Chatting with Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe
Sometimes rock and roll can be a binding force that drives us forward and make the world less gloomy by creating a sense of unity. With a sweaty fervor reveling in celebration and human determination, the ten-person or so ragtag LA rock and roll ensemble of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes make a jubilant return to Milwaukee this Monday - having taken the Club Garibaldi crowd on a wild party last summer -- with just that attitude.
At the forefront of the group's freewheeling display of honest affection and search for enlightenment in their music is lead singer Alex Ebert - best known for his created alter-ego and rugged Edward Sharpe (as well as the former lead singer of power-pop group Ima Robot) -- as well as his close friend and band co-founder, Jade Castrinos. Both take every chance to rollick in the spotlight and help work their band mates and crowd into a frenzy.
With last year's critically acclaimed album "Up from Below" boasting their popularity in the states (including a performance on "Late Show With David Letterman" and song appearances on television shows such as "Chuck"), the band continues to roll out their revival-like rock shows full of raw emotion to bigger venues and "converting" more fans in this rock revival.
From the ever popular and warmly affectionate "Home" and soul-searching "Desert Song," the band's lyrics and sound evokes the power of the human spirit with a barrage of voices and instruments.
For Ebert especially, this band has personally gotten him in a celebratory mood. Before meeting the band, the singer had gone through a rough patch with a breakup with a girlfriend, joining Alcoholics Anonymous and spending a year sleeping on a blow-up mattress in a tiny L.A. apartment with no phone and Internet. But one day sometime in 2007 he decided to write a story- a tale of a messianic-like figure with a big mission for good but who kept getting distracted by love - and Edward Sharpe was born, both on the page and in Ebert's mind.
With some soul-searching and after forming the band, he found his eyes opened to the good he could do, especially with others. The rest of the band seemingly shared this enthusiasm and this no doubt feed into the album's organic sounding recordings.
Before Ebert and the rest of the band fill the Pabst's stage with many instruments, and celebrations, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to talk to Ebert about how creating Edward Sharpe affected his life and what life is like playing with a colossal-sized band full of similarly large vibrant sounds and ambition.
OnMilwaukee.com: You created this alter-ego or persona named Edward Sharpe. Who is Edward Sharpe?
Alex Ebert: It's not really a persona. It's more me rediscovering myself with writing some of the songs that was kind of linked up to that. I had a personal reboot and the band ended up being called Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. The name Edward Sharpe came from a little novel I was writing that was sort of this idea I had of myself when I was a kid, the what-I-want-to-be-when I grow up sort of thing. That's the Edward Sharpe character or persona. But all that really is is the most potent form of yourself...There's a lot of amazing things you can do, like helping people other than yourself.
There's no split between the two. When I get on stage, I think the stage forces a person to go one of two ways - to really fake it or come really super honest. It's a great opportunity to get on stage and open the facet as wide as possible.
OME: What's it like touring with a band of that size?
AE: Touring with a big band is really, really fun. I guess it wouldn't be if you didn't get along or there wasn't this sense of adventure. Not just touring, but we're in constant communication of where we're going and how we're going to write the next album and all these things. It's also challenging, totally challenging; interesting and life-challenging, in some respects, my experiences on earth so far.
OME: What's the chemistry like between with the others and how do the songs feed off that into a really organic sound?
AE: Especially live and on the recordings the chemistry is very present and [shows us] wanting to be the most potent for that moment. There's this interplay on this chemistry between everyone...It's a really amazing feeling.
OME: Could you tell me about writing the songs for "Up from Below"?
AE: The first album I wrote before I met everyone, except for Christian and Jade. Most of the songs were written before we were a band with the exception of "Brother" and "Up From Below." We're starting to write more as a band and in some ways it'll be a similar situation where one of us brings in a song and we all contribute. It all ends up being sort of being rewritten or contributed or just realized in a much different way. Everyone adds something to the recording process.
OME: The band's song "Home" features a pretty joyful conversation of falling in love between you and Jade. Could you tell me about writing that one and is the story at the end of the song?
AE: We wrote that one together and that was really fun. It was after a day in the park running around barefoot. We wrote that song in my apartment and the story is totally true. We're going to release a deluxe edition with demo soon. It was basically recorded the day we wrote it.
OME: The band recently started work on an ambitious series of cinematic music videos that follow most of the album's dozen or so tracks. So far you have videos for "Desert Song" and "Kisses Over Babylon" Could you tell me a little bit about how you got the idea to turn the songs into a really big story and what it was like filming?
AE: I've always kind of wanted to do a short series of movies and thought our music was visual and cinematic. We started going through the songs pretty literally. It was really tough but really rewarding. A lot of work to do that kind of stuff on a low budget. It was interesting enough to represent it visually and do it in a linear way. We left it completely up to interpretation. It's just like when you have music, music by itself is often a lot more listenable than music with lyrics on it because all of a sudden you have a real serious direction there and real unequivocal information, like definition coming at you. Suddenly the definition means something that's usual and less potent. I just hope we have enough energy to see the whole thing through.
OME: Going off the idea of energy, what is your ultimate goal with this very energetic live show?
AE: The live show is fun and transcend of the whole rock and roll experience, at least for me. They're really opportunities to celebrate and let it loose and let it all hang out. I allow a raw honesty to pour through. And it's important not to be afraid to smile.
OME: What's have you learned on the road and headlining now or any advice?
AE: You just do what feels right. If it doesn't you say no and move along. It's important to have trust and faith in your vision and music in general and love and what you're doing. If you it's right then it's right.
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