Prior to their huge show at the Outdoor Plaza, Minneapolis we caught up with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros' band leader Alex Ebert for a quick chat about their fantastic new album, Here, as well as their progression from Up from Below, connecting with audiences and the possibility of a return to the Old Vic Tunnels.
Before you guys were Up from Below and now you're Here – does that mean Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros have arrived?
You've put it together, right? You're the first one! I mean that's exactly how I describe it – the first album was reaching towards something and this album is sort of speaking from somewhere. The first album is moving towards someplace it wants to be and it's sort of chaotic in that sense, it's sort of desperate. But this album is speaking from a place that's arrived and yeah…you're exactly right.
How do you even make an album – there's so many of you? There was a nice video going round of you all in the studio making some amazing sounds.
Well yeah, that's basically how some of it happens. I think writing is still very often a very intimate experience but sometimes it happens on a group level and all at once. The thing that we really all did together consistently was work out arrangements and put the time in and be present to play our instruments over and over again and work out what was what and what goes where. That's something that we didn't really do on the first album – the first album was all like demo'd up before we recorded it so…
So there is kind of a more relaxed feel to this album maybe?
Yeah it's a bit more relaxed and I gotta keep reminding people that it's one part of a double album and the second part is coming out in November. And the second part is definitely a lot more rambunctious! It's not necessarily that the end of this chapter has been reached and that's where we stand, but this album is just part of what we wanted to express and it's where we're coming from right now.
And what's the message you're trying to spread with this first half of the double album?
I think to me, it's defiance. That is the biggest theme to me, and that sort of commitment to joy and transcendence – even in the face of realism or pessimism and all that kind of thing. We get called a very joyful, celebratory band and I think that's true but I don't think we ignore, or that there would be any benefit of trying to ignore, all of the sort of more painful sides of life, we just like to be about transcending that stuff into something else.
Audiences really connected with the last album and loved those songs, what's the reaction been to the new tracks when you've played them live?
Oh it's amazing! Man On Fire is amazing live and we're starting to play that really well and that's been amazing. Child is amazing and Fiya Wata – we've been playing that for a long time, but Man On Fire has become this very frothy experience where everyone just starts going bananas and it's really wild. It's so fun… so fun.
You're getting bigger and bigger though, have you lost some of ability to connect with audiences now you're playing to bigger audiences?
No, we're playing bigger venues and the thing is that it gets stranger and stranger that we're not changing and making it a suddenly 'professional show'. The juxtaposition gets greater and greater between who we are and what the venue assumes you're supposed to be. But realising that I felt that pressure on myself just by being in these venues and what these venues sort of expect from you as structures – they sort of ask you to be regal and sort of a bit more highfalutin – and rebelling intentionally against that has been a really interesting experiencing. We sort of just break down those walls and fly into the audience, and hang out, and do our thing, without a setlist and all that – it's pretty wild. And I think for some people, to be in one of those larger venues, and for it to still feel somewhat chaotic is a pretty jarring but hopefully liberating experience.
You played a very theatrical show at the Old Vic Tunnels in London last year. Any plans for more of that?
You know, a lot of effort goes into that kind of thing and a lot of people and a lot of time. We would love to something like that again but I think the closest we will come to that is when we come to play at Latitude Festival. But other than that we're mostly just going to bring our bodies not bring a whole giant show. But what we might try and do is to involve local artists and local people who want to participate in something and wrap our heads around something. But for the most part, right now, we're just concentrating on playing shows and making the music.
Here is out now via Rough Trade Records.