Big Easy Express

Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons Take a Train Across the American Southwest

Marcus Mumford’s acoustic rendition of new tune “Meet Me Tomorrow” soundtracks a Super 8 postcard of the California coast in this extract from Emmett Malloy’s new music documentary. Shot mostly on 16mm during last year’s Railroad Revival Tour, Big Easy Express follows British folk rock outfit Mumford & Sons, indie pop darlings Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and bluegrass elder statesmen Old Crow Medicine Show as the bands indulge in an Americana–fueled journey through the southwest on an antique train bound for New Orleans. “It was a great State of the Union for me in music,” says Malloy, whose film credits also include the White Stripes documentary Under Great White Northern Lights. “I’m used to things being a bit precious: bands and frontmen are fragile—they’re artistic people and you’ve got to treat them gently. But these guys didn’t have that. They were okay being raw and imperfect and letting the moment be the moment.” Here Malloy talks about best bunkmates, Jake Gyllenhaal and riding the same route as Woody Guthrie.

Having lived with all three bands for a week, who would you choose to share your cabin?
Emmett Malloy:
Definitely the Old Crow guys, just because they’re a bit older like me! As you get older you sit in the pocket a bit better, you’re not as eager. But I like them all equally. With the Mumford guys you get the most polite, genuine English fellas. The Edward Sharpe guys are like my family—this big dysfunctional awesome mess. And the Old Crow guys just never put down their damn instruments. 

Were there any love connections on board?
Jake Gyllenhaal was on the train and that made the girls narrow in on one individual every night, so that was hilarious. He was just going to ride it one stop to Arizona, and the next thing I know we’re in Marfa, Texas, and he’s playing a trumpet on stage. He never got off. 

How would you compare the experience of the White Stripes tour with this one?
EM: They’re like the yin and the yang of films: similar in structure, but completely different in emotion. Under Great White Northern Lights fills you with mystery: “What is up with these two? And why is she crying? And gosh, what is going on?” Big Easy Express gives you this thing where you want to go and enjoy life, or grow your hair long and not shower for a while. One is the poetic, uplifting journey, and the other has a little more angst—it’s the introvert and the extrovert.

What was the most striking thing about seeing the country from a train window?
EM: We travel all the way around the world looking for beauty far away, but really, America is as beautiful as anywhere in the world. There is so much of it that is untouched: beautiful, big open landscapes; incredible stacked, layered mountains; deserts for as far as the eye can see. When you’re driving in the car you’re going down the roads everyone else is, but when you go on this train you’re taking a path that makes it feel like 100 years ago. It’s the same track that Woody Guthrie rode on, and it probably didn’t look a whole lot different.

Big Easy Express is available for download worldwide from tomorrow, for more information see here.

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Conversations (1)

  • joncoffelt
    This is a very authentic and nastalgic look into trains and train-riding. I love to go on a train What a luxury it is. Excellent music too!
    • Posted By joncoffelt
    • June 25, 2012 at 1:24PM
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