As they were touring for the 2013 self-titled release and before they descended upon LouFest this Sunday, September 8, I jumped at the opportunity to interview front man Alex Ebert to try to uncover some of this "magical mystery."
Well, the truth is, he seems to have told us already, "no darkness, no shadows." Alex answered my emailed questions and more -- "Tilt my chin back, slit my throat, take a bath in my blood, get to know me." And "I'm only loving, only loving, only loving / Only loving the truth."
Meghan McGlynn: First, can I call you Ed? No, I'm kidding. But seriously, I've read a lot about this alter ego Edward Sharpe… I'm curious about this persona six years after his birth. Do you love him? Hate him? Feel trapped by him? And who is Edward Sharpe today? Do you see a future for Edward? Or is all of this giving Edward Sharpe too much weight?
Alex Ebert: Dunno, really. Just a name so far to me. A name I liked. There was some alter-ego-ishness to the whole thing earlier on, but it has been a few years since I have given anything like that energy. I had visions of this character here and there, trotting through some bereft world, but no longer, really. I was lost, you see, then, dreaming. Now I am within the dream, and there is no Edward Sharpe any more or less than there is an Alex Ebert. The confusion is clarifying, for you see, I am me.
I've read your music described throughout the years as reminiscent of the type of music created in the 1960s. But to me, and this may just be my denseness or failing, but to me, I don’t hear that sound so much until this latest album, self-titled "Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros," released in July 2013. Would you agree or disagree? If this album is more '60s-inspired than others, what led you and your bandmates to go there?
Oh, well, by far the best period of music making in the last 60 years was in the '60s (and early '70s). This is subjective opinion, sure, but it is so widely admitted by those who make music that it has really graduated to objective reality. From jazz to pop, the bar has simply gotten consistently lower since then, and personality has been left to carry most of the musical weight. I would simply describe our music as live music. Making albums is great but it has many things going against it -- the product is static, for one. Moreover, it is terribly fettered in the jaws of commerce and professionalism. Yes, we partake, and make albums, but the songs are there to hold you over until we can be together to sing them to you live, to be played live, directly to you, from us, within the moment.
You've described this new album as "rambunctious" and "adventuresome," and others have described it as "chaotic," "eclectic" and even "childlike." What do you think of these words: "Euphoric"? "Celebratory"? "Spiritual"? Would you describe your music that way? Would you want others to?
Yes, I would. Why? Because, given the English language, those words seem appropriate to the experience of it.
And thinking of that last word, "spiritual," your second album in particular, "Here," but also this latest as well, have moments that sound to me reminiscent of what I would imagine to be a religious ceremony with the holiest of holy rollers. I once had the fortune to visit Al Green's church in Memphis and hear the Reverend himself preaching to his congregation. And I was moved by the singing, clapping, and praising to the point of feeling almost "saved" myself, if I have any understanding of that word (the understanding I have comes from reading James Baldwin novels, not personal experience). I've read you also did not come from a church-going family, but rather got your ideas about these feelings and sounds from movies. What inspires you to make sounds like these?
Actually I got most of my early experience from communal singing in elementary school, a school called Children's Community School. A lady named Ruth would walk around with an acoustic guitar and we would all just sing in unison and clap or do whatever it was. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was started with that time in my life as a major guide.
I have also read that you overhauled your life after some drug use and rehabilitation for drug use, and that led you to give birth to Edward Sharpe and begin the creation of music that we're talking about today. If that is even somewhat accurate, would you say that your attempt to create euphoria and joy through your music an attempt to find that same other-consciousness that one may attain through drug use, but in a more community-oriented way? Of course, you sing about wanting to "get high" through love. Is music love to you?
We are all after the ecstatic state, human beings -- it is very easy to see. True love, drugs, gambling, running, hiking, religion, etc…. Our reaching for that musically has only to do with that human instinct. Music is one of the healthier and lasting ways to reach that state.
And speaking of that history of drug use and rehab that is attributed to you: do you get tired of that description of the series of events that led you to this point? Do you want to complicate that now, several years later, or do you still hold onto that as an important turning point in your life? Or do you think that your personal life is none of our business? (I wouldn’t blame you!)
No, I do not get tired of the truth. However, the truth is not listened to, interestingly, in this case. The truth is that the very difficult spiritual time I was going thru preceding Edward Sharpe was spent entirely drug and alcohol free. That I was on drugs and got sober and started Edward Sharpe is a fabrication by ears who can't seem to process this -- and I have explained it many times, expressly addressing this twist, and then the article will come out and have it the other way. No one seems to want to hear it. But the fact makes sense if you listen -- I was going thru a process of leaving as many institutions as I could. I had become a ROBOT, you see. One of these institutions (and the hardest to leave) was Alcoholics Anonymous. For all the good it did me -- it did help save my life and transform me -- it was still a fear-based institution. Like most institutions, it sings loudly "without us, you are lost." Well, it was time for me, finally, soberly, to be lost. And I did feel lost -- I left my relationship, my cell phone, my record label, my house, AA and all of its wonderful social fabric, and it was frightening, but it was a tremendous feeling, an inspiring feeling. And THAT is when I began writing the first album.
Do you still have a desire to reinvent yourself (if some of what I've read and am talking about is true)? Or is the persona Edward room enough for free exploration?
There is no re-inventing of self that is authentic -- only courage to change in accordance with the loud truths... I only aim to continue along the path -- and to some, yeah, it may look like reinventing.
What about this talk of honesty? I've read you and your bandmates talk a lot about honesty lately in terms of the music you write, the feelings you want to conjure, the message you want to convey. How does "honesty" jibe with a persona?
Again, no persona but the ones we are all trying to embody -- the better versions of ourselves, the more liberated versions of ourselves. It is sometimes helpful to project your ideal vision of yourself into the future and then work to become that -- this is how vision is helpful in transformation.
And what about Alexander? Is he more you, while Edward is more the 'everyman' persona? Or are neither you? If they are both parts of you, will we meet the other parts of you through other personae, other albums?
…The only thing with Alexander lyrically is that I feel more at ease to speak a bit more selfishly if I feel the desire, or be a bit more romantic, or a bit more crude about something...
And finally, what about your band? I've read that you have the awesome experience of having joined some of your oldest friends together to form the "Magnetic Zeros," and from what I hear, it's working swimmingly, and from what I read, everyone is really enjoying it.Can you tell me about it? How do you all come together? When you create music, does it happen with each person contributing a separate part and they all get cobbled together into one big awesome whole? Or is there a visionary that guides, if not directs, the others to chime in?
This would be a very long response... but the information is all out there and relatively accurate… Essentially we love each other and work together and the overarching intention is rarely spoken of but intensely understood and smiled about -- it is what gives us our resolve and strength and will to continue, I know.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros perform at LouFest on Sunday, August 8. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest 2013.