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Mumford & Sons’ music sizzles as slow burner

Glassnote takes longterm approach to promotion

Conventional wisdom says that the era of artist development is over in the music industry, and the slow-rolling hit is a thing of the past.

Don’t tell that to Daniel Glass, president of the New York independent label Glassnote Music, whose English folk-rock act Mumford & Sons has invaded the top 20 of the U.S. album chart after more than six months on the market.

Glass said, “In our initial meetings with the band and management, we used words like ‘gradual,’ ‘longterm,’ ‘credible,’ ‘integrity,’ ‘no hype,’ ‘let’s wait.’ ”

The London group’s debut, “Sigh No More,” has sold 191,000 copies here in its 24 weeks on the chart, according to Nielsen SoundScan figures for the week ending Sept. 5. Two weeks ago it peaked at No. 19 on the chart; it currently stands at No. 26. (It has sold 633,000 in the U.K., according to the Official Charts Co.)

The group’s keyboardist-accordionist Ben Lovett said modestly, “Glassnote is doing a really great job, because we can’t take too much of the credit for it, really… To be honest, we’ve never had any lofty aspirations or ambitions.”

The quartet, which features such instruments as acoustic guitar, mandolin, double-bass, banjo and squeezebox, was founded in 2007, leading an active London folk-rock scene that includes Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn.

Tipped by Dougy Mandagi of Glassnote act the Temper Trap, Glass saw the group at London’s iTunes Festival in July 2009.

“They were so amazing,” Glass said. “Through the filters of Irish music and bluegrass music and folk, they conjure up American folk music, which is the root of R&B and the root of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Glass licensed “Sigh No More” — issued in the U.K. last October — from Mumford’s imprint, Gentlemen of the Road, and released the album here Feb. 16.

The album, handled by Sony Music’s independent arm RED Distribution, was an indie-based project from the start.

“We didn’t go to the big retailers in the beginning,” Glass said. “We focused on the digital stores and the independent stores. We really super-served those guys. We put the vinyl out real early.”

Mumford & Sons won some important early radio believers at alternative-leaning stations like WFUV in New York, WXPN in Philadelphia and WFNX in Boston.

Online exposure was key in starting up the act. Glass credits blog coverage with spreading the word and Web video exposure has been a key factor internationally: The video for “Little Lion Man” has streamed 8 million times on YouTube.

The group’s April-May U.S. tour, (and exposure on David Letterman, Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows) took the group over the top.

In May, “Sigh No More” — which had dropped off the U.S. album chart after seven weeks — reappeared at No. 94 and has maintained a slow climb ever since.

The band made festival appearances at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo (where they performed with members of Denver string band Old Crow Medicine Show), Chicago’s Lollapalooza (where they enlisted a local horn section) and, in a departure, the Telluride bluegrass conclave.

“Too many bands play their shows on their laptops,” said Glass. “I think that’s what’s missing — the extemporaneous, spontaneous performances. This band has that.”

“Certainly word-of-mouth has been our biggest marketing friend,” said Lovett. “It is the power of a friend telling a friend that they liked a good gig last night, or that they picked up a good record.”

The buzz has generated sales for Mumford’s October-November U.S. swing: All 21 dates sold out in advance. The group is moving into larger venues this time: In Los Angeles, it’s stepping up from the 1,500-capacity Music Box to the 4,000-capacity Hollywood Palladium.

The group should receive another lift from an as-yet-unscheduled release: a four-song EP, recorded in India during a late-2009 tour with Laura Marling and several indigenous musicians, which melds Mumford’s folk sound with Eastern rhythms and vocals.

Fresh from the U.K.’s Mercury Prize ceremony, where “Sigh No More” was feted among the year’s 10 best albums, Lovett ascribes his band’s burgeoning success to its very simple and direct appeal.

“We don’t have a massive, high-production show,” he said. “It’s just the four of us standing in line, playing our instruments with as much heart as we can.”