Hello friends, and welcome to “The Annotated Road Taken,” Episode 2. This is a syllabus to go with the second installment of the podcast, in which we talk with Winston Marshall! Best known as the banjoist/guitarist for Mumford & Sons, Winston has an extensive touring history from which he was gracious enough to share some of his insights with us.
I find Mumford & Sons to be a really fascinating band. They arrived in the public consciousness with a cohesive, unique identity paired with great songs, and people responded to them quickly, deeply, and in great numbers. Consequently, they undeservedly became a bit of a straw man and ripe for parody, although they handled both with admirable self-awareness. They’ve also made fascinating touring decisions in what I perceived to be an effort to allow their rapidly expanding concerts to retain a handmade, authentic feel: touring the U.S. by train, recording with local musicians as they traveled, and by curating their own festivals in oft-passed over cities like Pretoria, South Africa, or Guthrie, Oklahoma, USA.
Vampire Weekend were lucky enough to play one of these Gentlemen of the Road Stopover festivals in Lewes, U.K. in 2013. That whole Mumford experience—from their crowd to their crew to the band themselves—was a very welcoming and positive one, and it left me really impressed with how that band approached their live experience. As such, when Baio and I were brainstorming whom we could talk to for The Road Taken, Winston was one of the first names that came up.
As it happened, Winston was actually the first person we ever talked to for this project back in the fall of 2018 and was something of a test case for the TRT concept. Shouts to Winston for helping us out and making it easy on us by being so open and thoughtful. We talk about the aforementioned train tour, Mumford’s early days in the U.K., and a little bit of the emotional calculus of being in a successful touring band. Winston has certainly come a long way from being a “shitkicker from Mortlake.”
Let’s get into it!
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15:34 “He released an incredible collaborative album…”
...with an Austrian group called HVOB. Here it is! As noted, it’s more techno than deep house if that distinction is meaningful to you…
16:40 “Off their tits...”
Forgive my colonial ignorance of British slang, but to be “off one’s tits” does indeed mean heavily intoxicated.
17:05 “We’ve always been very nervous about in Mumford is playing to track...”
Playing to track (or a click) is a way to make sure a given group of musicians are keeping a steady and specific tempo while performing. For electronic music and the requisite precise instrumental triggering, a click is essential. For a more organic band, opinion varies on its overall effectiveness. Does a steady tempo take away from the soul/feel of a performance? I’m staying Switzerland on this one!
22:01 “For some reason, I clicked my fingers…”
It would be scientifically impossible to find the exact finger click that Winston caught some flack for, but here is one possibility from Berlin (at 12:29) in April 2017. I think it works as a stage move, go get ’em, Winston!
23:35 “Why is jumping too far?”
For many, theatrically jumping on stage has some, as Baio puts it, “pop-punk stank” on it. A Google image search for “pop-punk jump” brings up many fine examples of what is an artform unto itself (special mention must be given to Paramore’s use of the even more advanced stage flip). It should be stressed that while stage-jumping remains a conceptually cloudy enterprise, I really do like both pop punk generally and Paramore specifically.
25:05 “You’ve definitely got a dance…”
26:52 “Two of us, Ted and Marcus, were in Laura’s band…”
Mumford & Sons’ first U.S. tour came via opening for Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn. As Winston mentions, two of his bandmates (Ted Dwane and Marcus Mumford) were also performing with Laura at the time. Here’s a clip from that era of Laura Marling live at the Mercury Lounge in New York City, including a cheeky Vampire Weekend tease on the mandolin at 0:13. I appreciate the synergy, 2008 Marcus Mumford!
27:52 “What is the first touring vehicle that’s classically accepted in the U.K.?”
The “splitter” that Winston refers to is a half-storage, half-seating European van, which is well suited for smaller touring bands. In North America, they’re called “sprinters,” but are generally quite similar. To complete the van wrap-up, the U.S. standard mentioned is a 15-passenger Ford Econoline, and Vampire Weekend’s first tour vehicle was a 2004 Honda Odyssey.
31:30 “The train wasn’t our idea…”
44:16 “We were playing Fuji Rock and a string broke…”
One of my favorite Vampire Weekend technical-difficulty memories is from Fuji Rock in Japan 2013. This clip is remarkably similar to how I remember it, although my exhorting-the-audience-to-clap-while-still-holding-my-sticks move is not nearly as suave as I thought.
44:47 “Do you remember the time when your kick-drum pedal broke and you hulked out?”
No, I don’t … but apparently that did happen.
46:33 “I was at the Borderline...”
Here, Winston hits us with a big reveal that he attended Vampire Weekend’s first-ever official London show! It is quite hard to imagine anyone thinking of this sweaty, young bro as a “proper rock star” but there you have it.
1:02:44 “One of my favorite memories of the Modern Vampires touring was…”
...playing a pink plastic trombone with Mumford & Sons as they closed Glastonbury 2013. Honestly, watching this performance still gives me chills to this day.