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How Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' 'Life Is Hard' Came to Life

Watch the historical newsreel footage and get the latest on the band's surprising lineup changes

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Laure Vincent Bouleau
July 9, 2014 11:50 AM ET

Alex Ebert, frontman for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, hasn't stopped moving — even though the band is on a brief break from its summer tour, the first without singer Jade Castrinos. Between relocating to New Orleans and scoring a new film by director J.C. Chandor, the songwriter is now ready to release a video for "Life Is Hard," which adds mid-century newsreel footage to the band's latest single. Watch its premiere here.

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"I can't remember the state I was in when I wrote it," Ebert says of the song. "But it was probably one of those carelessly alive, ready to feel everything, courageous states." Calling from home, with his two-year-old daughter crying in the background, Ebert spoke to Rolling Stone about the video, the split with Jade and beginning work on a fourth LP.

How did you come up with "Life Is Hard?"
I started writing something on the piano when I was taking a break from mixing the album, and then I remembered this poem that I had found in my files. Scrawled above the poem it said "to John and Heath," and I was referring to John Lennon and Heath Ledger. Heath was going to put out our first album and we became close, we had all of these plans, and then he died. We had talked the day before he died. I don't know when I had written the poem but it had been a few years earlier. It must've been right after I had talked to this psychic, who told me that a man named Heath said that John says hello. So I was like "John who?" And then I thought maybe it was John Lennon.

Why did you decide to use archival historical footage in the video?
Some of that footage is amazing, when you see World War II and Auschwitz and the Civil Rights Movement and all that, that's just the stuff that was around when film was available to document everything. It's such a small slice of history, but it's so much aggravation and pain and trauma. And yet, there's beauty in it somewhere, in the in-between moments, in the lives and the existence and the survival itself. Enduring itself is beautiful. That's why I felt like the imagery and the song spoke to each other on some level.

Now that you own a recording studio down there, is New Orleans going to be the new home base for Edward Sharpe?
Yeah, the last time we were all in New Orleans as a band I was just so giddy. I was just noticing the grins on everyone's faces as we trampsed around. To be a musician and an artist, it's a special feeling to experience New Orleans as a sort of proxy home, so we'll probably be hanging here. I've been trying to convince some of them to move down here and it's going pretty well. It's not too hard to convince, but for people who are used to L.A. and New York, it's a bit out of the way.

Is the band getting ready to do another record down there?
We're planning on doing one later this year, in the winter. I'm always writing a bunch, and yet I've made a resolution to not write any more for Edward Sharpe when I'm alone, to only make it a group effort. Usually it's been a solo process and I've written most of everything, so it'll be really nice to just go around in a circle and do it together. So anything I'm writing now is probably not for Edward Sharpe. We'll just come together as a band, because we've never really done that.

What has it been like playing shows without Jade?
It was kind of daunting and frightening at first. The first show without her, in particular, was sort of like, "Wow, OK, I haven't been onstage without Jade in years, and I've come to depend on her as my partner." I felt like I had to step up my abilities and really focus and go beyond where I had been taking the shows in the past, and it's really been amazing, it's been truly, truly amazing. When we get up there it's just on fire, and I don't really realize anything is different.

Does the break feel permanent?
It's hard to say, but for now, it is what it is. There's no sense on either side of actively trying to come back together. That said, if it felt wrong, I would be trying to make it right, but it doesn't feel wrong.

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