Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Being Here Now Never Felt So Good
So what, exactly, does “divine” mean to the members of Edward Sharpe and their music? If you listen to the lyrics on Here, then you may get some initially conflicting answers. On one side of the spectrum, album stomper “I Don’t Wanna” juxtaposes lines like, “I love my God/ God made love” with “I don’t wanna pray to my maker/ I just wanna be what I see.” On the other side, dulcet folk-rocker “Dear Believer” explores the idea of heaven, seemingly searching for what the lyrics refer to as “paradise.” But, ultimately, all of the songs, even the less explicit tracks, are asking the question: “What does God mean to you?”
“I don’t think anybody talks about God anymore,” says Castrinos, who sits curled-up on the couch, arms wrapped around her legs, peeking out from behind a green knit cap that covers her pixie haircut. “Do you ever hear people talk about it? It almost feels awkward to bring it up sometimes…I think it’s a generational thing. Unless you were raised in an organized religion sort of way with a concept of God, I think maybe we are all feeling the same thing in our own way at the same time.”
So when the word God appears, at least in the songs on Here, it is not based on a specific idea of God—and it’s certainly not rooted in religion, which Ebert sees as an institution that hurts more than it helps. (“What I want to see is myself living in a way that doesn’t belong to any institution because I’m not afraid to dance through the fire,” he notes). Instead, God appears as a means of instigating discussion, or, perhaps, of finding your own personal concept of the divine.
In other words, what is it that channels through you when you create? “I’m working within the framework of understood symbols to try and reveal other angles of those things to then perhaps completely change the meaning of those things,” says Ebert of the lyrics.
This concept is further illuminated on Here’s companion album, which features a track called “I Believe in Nothing,” a sentiment that Ebert via a meditation by the spiritual author Eckhart Tolle that urges the practitioner to stare at negative space. Initially, the song appears to be nihilistic in tone, eschewing belief in anything. But if you consider what the title really means, then it becomes clear that to pronounce credence in nothing actually confirms a belief in something. Juxtaposed with a number like “Dear Believer,” it’s apparent that the band is not so much preaching as they are engaging the listener in an active exploration of spirituality and culture.
“I don’t know if this is going to work or not, or if it will have a good effect or negative effect,” says Ebert, who will soon become a father. “I think it’s nice to try. I like the idea of using the terms that we already have, and reshaping them because that does happen throughout history—words get reshaped and adapt new meanings [like] for God not to be a concept that is monopolized by religions, but that anyone can feel free to use without feeling like subscribing to one thing or another, for it to all become a little bit more poetic and less dogmatic.”
My connection with Alex Ebert and his music originates nearly ten years ago, back when Ima Robot released their self-titled debut in September 2003 on Virgin Records. The following summer, the little-known band played 30-minute slots on the Vans Warped Tour, quickly becoming one of the most talked about acts on the festival’s lineup, due in part to Ebert’s feral stage presence.
Now, as we sit in the Ed Shed in early April, I tell Ebert that I saw him perform that summer in the parking lot of Denver’s Mile High Stadium, where he threw himself onstage, shirtless and emaciated, like a 1970s Iggy Pop, and began cutting bloody lines into his chest. He nods and says, “Thank God I got to a place now with Edward Sharpe where I can express that same thrust of mad, brilliant…” He pauses, seemingly at a loss for the word.
“The feeling I’m explaining is this brilliant rush for the outer reaches of my skin, you know what I mean? And pushing through and basically transcending the physical form. With Ima Robot, the way I’d get there—and I made sure I’d get there every time I played—was very self-destructive [and] very defiant. And the defiance, in those days, and through a lot of my life, was defiance at death, so hence drugs…that’s a brilliant way to go about transcendence,” he says seriously.
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