Inside Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ ‘Unmediated’ New LP
In the summer of 2014, Alex Ebert felt his band was at a critical crossroads. Where he once viewed Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros as a “social experiment of ramshackleness” — a group of several musicians free to make mistakes while playing with an almost childlike innocence and freedom — over time, he’d come to realize they were all becoming quite proficient musicians and should treat their music as such. “Just by virtue of the process, we started to become a great band, basically,” he says bluntly.
Moreover, with the departure of longtime singer Jade Castrinos earlier that year, the musician began to feel as if the synchronicity of the group — a key component of the band’s longtime narrative, with Ebert cast as some sort of shamanistic messiah — was beginning to splinter. “Three albums deep, it sort of started to feel like a posturing of a commune basically,” he says of his band. “My whole vision for Edward Sharpe to begin with was this merry band of pranksters or brothers and sisters; sort of this egalitarian ideal. But I was taking eight tenths of the song burden as far as songwriting and yet splitting evenly the money.” To that end, Ebert had what seemed like a logical idea: He’d invite his entire band down to New Orleans, where he’d recently purchased a recording studio, and for the first time in their eight years together, they’d collectively write their new album.
“What was really amazing is that a band of 10 people managed to all sit around and have the patience to hack through chords and continue to the process of discovery altogether,” Ebert says excitedly of Edward Sharpe’s forthcoming new album, PersonA, due April 15th. “That took a lot of patience. We all did that. A good deal of the songs were written altogether.”
Oftentimes, Ebert says, band members would begin playing their respective instruments without any sense of where a song was headed. “They felt the complete liberty to start playing however they were inspired, and I felt the complete liberty to stop them or shout out, ‘Yes!’ or ‘You add this!'” he says. “The niceties had no use in the room. It was unmediated communication between 10 people. It was pretty magnificent. I think it was a major step forward for us and something I don’t think we were capable of before this because we hadn’t played together long enough. There’s something about getting in tune.”
The result is the band’s most risk-taking, freewheeling album yet. For lead single “Hot Coals,” the band constructed a seven-minute-plus epic that devolves from a mellow, acoustic-guitar-driven opening into a riotous, horn-inflected crescendo. With a laugh, Ebert describes the track as “not a song that a high school band would try and cover. I do think it’s an epic, but what makes it great is not the songwriting but the playing,” he says. “The timing of the guitar strums and the timing of everything is the song. A lot of the song [is] … hanging on a single chord for a really long time.”
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