Catching Up With Alex Ebert
It had been nearly two years since I had last seen Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The last time was the 2010 Bonnaroo Festival, where Alex Ebert, affectionately billed Edward Sharpe, sang to a dedicated crowd that knew the words to the tracks off the Magnetic Zeros’ debut LP Up From Below. I was an instant fan when I heard that CD, and watched from the crowd as Ebert seemed to sing like a hippie who had in some mystic way found nirvana, and was sharing his overflowing joy with the crowd.
As I walked to meet with Ebert several hours before their recent show at the Boulder Theater, I wondered if that man I saw performing, effortlessly spreading cheer would be the same in person. I began by asking him if his stage demeanor was art imitating life, and to my surprise he said “Yes and no. I do think there’s something sort of confrontational about an honest joy. I come from a reasonable history of snarling and of destruction, so it was sort of revolutionary for me and confrontational to me, and not the easiest thing to just completely embrace and yet it feels so good. For me it’s a very brave, courageous thing to express happiness.”
On-stage Ebert makes joy look effortless, but in person he’s more reserved, more serious. Still a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but talking to him you get the feeling that he’s been through some stuff, he’s seen things. He is dressed modestly in a brown blazer with interesting buttons and lapels, a white shirt and blue slacks with one pant leg rolled up as if he’s been biking around town. A black woven beanie covers his dready, long hair, and he wears snakeskin sandals on his usually bare feet. He talks slowly, thinks out my questions before answering, and plays with a crumpled piece of paper in his hand while he thinks.
One aspect of the band I am interested about is Alex Ebert’s relationship to Edward Sharpe. I remembered reading a long time ago that Ebert was formerly in the noise-pop group Ima Robot, but left to admit himself into rehab for drug addiction. When he got out of rehab, he began writing a novel about a messianic figure named Edward Sharpe, and says that’s where he first got the name Edward Sharpe. When asked about this different persona he plays and where it originated, Ebert explains, “I was in a place where I felt a loss of identity in general so it didn’t really matter. It was a way to get back to- as opposed to get away from myself- it was a way to maybe find myself again by just starting fresh. But not starting fresh, it was starting with the me that I wanted to be.”
The image of Edward Sharpe, much resembling Jesus in a way, has become so engrained that nowadays even Alex Ebert has trouble distinguishing the two. “It all blurs so much that now I just sort of respond to both. There’s not much of a difference to me, there’s no feeling of a persona really anymore for me. It’s all part of the same journey.”
When asked about this journey, and what advice he can offer Rooster readers, Ebert thinks a long time before finally answering: “I think process is a big thing for me, and I think my advice to anyone would be try to always see the process, your own process, and the way any situation might work into or play out in some sort of process for you. That’s always part of something, that’s part of the growing experience.”
I ask him if he’s currently starting or ending a process, and he replies “I guess they’re always interweaving, the various processes. There’s just so many, too many to name. I’m going to be a father soon, so that’s one process.”
I congratulate him and ask if the baby is with Jade, one of the vocalists who sings the female lead on the song Home, whom Ebert has mentioned is the love of his life. He responds that Jade is not the mother of his coming child, and that they’re back to being best friends. On-stage later that night, their energy together and love for one another is palpable as they look into each others’ eyes and belt out lyrics deep from their hearts.
What a show it was. Coming into the Boulder Theater a drunk asshole cut me in line, and I tried to point him to the back but he didn’t seem to hear. Later on in the night I saw him wasted on-stage singing, while security guards around us planned a way to kick him out for the 4th time. Alex, or Edward I should say, didn’t seem to mind, and found it hilarious. The band invited a slew of people up to the stage, and I remembered the last time I had seen them at Boulder Theater in December of 2009 and had gotten up on-stage for the encore. The band seemed to simply love their audience, and in fact one of the band members was taking photos of the rest of the band and the audience sporadically throughout the set. They played some new songs, which sounded really good but darker, off their upcoming new album Here, set for release late this May.
As the show finished with Om Nashi Me (which in Sanskrit translates to infinite nakedness) you could feel the love between the audience and the band, and I was reminded of something Ebert had said earlier in the day. I asked him what was the best part of the success the band had had, and he replied “Sort of the relief of knowing that, or feeling that, that what you love other people love. The contact and camaraderie you instantly feel with much more of humanity because you’re sharing something together, sharing a love of something. It’s a really comforting, great feeling.” I couldn’t agree more.