Deering Banjo's new campaign: a clever piece of subversive inversion, or crass grab for attention?
In March of 2014, Vulture.com reporter Anna Silman asked a drunken Winston Marshall if his band, Mumford & Sons, had killed the banjo. “I think 'killed' is an understatement," replied the blotto banjo-man, whose plucky plucking had helped propel the group to worldwide fame and immense fortune via its 2012 album, Babel. "We murdered it," slurred Marshall. "We let it, yeah — fuck the banjo. I fucking hate the banjo.”
Marshall was quick to soften his public stance toward the instrument, whose twangy sincerity was credited with helping birth an entire generation of hipster offspring in Derrick Watts & The Sunday Blues' song, "Blame Mumford & Sons." But it was too late: "Fuck the banjo" became the motto of the backlash, an anti-Mumford rallying cry that could be found everywhere — on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and even on Tinder. (Maybe there was something to that Derrick Watts song?)
The busted banjo on the cover was maybe a bit much.
Fast forward to May of this year, when the band released its followup to Babel, Wilder Mind. The album was notable more for what it lacked than for what it featured, and what it lacked was banjo. Marshall tried to finesse the subject, saying in an interview, "It wasn't 'fuck the banjo at all. We just did whatever we wanted, musically. We always thought of ourselves as a rock band playing folk instruments." But again, the Internet ignored him. The website gigwise.com did a survey that asked, "Can any publication make it through two paragraphs of a Mumford & Sons article without mentioning their lack of banjos?" The answer: no. Not even gigwise.com.
Still, it's likely that Mumford & Sons fans will recover. What may not recover is the Deering Banjo Company, based right here in Spring Valley. Marshall famously played a Deering Eagle II banjo on Babel and the subsequent tour; the company even joined the band on three of its stops to introduce people to its legendary product. But those days are very much over and done with.
One of These Things is Not Like the Others: clockwise from upper left: comedic musician Steve Martin, inbred porchdweller from Deliverance, folk rock phenomenon Mumford & Sons, felt swamp denizen Kermit the Frog.
"There's no question that the Mumford craze did very good things for the Deering brand and for banjo business in general," says Deering Head of Marketing Jim "Slim" Picker. "But the Mumford backlash, and Marshall's unfortunate comment in particular, did even more harm. Sales were in the toilet throughout the last two quarters of 2014. We were hoping that things would get back on track with the new album, but that was before we heard the band's new, banjo-free sound. For us, Wilder Mind isn't just a breakup album, it may just be a requiem. We're a bit desperate, and you know what they say about desperate times."
The company turned to pop superstar Taylor Swift, who famously played a Deering banjo during her performance of the song "Mean" at the 2012 Grammys. "Taylor's been embracing an edgier aesthetic these days, what with her long list of lovers [in "Blank Space"] and her tight little skirts [in "Style"], and we thought this might be a good way for her to advance that, while at the same time giving a nod back to her roots as a country star. Keeping it real and all that. Plus, it's kinda sexy when a pretty girl cusses. I guess she thought so, too."