“We’ll take the 2 to the 5 to the 134 and we’ll hop on the 101.”
Alexander Ebert’s directions aren’t the path to the enlightenment he and his band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, are seeking. They’re merely a way to navigate through the labyrinth of construction-filled Los Angeles on the band’s way to Santa Monica for their second show of their tour.
“It’s where you want to be,” the frontman explains of the prism embedded between the sea and the sky on the cover of Here. “Not on either side of the duality, but in the in-between that breaks it all up: in all the spectrums of light and color and creations.”
Ebert reveals that though he had his moments of clarity while the band wrote and recorded their sophomore effort, that Here is “more of a philosophical look forward.”
It’s been three years since the Magnetic Zeros were catapulted into the spotlight with their hit “Home”—a track that he knew would fill a gaping hole in modern American music as soon as he recorded it.
The song and that first album, Up From Below, were a rare event for music according to the songwriter. “It was expressing an entire realm of sentiment that was being ignored. Which I thought was an honest, non-ironic love and friendship song between a boy and a girl as opposed to ‘back that thing up’ sort of song or a blasé-hipster attitude thing. It was just really open.”
Somewhere in the three years since recording that song, so many aspects of life had changed. There wasn’t a need to fill a hole ever since there had been a lyrical shift in the writer’s attitude and now the band had a reputation to live up to. While most bands recording a follow-up to a highly successful album are looking down the barrel of a gun, Ebert says the band never felt any pressure of that sort because they were looking inside of themselves and not anywhere else.
“The only pressure I really felt—and it was that good kind of pressure—was the producing of it and putting it together. If I hadn’t had done that solo album I don’t know if I would have had the balls to say that I could have pulled it off. But I had, so I think that experience really helped. Plus so much music was pouring out of us that it all stayed pretty fun.”
Though they’ve been a solid unit since 2007, this was the first time they recorded as a band. He called the first album’s process a turning point when individual musicians became a band. It was the presence of people this time around that was what made Here so powerful. There were upwards of 14 musicians playing on the album, which he says can be difficult because not everyone can have a hand in the process at any given time.
Ebert noted, “It’s almost as close to the feeling of pride that I have gotten recently in the sense of being a group getting able to put in the effort and to be present for making it happen. I think it felt like an achievement that brought us closer together.”
Now the rather large band has found itself with more space than ever, both metaphorically and literally. As they found themselves closer than ever during the writing process, themes formed organically. Suggested throughout the album, especially on the opening track “Man of Fire” is the idea of believing in the survival of the spirit of love and joy.
Its presence was something that was found in the amount of freedom stowed upon the band. This continued after they finished the album, as they recently embarked on a month-long tour to support the release of Here, which has given them literal space to explore themselves.
“In fact I think the larger the venues get the more the juxtaposition of our messiness, if you will, or our allowance to improvise the contrast will become much greater as the venues get bigger. It will become sort of almost a desecration of this sacred arena space of rock stardom,” he said of playing their first show of the tour at Los Angeles’ The Greek Theatre. “I felt a breakdown of a sort of Parthenon of regality. It felt like we were just playing in a castle.”
This expansive kingdom they have been thrust into since forming continues to grow. It would be easy to have written an album inspired by the success of Up From Below without exploring something on a grander scale. Ebert reiterated the point that the band wanted to put faith into making what made them feel good on the inside.
“[Here] is sort of meditative in a way,” explains Ebert. “Lyrically it’s sort of joyfully defiant throughout the entire album. It’s defiance of hope in the face of despair.”
That’s exactly where the band wants to be—searching for a way out and searching for enlightenment somewhere between the sea and the sky.