SINCE EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS RELEASED THEIR FIRST ALBUM, UP FROM BELOW, IN 2009, THEY HAVE DEVELOPED WHAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS A CULT FOLLOWING. THIS IS EVIDENT IF YOU HAVE EVER BEEN TO ONE OF THEIR SHOWS, WHERE THE CROWD HANGS ON EVERY NOTE THE BAND PLAYS, AND EVERY WORD TO COME OUT OF FRONT MAN ALEX EBERT’S MOUTH. WITH 10 MEMBERS, AND AN APPARENT SENSE OF THEIR OWN COMMUNITY, THEY ARE KNOWN FOR THEIR ‘PEACE, LOVE, AND HARMONY,’ APPROACH. BUT, AS SINEAD KEANE FINDS OUT, IT’S NOT ALL RAINBOWS AND SUNSHINE.
Alex Ebert doesn’t give a crap if you call him and his band mates a bunch of hippies, skids or new-age gypsies. In fact, many people do. A frequent judgement based on a number of elements including, but not strictly limited to; Ebert’s beard, Ebert’s unruly mane, his penchant for dressing in holed attire, and performing barefoot. Are such assumptions rooted solely on the famed frontman? No, it would appear not. Traveling en masse on a rickety tour bus with group proclamations of “One Love” does not do much for the case of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Does it bother them though? Decidedly not. “I don’t care about the hippy thing - that is a social observation,” he says. “But the music - when the music becomes ‘psychedelic’ because I have a beard, that doesn’t makes no sense.”
Here, the latest offering from the 10-person ensemble, formed in L.A. over two years ago, is anything but psychedelic, according to Ebert. “There is almost nothing psychedelic on the Here album, mildly maybe, the bridge of ‘Dear Believer’ - but it’s more of a beautiful church vibe. I strongly believe if I didn’t have beard and dressed in a suit, we could be called R&B. I really think that.” Sitting on the grass on a sunny afternoon with Ebert and his truly delightful bandmate, vocalist Jade Castrinos, before their show - as members of their camp stroll by hand-in-hand, another with a baby strapped to her breast - it is difficult to imagine the Zeros as an R&B entourage. And, despite their claims, it is not easy to isolate their aesthetic and lifestyle choices from the music. Edward Sharpe is, after all, an imaginary figure created by Ebert, following a reincarnation from electro-dance wild child IMA Robot, to prophet-like spiritual leader of the Zeros. “He is an every man sort of thing,” says Alex of the fictitious Edward Sharpe. “He is based on my potential, everyone’s potential. Not the perfect man, but the expansive man, and woman…. human being.”
The follow up to their beloved debut, Up From Below, will not isolate those fans that need a few undeniably catchy feel-good anthems to chant along with when the chips are down and your local haunt is only serving decaf. Recorded in both Louisiana and their home state of California, the record offers a number of slap-your-thigh, stomp-your-boot, insert-cliché, style songs. And this is only the beginning. The Zeros recorded so many songs in these sessions that they have another album due for release in March next year. “There were a bunch of songs that we recorded that were more meditative, and others that are more gung-ho and musically adventurous - in a wilder or more aggressive way - so we just broke them up,” says Ebert. If the quirky Here plays home to the meditative tracks, their upcoming album should serve nothing short of a floor filler for the folk inclined.
With tracks such as “I Don’t Wanna Pray!” and “Dear Believer”, there is a vivid spiritual component in Here which forms an important element of who Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are. “[Spirituality] is pretty much on the bottom and on the top, and is something we talk about,” says Alex. “We definitely meditate together before every show, and breathe together - there are no rules to it, we just huddle and let whatever fly, fly. I think the main thing that we understand is that music flows better, in fact everything flows better, when it is more relaxed and that is what we are about.”
With such a large ensemble of people playing together, such team building exercises are necessary. Working with a dozen or so other people is easy, according to Jade and Alex, as long as everyone wants to be there. It is when someone does not want to there, that is becomes difficult. “There have been people in the past who have had situations where they were not so happy or they needed to be doing something else, and the time between them realizing that, and them actually leaving, was a stressful time.” Today, the group is a cohesive unit - so much so, Jade adds, that whenever someone misses a show, it has an affect on the entire group. “Everyone has their own unique parts, so if someone does miss a show, or has an off day, you can feel it.”
Experiencing one of their shows is nothing short of a religious experience, amid a chorus of anthems, hand raising, and joyful affirmations. And the Zeros are aware of this. “When you’re on stage, you’re exposed, and you have two choices. You can fake it, or you can really expose yourself and go for the truth,” says Alex. “For me, on stage it’s not about rainbows or anything, it’s about my intention. It’s about dropping self-censorship that would otherwise cause me to encrypt myself in safety - like pessimism, or negativity - but really here are a bunch of people who are ready to share music with you. It’s a pretty happy experience to begin with. When I get really truthful and honest about it on stage, and I am not wrapped up in my own selfish bullshit, I can realize what a celebration it is. From there, we just keep going.”
Despite their sunny onstage demeanour, the Zeros are quick to point out that their music is not entirely positive, at least not lyrically. “I feel that if you listen to the content of our songs, if you are really listening to some of the stuff that Alex is saying in his lyrics, you will realize that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns,” explains Jade. “Some of it is, and I think that is really beautiful too, but he looks at both sides of life.”
It is easy to see where such presumptions can come from given some of the group’s most famous lyrics involve chocolate candy and pumpkin pie. “When I was a kid, I could just swim in a vat of pumpkin pie,” she muses before the pair set off to the stage, a show of peace, harmony and R&B beats.
Photos: Lucas David Morgan