the album and a point of inspiration for the Mumford boys.
“I think we all just felt pretty privileged to be working with him”, says Ben.
“He was always laughing and making jokes and we would be working up songs during the day, and he would be quietly taking it all in, and then he would just open his mouth. I would say that most of his vocals on here are just first takes. He just has to wait until he feels that it’s just right,” a moment that usually involved a glass of red or two, according to Ben.
“Then for the five minutes or so that he is singing, the entire room is just transfixed. Just still. It’s pretty cool.”
The collaboration seemed to be written in the stars, as the feat of recording the EP in two days was achieved with relative ease. Despite some initial road bumps (the studio’s equipment didn’t work and they were forced to record off laptops), the group produced a phenomenal record – a product of “living off the energy of everyone in the room”.
“Because there’s something quite natural about that. It’s sort of a – not really engaging your mind – it’s more of a free form of expression, a very instinctual thing.”
“I think if we’d been left there for another few days we probably could have just made a whole album.”
So does this mean a follow-up tour for Mumford & Sons? “There’s definitely some sort of a connection there. It’s a pretty special place. It just feels like we’re scratching the surface”
‘Johannesburg’ is out now.