Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Being Here Now Never Felt So Good
Ebert—who at one point pauses to note that he’s feeling a high sense of déjà vu during this interview, which, at least on this dimensional plane, has never happened before—seems at peace with these pronouncements. And in many ways, his acceptance as a person often at odds with convention explains why Ima Robot’s bizarre alt-rock is so deeply compelling. The band, which Virgin dropped after the release of their second album, Monument to the Masses, in 2006, still exists and plans to record further material, perhaps in 2013. It’s possible to love and appreciate Edward Sharpe without an awareness of Ima Robot, however, it explains a lot about the band to realize that Ebert is still searching for that same brilliant rush onstage.
“It’s the same force and it’s toward the same place, but it’s just a little different,” he says of the live performance experience. “It’s about the ecstasy of transcendence and the joyride to that, as well as the snarling descent into self-destruction. Honestly, it’s all sort of self-destructive, even the positive way. There’s the destruction of a certain part of the self or certain layer of the self; then, a revealing or breaking through into a bigger self.”
This is what Ebert—and his band members, all of whom are compelled by him for similar reasons—does onstage every night and attempts to capture in the recording studio. Here originates from a communal place, driven by the wants and talents and inspirations of a group, but Ebert’s desire for self-revelation is threaded throughout. All of the talk about spiritual awakenings and transcendence—as well as Ebert’s long hair and penchant for wearing long white nightgowns—may conjure up the word “hippie.” But if you ask the band, that may not be such a negative term.
“I don’t know if ‘hippie’ is a derogatory word,” Kirkpatrick says later before the KCRW taping in April. “If you go back to a hippie in the ‘60s, it meant freedom, exploration and living life to the fullest—not living life by the rules set by the people who weren’t living life to the fullest. I don’t think it has to have those bad connotations that sometimes come along with it. If you take it for the beautiful thing that it is—meaning freedom and exploration of life—then sure, I’ll be a hippie.”
In the KCRW studio, as the members of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros crowd onto a small stage to perform many of their new tracks for the first time, Ebert seems more interested in the vantage point of the audience than of the band. During soundcheck, he stands with his microphone in the space where the audience will be, testing the acoustics and later spends much of the performance climbing through the crowd or sitting cross-legged with his fans on the floor. There’s a reason, even in this diminutive show that Mumford and Sons frontman Marcus Mumford declares of Edward Sharpe in Big Easy Express, “I think on this tour, they’ve become my favorite live band to watch.”
The transcendence that Ebert and his band search for during their live shows is not something that you can decide whether or not to participate in. It’s a feeling that encompasses you, which may explain the massive—and continued—reaction to “Home,” a song that both speaks to that idea and achieves it. Edward Sharpe’s music grapples with grand concepts and searches for a deeper meaning, using songs as a way to convey—or channel—ideas about how to best exists within our world. They may not have the answers quite yet, but the musicians occasionally stumble across something that offers a hint.
As the performance draws to a close, Ebert mentions the notion of dichotomy, of two forces in the world struggling to consume the other. Both engage him, he says; but in the end, he doesn’t actually have to make a choice. “Light doesn’t need shadow to exist,” Ebert tells the crowd, “but shadow does need light.”
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