Whether you’re the parent of a young child or you simply used to be one, you’ll probably agree that music plays a pretty big role in our kids’ earliest years. Chalk it up to Sesame Street, the ABCs, or that first groove you really latched onto (Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling,” thank you very much), but music seems to have a special way of engaging us long before language can. With this idea in mind, it seems fitting that some of the first folks who stepped up to help out a struggling nearby preschool were — you guessed it — musicians. This Thursday, September 6, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros return to their sometimes-home of Ojai for a special concert in support of the Ojai Valley Community Nursery School. With a sound and aesthetic that’s equal parts hippie revival, spiritual choir, and good, old-fashioned camp-fire jam sesh, the Zeros seem the perfect fit for such a task. Below, we catch up with ESMZ frontman Alex Ebert to talk new records, new homes, and his new role as proud papa.
You recorded your latest record, Here, in Ojai. How did you guys end up there? We found this studio up in Ojai on Craigslist. Also, our piano player Aaron Embry lives up there, and his daughter Mayla goes to school at Ojai Valley [Nursery School]. … We were on tour in Europe, and I was trying to convince everyone to go and record in Ojai, but it was not easy. We were going through a weird growing-pain thing as far as relationships within the band. By the time we were in Europe, too much touring had occurred, and no one really wanted to talk about going and recording an album, and if they did want to talk about it, it wasn’t the ideal situation to go record all together up in Ojai. … It was an interesting predicament and one that took a lot of courage from everyone to go for it and make a second album. Of course we did, and we had an amazing and great time doing it. I’m totally smiling just thinking about it.
Do you feel like the new surroundings played a big part in the album? I’m not sure how much it played in. I don’t think there was an aha moment where we all went, “Oh wow! Nature!” But it’s probably in there in some osmotic way. The camaraderie of being up there together and making this thing — and being outside of the city, for sure — I think that really helped. Energetically, Ojai is just not as distracting or chaotic or wholly unhealthy as L.A. can be. L.A. is a great place; I was born and raised there, but it’s not the kindest or gentlest or healthiest atmosphere to live in.
How would you compare the new record to Up From Below? I would say that they’re both kind of defiant. On this album, it was sort of confidently defiant and calmly defiant and speaking from a place of truth. That first album was sort of anxiously defiant and excitedly defiant, speaking toward a place of truth. I think it’s appropriate that the name of this album is Here, in terms of having reached a place that we were reaching for on the last record.
How have things changed for you since that first record? I think a lot has changed. God, so much has changed. Almost entirely all of the vision this band started off with — that my journey for me started off with — has been realized in one way or another to some degree, and that is just overwhelming in the best way.
You also just became a father, is that right? Yeah. [My daughter] was just born last Saturday in New Orleans. It’s amazing. It’s a game changer. I’m experiencing glimpses of purity on a sustained level that I haven’t ever [had before]. It’s just different, you know? It’s a purity not just within her, but that I’m discovering in myself in reflection of her and in myself in the presence of her and in myself in thoughts of her. To experience purity like that is a really tremendous feeling. It flattens everything to this pure feeling of I don’t know what. Love, I guess.
What kind of role did music play for you as a young kid? I think music was something I took for granted as a kid. I don’t remember having a profound gratitude, but I remember having profound experiences pretty consistently. My dad would play music so loud you almost couldn’t help having some kind of profound experience. [Laughs.] It was so loud that it would either be the primary accompaniment or the primary focus in our house. I remember vividly two experiences: In one I was about 5, and I was drawing a Native American because I was so into Indian chiefs. [My dad] was playing something really loud, I’m pretty sure it was Beethoven, and I suddenly realized that I was going to die. It was this crazy moment for me. I walked up to him and asked him if it was true, and he said yes. A lot of that story is in the song “Up From Below,” on the first album. Then there was another moment where my dad was taking me on a big trip across the country. I think he was playing “Vangelis,” or something Chariots of Fire-esque, and I was looking out the window at the red Martian landscape of Utah or Nevada. That cinematic event of this beautiful land and earth with that music had this sort of everlasting effect on me. … I don’t know how to pass experiences like that on or concoct a reality where experiences like that would happen for someone, but certainly to expose and share really great music with people — especially with children — is really important.
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros play a benefit concert for the Ojai Valley Community Nursery School at the Libbey Bowl (201 S. Signal St., Ojai) on Thursday, September 6, at 7 p.m. Aaron Embry opens the show. For tickets and info, call 646-3117 or visit clubmercy.com.