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Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros make honest music

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros leader Alex Ebert reflects on the cynicism directed toward 'post-ironic' music. His goal: 'an ecstatic state.'

August 03, 2013|By Randy Lewis
  • Alex Ebert is the leader of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Alex Ebert is the leader of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

This post has been corrected. See note below for details.

The members of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros think pop music might be headed into a new phase, one in which the calculated cynicism and ironic detachment prevalent in recent years starts giving way to good old-fashioned sincerity.

Edward Sharpe: An article in the Aug. 3 Calendar section on Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros said the group's new album is being released by Mumford & Sons' Community Music/Vagrant label. It is being released in the United States by Community Music/Vagrant and in Europe by Mumford & Sons' Gentlemen of the Road label. Also, the song "Please" was misidentified as "Peace." —


"The term 'post-ironic' has been thrown around, and I may or may not have helped to have a hand in inventing it," said the band's singer and chief songwriter, Alex Ebert, who did invent the alter ego of Edward Sharpe as the namesake for the band he and several friends started in Los Angeles six years ago after his stint in Ima Robot.

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"The interesting thing is that if you come right out as [B.S.], no one questions you doing [B.S.]," Ebert, 35, said. "No one says Lady Gaga's not for real, because she's obviously not for real. No one's going to attack the veracity of Lady Gaga today, or anyone really....

"But if you try and approach something with a post-ironic or post-sarcastic sense, with a sense of earnestness, suddenly you have to be vetted and picked apart. Whereas if you presented yourself dishonestly, sarcastically or ironically, it's all good; no one's going to question who you are. It's a very interesting, highly ironic situation."

Irony and sarcasm are in short supply on the group's third album, "Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros," which came out July 23. Instead, Ebert and the nearly dozen other members of this hard-to-categorize collective pour themselves into unapologetic expressions of love, peace, the quest for transcendent experience and other remnants of the hippie era.

Those are topics the group has been flirting with since its 2009 debut album, "Up From Below," with its hit "Home," and, especially, the 2012 sophomore effort "Here." Those albums established the band as one of the leading lights of a new, uplifting strain of indie rock, which the Zeros inject with punchy horn parts, soaring vocal choruses and clashing percussion effects often adorned in a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound.

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England's breakthrough roots band Mumford & Sons signed the Magnetic Zeros to the group's fledgling Community Music/Vagrant Records label and led to Mumford inviting Sharpe out as its opening act on recent dates in Europe, with more ahead on Mumford's U.S. tour later this year.

Singer Jade Castrinos, who got the ball rolling on the Magnetic Zeros when she and Ebert met in 2007 at Little Pedro's restaurant in downtown L.A., says there's enough music to make people feel lousy. "I don't really want to do that. I guess we're doing our thing. Like Mumford & Sons — being at their concerts and getting to play with them, that's so amazing. It makes me cry when I watch them and see 65,000 people singing a song together."

On its own, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will headline a homecoming show Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl, something the band members also view with almost giddy anticipation.

Joyful sentiments abound on the new album, gaining power by working in tandem with expressions of genuine anguish and despair. It's with utter sincerity that Ebert wrote and sings songs such as "Life Is Hard," "Better Days" and "If I Were Free" this time around.

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"The main thing I'm grappling with," the L.A. native said between sessions tinkering with mixes of several tracks at a Hollywood recording studio, "is sort of impulse versus reflection."

The latter quality comes across in the long pauses Ebert takes between statements, creating the impression of an exceptionally thoughtful man who constantly searches feelings in the moment on a given topic or question.

"What I mean by that is: Do I follow my present instinct to want to reach an ecstatic state — despite the fact that that current drive may drive the song right off the cliff and distort it?

"Or do I pull back and think about it from a calmer, timeless perspective: What will I enjoy more when I have wearier ears and I'm relaxing at home and I'm hanging out with my grandkids?" said the man who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and had his passion for communal music-making ignited by an elementary school music teacher from South Africa.

"It's an interesting dilemma," he said.

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