“If four years touring seems like a long time to you, imagine how it felt for us” says Alexander Ebert, enigmatic frontman of L.A.’s Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. “I mean, it definitely won’t be the same this time, we’ll probably never tour one album for four years ever again. It’s just too fuckin’ long, man” he laughs. But you can tell he means it. Having completed their debut album Up From Below in 2009, the band embarked on a heroic schedule that would seriously test the mettle of any of rock and roll’s lifers. Not only did they complete their own tour, they subsequently jumped straight onto the Railroad Revival Tour with Mumford and Sons and the Old Crow Medicine Show, basically all three bands playing shows in unconventional venues across America over an eight day railroad excursion. “It was like a dream, I mean, we had come from being totally exhausted and then all of a sudden we’re getting this shot of divine musical energy. On that train with all those bands, those amazing people who are filled with life and excitement and friendliness and there was never a time when music wasn’t being played. I mean it was just like a fucking fiesta the whole time.”
Returning to the studio, how was recording the band’s second LP Here?
“We had a good time, it was a little hectic towards the end there because we were trying to meet a deadline and up until fairly recently I still expected it to be a double album so trying to get other songs happening at the same time was difficult… but it was a good experience, a really good experience. We made the album together, as a band, you know”.
How does that work, do you write songs as this Edward Sharpe character or is it really a band effort?
“Nah, Edward Sharpe just a name, I mean, I tried to change the name while making the first album but, you know, people liked it. It was just a name I’d come up with one day whilst writing a little story and started a MySpace page. I just decided to call the band that. Once I realised there was an actual band I started feeling slightly strange having this name standing out in front a crowd, but you know, everyone liked the name and I think that’s kinda cool”.
Being the principal songwriter, do you differentiate between your solo material and the songs for the band?
“There’s definitely a differentiation process that usually reveals itself, sure. There’s plenty of songs that I wrote for particular albums, in this instance as part of the double album thing, but eventually where it belonged became questionable. I mean, it could just have come down to timing, you know -when an album is actually happening. The other thing is that some songs are clearly for something else, you know? I think that there’s a sort of culture, especially with Edward Sharpe anyway, and there is a feeling of what the ingredients of the song are and the texture of it, and if it doesn’t fall into that texture in some way, either you make it that way or it stays off the album.”
Is there a contextual element when deciding which songs stay on which album?
“I use much broader strokes with Edward Sharpe. In some ways – politically, socially and spiritually – I use more philisohical strokes as opposed to the personal reveals of Alexander. Even ‘Man on Fire’ from the new album includes the whole damn world yet it’s still very personal. ‘Dear Believer’, which is still very personal, speaks in a way that’s in defense of optimism in general. That in and of itself are the broad strokes so you’re right, there’s a feeling of the group when I’m writing for the band. Even this album there’s stuff I’m saying that I’m not even sure the band are comfortable with, but I’m saying it anyway. It’s unavoidable and with the band there’s definitely a whole social context with it, yeah.”
How do you think performing the more lo-fi songs from Here will be different?
“In a lot of ways this album is a less in your face and less dazzling than Up From Below, the arrangements have changed so instead of filling every hole with some sort of instrument, people come down and somebody might pick up a shaker or banjo or switch to backing vocals or something. And with the backing vocals, even when a song is stripped down, there’s still this amazing choral effect. There’s something there when everyone is singing and I feel it truly imbues the spirit of humanity when everyone is singing so we’re looking forward to it.”
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros play the Olympia Theatre, Dublin on July 17th.