“It takes courage to step into the unknown,” said Alex Ebert, frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, in a phone interview with The Daily Californian. The band and Ebert himself have come a long way since their 2009 debut album, Up From Below. After his huge initial success from the head-bobbing, foot-tapping “Home,” Ebert ventured and came out with his solo album Alexander in 2011. The Los Angeles natives’ 10-member band is now stepping back into the limelight with Here.
Here maintains the upbeat, feel-good rhythms and melodies accredited to the band’s initial success while simultaneously bringing a more serious, slower progression to the album. The first three tracks, “Man on Fire,” “That’s What’s Up” and “I Don’t Wanna Pray,” are the songs that listeners are likely to set on repeat. They jive, they are catchy and they remain ringing in your ear long after you turn them off. However, from track four onward, the album burns out. The jaunty, uplifting music seems to seethe out of them, but the latter half of the album is just a divergence from their perkiness, as the tempo begins to evaporate. Ebert described how Here was new for both him and his fans, somewhat explaining the waning end. “The simplicity of the album is new as far as allowing it to just sort of be and not having a ton of twists and turns,” he said. “Just sort of letting songs breathe.”
Discussing the group’s production of Here, Ebert said, “Everyone was very much present for most of it. And now we are a band, whereas on the first album, we were just sort of becoming a band.” Despite the band’s coming together, the album still falls apart, losing connection with its audience. If this album was considered more involved, than maybe Ebert should consider working alone again.
In the interview, Ebert also mentioned the loss of two band members in the transitioning process from the last album to this one. Regardless, he assures that the connection is still very much alive between members of the group: “It’s growing, it’s changing as we become more and more of a band. But the most collaborative we’ve gotten on Here, for instance, was when Christian brought in two chords and a lyric ‘I’ll be the church, you be the steeple’ and we were in a pretty big group setting, and we took that and just ran with it. That was really fun because that was an instance of something being incomplete but to see a seed being planted.”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will be coming to the Bay Area, specifically The Greek Theatre, this Friday, Sept. 7. “Expect us to maintain the wilderness even in the face of the sort of grander venues,” Ebert says of the upcoming show. “I think that’s an interesting feeling because, for me anyways, the grander venues sort of condition your mind to think you’re going to get a certain kind of show when really there is this sort of wild connection with the audience that’s still the most important thing.”
Having seen Ebert last fall in Oakland’s Fox Theatre, I have experienced the intimacy he strives for in a midsized venue. There was a lot of improvising, which was a fresh diversion from the album recordings, but it often led to the songs dragging on from three minutes to 10. The redundancy of dialogue breaking into the song you’ve been waiting with building anticipation to hear is a painful disappointment. What was meant to be spiritual, euphoric and interactive became disruptive and drawn out. When the songs were at their prime moment, Ebert pulled back and began interacting with the audience. It was great for the people in the pit, but for everyone else in the theater, it was distracting. The musician and the performer have the same intention, but the execution is the real disparity.
In response to how he interacts with the crowd, Ebert says, “It’s definitely a conscious thing. If there is one sort of intention I have — I go out, it’s opening myself up to the experience that’s about to happen and react as honestly as I can to it. A lot of times, that’s about connecting in general, with the universe, the people there, their hearts, and not distancing myself in some sort of rock star shtick.” Ebert’s heart is in the right place. He wants to connect with his fans, as so many musicians do, hopefully only to become more refined and aware as time goes on. “The raw connection is still the most important thing anywhere,” he says. “(It) reexamines my ideas, my ideas of transcending space and not confining to your confines but rearranging them to your dreams.”
Contact Shanna Holako at [email protected]
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