PHOTO BY LANYA SNYDER
"A cowboy. Or no, maybe not a cowboy but a Native American. And I wouldn't necessarily want to be an Egyptian but I would like to experience the Mesopotamian era. And also the Vikings and the Mayans. And yeah, the desert ages from the Middle East, the biblical eras, and the Middle Ages are cool, too. I would also like to experience the '60s..."
All this, and I'd only asked Alex Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, what era he would be most comfortable in. That Ebert would have trouble deciding between such a variety of styles and eras is not surprise, as it wasn't so long ago that he moonlighted as the glam-rock god of Ima Robot. But once that project had run its course, he founded Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with nine of his closest friends (Jade Castrinos, Nico Aglietti, Christian Letts, Steward Cole, Tay Strathairn, Aaron Older, Josh Collazo, Orpheo McCord and Nora Kirkpatrick) in 2007. That brings us to now, and the release of their first album, Up From Below (Vagrant). Ebert's new band makes softer melodies that one might label indie-country rock, except that label sounds boring and the band is energetic, and really great. Last Thursday, at New York's Webster Hall, before a hysterical crowd, Ebert finished his concert by singing off-stage, seated amidst fans in various states of repose.
MALKA GOUZER: What is your educational background?
ALEXANDER EBERT: I went to a very smart high school [in Los Angeles], but I don't like studying things I'm not interested in.
GOUZER: What are you interested in?
EBERT: The first thing I was interested in school was Kerouac, and On the Road, when I was 14. Then I was assigned to write a paper based on it. I wrote a short story without punctuation and very, you know, "stream of consciousness." I got a D.
GOUZER: Did you loose your self-confidence through that experience?
EBERT: No, I lost my confidence in school. In the institution of the school! I was like, 'This is bullshit!'" So I went to college for film for a year.
GOUZER: And then you dropped out?
GOUZER: And you then decided to become a rock star?
EBERT: Yeah, I guess so. It was an accident, really. I just started writing music for the love of it, with Christian, who's the guitar player in Edward Sharpe and who I've known since I was three.
GOUZER: Was he in the other band Ima Robot too?
EBERT: He was just at the very beginning of it. We started it together. But mainly I was a filmmaker. But filmmaking is such a group effort, or it can be, and there is something about making music and expressing myself right then and there. Actually, when I was growing up my favorite person in the world was Pavarotti. As a young child I actually had this big statue of Buddha in my room made out of wood with a big belly. I thought it was Pavarroti.
GOUZER: When did you start playing music?
EBERT: I was seven, and I got into hip-hop and rap. I was only into hip-hop until I was 15.
GOUZER: Which musician had the most impact on you?
EBERT: I think David Bowie, although I don't listen to his music so much anymore. There was a period where I was so dumbfounded by him and by what he was able to do—the songs he wrote, the way he arranged them and delivered, the way he produced it and got good people around him.
GOUZER: How has your look changed since Ima Robot?
EBERT: Oh yeah! I have a beard now. Before I was sort of experimentally dressed.
GOUZER: According to you in another interview I read, Edward Sharpe "was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind... but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love." Is that you?
EBERT: [LAUGHS] Maybe. That may be me. But you know that's the story... I was writing a novel and Edward Sharpe was the main character. You know part of this whole music thing for me and for all of us is about getting to a childlike place of possibilities, magic and belief. Even now that we are older and that we have experienced life, to have all of these qualities in face of all the quote and quote facts.
GOUZER: Do you think you have a mission here on earth?
EBERT: Yeah. I think we all have a mission.
GOUZER: Do you know yours?
EBERT: Yeah. And I know every person's mission.
GOUZER: What's mine?
EBERT: Your mission is to help people and inspire yourself and the rest of the world because that is what all human beings do. They go around inspiring and affecting each other.
GOUZER: For what purpose, do you think?
EBERT: To what purpose is an irrelevant question on a macro level. I think on a personal level that is what every person asks himself but on a group level the fact is: we all just affect each other. If you are trying to be the purest form and the best form of yourself, it is going to affect people. If I choose to be an asshole on stage that's what I am choosing to share. And sometimes that is necessary.