Ask anyone who's held hands with a stranger or danced barefoot in the front row at an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros gig: The 10-piece folk-rock ensemble's shows are more like shamanistic tent revivals than rock concerts. Former Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert, the singer-songwriter mastermind behind the group, embraced his hippie heart after losing his major-label deal, moving and getting back to basics. "I didn't have a cell phone, we didn't have Internet," says Ebert, who embarked upon his new life with girlfriend Jade Castrinos.
On their recently released debut LP, Up From Below, Ebert channels his psychedelic tendencies into tunes that are alternately joyful ("Janglin," "Home"), jaunty ("40 Day Dream") and gothic ("Desert Song"), with echoes of the Arcade Fire and the Mamas and the Papas. Ebert attributes their sound to a conscious effort on his part to connect with his most childlike musical impulses.
Those childlike impulses come through in the band's name, too: There isn't an Edward Sharpe in the group, and Ebert named the band after the characters in a novel he was writing about a boy who transcended his dismal world by tapping into some sort of universal music.
Recording Up from Below took the Zeros more than a year and a half, during which time they scrapped their sessions and started over with only analog tape. "It's been a serious fucking saga," says Ebert. "But it allowed us to develop into a family, which is really what I wanted. I really am a firm believer in utopia, otherwise I have no reason to be here."
This story is from the August 20th, 2009 issue of Rolling Stone.