[MUSIC: Interview] Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros first became a blip on the alternative music scene’s radar with 2009’s Here Comes EP, a trio of day glo, gentle, ramshackle indie folk espousing the virtues of peace, love and understanding, man. Their debut album, Up From Below, offered more of the same, and may have sunk into the morass of good-but-not-particularly-outstanding albums with so many others were it not for the pervasive drive of single ‘Home’. An odds and sods blending of whistling choruses, jubilant brass bursts and earworm melodies had it soundtracking romantic comedies and advertising American football, and many more people were soon taking notice of this ragtag collective of Californian hippies that started out touring in a decommissioned school bus.
It wasn’t long before questions were posed about the authenticity of the band’s mystical leader Alex Ebert, formerly of early millennium electro-clash group Ima Robot. Critics snidely raised their eyebrows at this man, who had traded leather jackets and sleazy keyboards for dreamcatcher circles, accusing him of bandwagon hopping. Because obviously no one in music’s entire recorded history has ever tried out a persona or changed their sound substantially… Still, there’s at least one member of the band who shouldn’t have any trouble proving his freak flag credentials: Magnetic Zeros’ percussionist Orpheo McCord.
“I’m at home right now in Ojai, California, which is about an hour and a half northwest of Los Angeles… I live in the bush, as you guys call it,” starts McCord. “We live in this canyon, it’s totally isolated and beautiful, lots of mountains surrounding us and a small, little creative town… After all the years touring with this band and bands prior, I just got kinda tired of living in the city; it’s so unproductive. My girlfriend and I went surfing today, and now I’m teaching myself some drums. Just keeping it mellow.”
Mellow indeed – but not for long. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are soon to hit the road again, for a tour that takes in their third trip to Australia. The band are pairing with likeminded beard- and harmony-fans Mumford & Sons for a tour of capital cities, and one special camping stopover show in New South Wales country town, Dungog. “That was one of the major selling points of touring with Mumfords, doing that show; they were explaining to us about putting on this mini-festival and taking over the whole town,” McCord says excitedly. “I have no idea what to expect, because when we’ve come to Australia we’ve only played in major cities, but it will be nice to get a taste of that small-town experience”.
Mr Sharpe and his zeros of magnetism (don’t worry, that probably won’t catch on) first teamed up with Mumford & Sons in April 2011, to play six shows across America on the Railroad Revival Tour. The bands travelled via overhauled 70-year-old trains with bluegrass band Old Crow Medicine Show also in tow, and the tour was captured on film by Grammy-nominated director Emmett Malloy for the documentary Big Easy Express. While the Australian shows won’t be Railroad Revival Part II, there will still be plenty to keep fans whoopin’ and hollerin’ into the night. “I would say that the Railroad Revival had a unique tone to it – on the old train, travelling through America, there was something so unique,” McCord says. “Even if we had Old Crow Medicine Show, it wouldn’t be the same… But you know, there will still be a festive element to these shows, playing with the boys, because we all get along really well and we all love playing music together. It will be nice to reunite with them in that way.”
If Up From Below was the sound of the band boarding the bus for the Magical Mystery Tour, then 2012’s Here is them getting comfy on the ride. Excitedly pointing out the landmarks, taking plenty of photographs, having adventures along the way – the album further explores the journey that Up From Below embarked on. The colours are brighter, but the darks are darker. It’s probably not for naught that the album title is so matter-of-fact. The band is saying ‘We’re here, are you?’. “On a simple note, the first record was an idea,” Orpheo explains. “Alex had a concept and a vision of what he wanted to create with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and that wasn’t even the concrete name for the band at the time… The band came together through the process of making that vision come alive.
“As a whole, we got to know each other through that [first] album, not really sure if there was going to be a future after that. We were just riding the wave, a solid three years of touring that record. And through that process, that alchemy, when we finally got time to record new things, this new music started to unfold itself,” he says. “It was more of a collaborative effort that created a slightly different perspective, with Alex as the leader keeping that purity of the original concept.”
What: Here is out now through Shock
With: Mumford & Sons, Willy Mason
Where: Sydney Entertainment Centre
When: Thursday October 18
More: Also playing with Sarah Blasko, Mumford & Sons, Willy Mason, Matt Corby, Husky and Yacht Club DJs at Dungog Showgrounds on Saturday October 20