With Communion, Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett Helps Music Fans Find the ‘Next Good Thing’
Lovett started Communion in the summer of 2006 in London as an independent platform for new artists who needed help promoting their music. He scheduled monthly club nights, where up-and-comers like Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling and Lovett’s own band would have a chance to play to a packed room. Lovett is now trying the same approach in the U.S. with nine club dates throughout October. The tour makes stops in Nashville, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City–where they’ll kick things off tonight (October 1) at Rockwood Music Hall.
In an interview with Radio.com, Lovett said that helping young bands has always been important to him and that his first job was actually as a promoter. At 12 years old, he was organizing birthday parties for kids in his neighborhood; by 15, he was booking bands for his high school dance.
After nearly seven years in the UK promoting acts like Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka, Deap Vally and Gotye through not just the live shows but Communion Records as well, Lovett decided to move to New York to see if he could work his magic stateside. America, he feels, is where new bands need the most help getting their music out their to the masses. Blogs on blogs can preach their rookie picks, but Lovett argues that they’re not serving the audience as well as they could be.
“People are trying to find the next big thing, instead of the next good thing,” Lovett said. “I like to think that there’s enough people out there who want to find good music, but just don’t have the time in their busy daily lives to do the work we’re doing, which is trolling through demos and submissions and YouTube videos. We do all that work and then we sort of whittle it all down to what we think is fantastic and we present all that to the world.”
Over the years, Lovett has seen a few bands that had all the hype, but are now struggling to pay their rent because they weren’t given time to develop their sound. Time is important to bands just starting out and it’s the reason, Lovett says, Mumford & Sons were able to be so successful. The band spent nearly three years on the road before releasing their debut, Sigh No More.
“It just helped us understand ourselves a bit better and the fans better,” he said. “When the record came out, their was a real fanbase, we couldn’t get our minds around it, but their were thousands of people when the first album came out.”
Communion, on the other hand, isn’t in any rush. Instead Lovett wants to help bands like Rubblebucket, Willy Mason and Roadkill Ghost Choir–all featured on this month’s Communion national tour–earn some real fans. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to fill those venues for the fans,” he said. “Then the bands need to go up onstage and play their songs and connect with those music fans. Hundreds of people engaged in music means a lot more than 100 thousand YouTube views. This is tangible growth. This is what is needed.”
A touring band for nearly four years, Brooklyn’s Rubblebucket were invited on the tour after Lovett said he wanted to produce their 4-song EP (below). “We are built largely on a loyal grassroots fanbase we’ve developed over years of hard work,” the band’s trumpet player Alex Toth. “With more releases and bands [on the Internet] than ever before, it’s that much more important to bring your creativity to people in the flesh.”
But Toth, who writes alongside bandmate and girlfriend Kalmia Traver, notes that being a great recording artist and a great live band are separate things. “I see bands get stuck on the road because they’d rather get by doing that than get ‘real jobs.’ But great recordings are so damn important,” he explained. “For us it’s also important to give ourselves the space to evolve and develop, which is why we spent the larger part of this year off the road.”
By getting back out there with the support of Communion, Toth hopes that they can reach new crowds with their live show, which often includes face-painting, crowd-surfing, horn freakouts and quite a bit of crowd participation. “At the core of our wild, weird dance/rock shows, we strive to have just pure good songs,” Toth said. “I imagine it will be illuminating to do a bunch of [Communion] dates with so many fine songwriters.”
One of those songwriters is Willy Mason, a folkie with three albums, a handful of EPs and a 2012 touring stint with Mumford & Sons under his belt. Lovett described Mason, who’s seen more success in the UK, as an artist deserving of more notoriety than he currently has in his native U.S.
“I guess I’ve made some decisions over the years that might have kept things a little quiet on my front but I don’t regret them,” Mason said. “I still get by and the shows get better and better and so do the songs. I think that’s the important thing. I like to think when people say that they’re on my side and that’s good. And maybe the crowds will get bigger, you never know.”
That was the point of joining the Communion tour, alongside bands who don’t share his own sound. The goal is to play for crowds interested in discovering new music in the purest way. “You don’t get better by trying to get on the cover of a magazine,” Mason said, “you get better by working on your craft and connecting with the people around you and finding out what moves you and them.”
Lovett admits that Communion is a lot of work, work that he doesn’t necessarily need to do since his full time job with Mumford is going so well. “I could just chill out and write some songs and do nothing,” he said. “But I really enjoy listening to this music that we’re releasing and promoting. I get a pleasure out of it.”
And though Lovett can’t promise that these club nights will lead the artists to the kind of success he currently enjoys with Mumford, he can promise that they will offer a night filled with good music. And for only 10 bucks.
“[These bands] might sell 10,000 records, they might sell 100 records, but in our opinion they’re good records and people should listen to them,” Lovett said. “You might never heard of any of the bands playing our upcoming club nights, but you’ll want to buy a ticket because you’re going to have a good time.”