Mumford and Sons address their photo with Jordan B. Peterson
'I don't think that having a photograph with someone means you agree with everything they say.'
Last month, Mumford and Sons were preparing for the release of their upcoming album when a photo of them with Canadian psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson started making the rounds online. Peterson, a public speaker and bestselling author, has become a polarizing figure for his views on topics such as feminism, white privilege and non-binary pronouns. In May, Peterson had posted a photo of himself with members of the band in their studio, which was then circulated on Twitter in August, causing a wave of mixed reactions.
As the band readied to release their new single, Guiding Light, from the forthcoming album Delta (listen to it at the bottom of this post), they chatted with q's Tom Power to address the controversy.
"We talked about it a lot [as a band], man, because, I mean, it's sensitive isn't it?" says Marcus Mumford from a studio in London, England. "Because I personally don't agree with all that Dr. Peterson has to say, and we had a lot of conversations among the band [members] about how and if we should respond. What didn't feel right was a tweet or an Instagram, because it felt more nuanced than that and it felt like we'd love to have, like, a conversation."
Below is part of that conversation with Marcus and bandmate Winston Marshall. You can hear the full conversation here. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Power: Winston, I'll start with you. What's the story with the picture of Mumford and Sons and Jordan Peterson?
Marshall: Well one of the wonderful things about our producer Paul Epworth, when we were in his studio, he's had such an open door policy and we've brought in so many people and got to share our music. ... I primarily was very interested in Dr. Peterson's work on psychology, read both his books and found it very, very interesting and met him [through] a mutual acquaintance and invited him down to the studio whilst he was in London on tour, which was very interesting and one of many interesting visits [from various people] we had in the studio.
I don't know if you watch the World Cup but Gareth Southgate, the manager of England, said something fantastic, he said, England right now is quite divided and football has the opportunity to to unite us, and I think music has the same opportunity. I think with the controversial stuff that you're talking about, I don't think [Peterson's] psychology is controversial, but the quasi-political stuff. ... I think it's a conversation we're having a little bit as a band and, do we want to get into the political stuff? Probably not.
We love the opportunity to disagree and I think that's something that's at risk of being quashed to too much of an extent.- Marcus Mumford
Power: There will be Mumford and Sons fans who would be trans, who would articulate themselves perhaps as feminists, who would define themselves non-binary, who may have opinions that would be incredibly contrary to Jordan Peterson's, and you saw that in how people were posting about it online and in the reaction to this photo that went online. Aren't you worried that posting a photo like this, or having a photo like this come out, could alienate those fans?
Marshall: I don't think that having a photograph with someone means you agree with everything they say. So I don't, really. Because then I wouldn't be able to have a photograph of anyone at risk of trying to offend anyone so I think I don't see the harm in engaging in conversation. And as I said earlier, primarily I'm interested in his psychological stuff, which I find very interesting.
Power: Marcus, do you think it's important for fans to consider the political views of musicians?
Mumford: I think it's got to a funny place, isn't it, when musicians become figureheads sometimes, especially in celebrity culture. It's like, us musicians didn't sign up to play music because they wanted to try and be models and have their photo taken or to be political thinkers and be heard on their politics. … Most people start bands because they like playing music. But then, of course, you get to a point when people are looking to you and wondering what you're thinking on issues and, of course, you have a responsibility then to face up to the reality that people will listen to you and criticize you for choices that you make, and we're responsible for those choices, too. So, yes and no. I mean, I do think what bands say about their politics should be pretty, I think, just pretty careful. …
We love the opportunity to disagree and I think that's something that's at risk of being quashed to too much of an extent. And really, I think over the last couple years we've been in listening mode — I don't think any of us listen enough, I don't think we listen enough as a culture — so, we've spent as much time as possible making the most of the real privilege that we get to meeting people and listening to them. Whether or not people then assume that we just endorse politics when we're not saying anything about politics is their end choice and we certainly hope people don't feel alienated. … I think if we stop listening then we stop progressing, right?
Power: Did you guys know how controversial he was?
Marshall: I guess so. I think we could have a very long conversation about it now. But I think it's precisely why Peterson and [Sam] Harris and all these other guys are having these two or three-hour-long conversations on podcasts, and that those things are so popular, is because these are incredibly long and nuanced conversations to have. I mean, as fascinating as it is, I'm not sure we're going to have the time to get in all of one of those in the time we've got now. But I think that the Mumford and Sons are very interested in the public discourse generally and all the things that are going on.
Power: Are you worried you might lose some fans because of this?
Marshall: No. I mean, I think it's because we want to be a uniting force. And I think, we think, the world needs that right now. And the divisive side of things is something that we find tiring and a shame that it's such a dominant part of the discourse right now. And and if there is any opportunity to unite, we think that's what we were excited about.
Tune in tomorrow to hear more of the conversation with Mumford and Marshall. Listen to Mumford and Sons' new single, Guiding Light, below. Delta will be released Nov. 16 from Glassnote/Universal.