Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Being Here Now Never Felt So Good
Here’s Emily Zemler’s splendid June cover story on Edward Sharpe & The Magentic Zeros
Ojai lies 12 miles inland from Ventura, which rests along the Pacific Coast of California. The small town, best known for its golf courses and scent of oranges that hangs in the air, is nestled in the hills, which roll between green and brown depending on the current rainfall. Like many of the small mountain towns in California, a vintage feel dapples Ojai, an aesthetic aided by an ice cream truck that rattles through its streets and buildings that look like Western movie set pieces. It isn’t very surprising that the members of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes settled easily into the town while making their new album, Here, and its companion album, a yet untitled follow-up disc expected out in the fall.
Alex Ebert, the singer, guitarist and mastermind of Edward Sharpe, leans over the console at an Ojai studio, which is technically unnamed but that the band refers to as the Ed Shed. The band has filled the space with all of their own recording equipment, gear and countless instruments, most of which are battered and seem more likely to be found at a flea market than at a recording studio. A puppy named Moses prances around the room, prepared to mount any moving leg in sight, while the band’s studio engineer Matt “Linny” Linesch works in an adjoining room.
As Ebert, a slight, bearded figure with long tangled hair and soulful eyes, slowly devours a sandwich and salad, picking up each piece of lettuce with his fingers, I sit across from him on a couch, which he says he’s spent many nights sleeping on during this album’s production. Ebert and Linesch have been holed up here for the past few days working on mixes for the tracks that will appear on Here’s follow-up. Besides the instruments, the studio is sparse—a fact that is striking compared to the inside of Ebert’s ramshackle Echo Park house. (He now splits his time between there and Ojai, although is considering a move to New Orleans.)
Initially, after touring extensively behind their 2009 debut, Up From Below with its overwhelmingly popular single “Home,” Edward Sharpe went into a studio in the small town of Bogalusa, Louis., in November 2010, expecting to be able to jump immediately into recording their sophomore effort.
“To me, it was a beautiful and horrendous experience,” says Ebert of the Bogalusa session. “But what I liked most about it was the focus that you get when you’re not in the city that you live in and you’re all living for recording.” He adds, “There was a lot of antsy, built-up turmoil from [three] years of touring and not having all our songs ready to be recorded and going in prematurely. And some stuff that made it difficult.”
While the month that the band spent in Bogalusa yielded several viable songs, it wasn’t until the ten band members—Ebert, guitarist/singer Christian Letts, singer Jade Castrinos, pianist/singer Aaron Arntz, drummer Josh Collazo, accordion player/keyboardist/singer Nora Kirkpatrick, percussionist/singer Orpheo McCord, guitarist/singer Mark Noseworthy, trumpet player/keyboardist/singer Stewart Cole and bassist/singer Seth Ford-Young—found this empty, unassuming studio in Ojai that the music really began to flow. Only two tracks, “Fiya Wata” and folk-ballad closer “All Wash Out,” from the Bogalusa session became part of Here, although more may appear later. The rest of the album’s tracks—plus numerous others—were created in California.
During the time between Bogalusa and coming to Ojai last October, Edward Sharpe continued to gig, most notably joining Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show for the Railroad Revival Tour, which saw the bands traveling by train from California to New Orleans last April and pausing at depots along the way to perform shows. (The Emmett Malloy-directed documentary of the tour, Big Easy Express, premiered at Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest music conference this past March.) While the sojourn only lasted for one week, it generated the inspirational shift needed to urge the members of Edward Sharpe toward their next album. “The train tour was a revelation for me,” says Ebert. “And for a lot of people in the band.”
When watching the Big Easy Express, it’s easy to see why: The musicians never stop playing music. Most of the playing, in fact, seems to have been done offstage. “You would walk between cars and you would switch genres between each car,” Kirkpatrick says a few days later before the band’s KRCW taping in Santa Monica. “You never knew. It opened my eyes to a lot of different types of music, a lot of different songs I wasn’t aware of. We’re all into different types of music but hanging with the Old Crow guys—who are from a different era of folk music—was an amazing experience.”
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In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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