This Friday, the Lobero welcomes Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros in what will be the L.A. band’s fourth S.B. stop in less than a year. Fronted by Ima Robot’s Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, they claim to be more musical family than a typical touring band—and we kind of believe them. The 10-piece, sporting plenty of scraggly beards and ’70s-inspired garb, likes to sing songs about free love and desert vision quests for God’s sake.
All quirky aesthetics aside, though, you simply can’t argue with Ed Sharpe’s infectious tunes and high-energy performance strategy. Boasting soaring melodies, charming clap-alongs, and some of the greatest jangly arrangements we’ve heard of late, the band’s debut, Up From Below, was one of the shining releases of 2009 and has since been followed by sold-out tours, late-night TV spots, and gigs on some of the country’s most illustrious music festival lineups. Prior to last year’s SOhO stop, I spoke with lead guitarist Christian Letts about the band, the record, and the Zeros’ mutual musical loves.
How did all of you first get together?
Well, Alex and I have known each other since we were three—we went to preschool together—and even as kids, we were always drawing or creating together. So he called me up one day and asked if I wanted to come lay some guitar down on this track, so I went to his house and I listened to the songs for the first time, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, man. This is amazing!’ I think “40 Days” was the first song we really sat down and went off on. From there, Alex and I met [horn player] Stewart [Cole] randomly at some diner. Later, we needed a trumpet, so we called him up. Through our manager and some friends, we met [bassist] Aaron [Older] and [guitarist] Nico [Aglietti], then went and started recording. We booked a show at the Troubadour, and we didn’t even have a whole band. It was such a big sound that we couldn’t have pulled it off with just four people, so all of us reached out to our friends, and now it’s pretty much the same lineup as it was for that first show. The stars were on our side that night.
You recorded Up From Below on 24-track, correct?
Yeah. We didn’t do it digital, which is just interesting because you kind of have to plan it out. You don’t have the infinite amount of tracks. We were recording four people at a time—no click tracks or anything—and we’d get to the last note of the song and then just blow it and have to start all over again. Some songs took a long time to record, and other ones there was that first-take magic, where we’d finish and say, “That’s the one.” It was a great way for us to get to know each other as musicians though, and it translates into the live show, as well. A whisper becomes a roar really fast because we know each other so well musically and personally. And the sound—you can’t beat the sound. Analog is just beautiful.
It’s interesting to compare this record to Alex’s gig in Ima Robot, which was mostly electronic.
Yeah. This is like finding salvation or something, for me at least. The motivation is so pure. It’s solely about making great music. That’s it. Let’s just make some really great music and focus on that. I kind of realized through doing this that when your focus is the most pure, everything else kind of lines up. It’s been a real eye-opener for me, and a really nice change of pace. I’ve been in other bands, too, and sometimes I feel like the motives aren’t always quite as pure. This is just pure honesty. It’s refreshing.
You guys have been compared to everyone from Johnny Cash and June Carter to the Polyphonic Spree. What was the musical vision when you all started writing together?
Umm, there was no direct vision. We were talking on the bus the other day, like, “What do we all agree on musically?” People ask us all the time what our inspirations are, and the one thing we can all agree on is hip-hop. All of us are hip-hop junkies. The band’s tastes are so crazy. Like, my favorite music of all time is ’30s gypsy jazz, like hot jazz, like Django Reinhardt. I’ve got tattoos of his stuff on me. I’m obsessed with it. But everyone is so spread out musically, and for some reason, hip-hop is where we see eye to eye. It’s pretty funny.
But as far as the record, there never was a set plan. We were free to write whatever we felt like writing. Mostly, Alex would come up with an idea and we’d all just kind of start feeding it. Then there were times when we’d be sitting around jamming, and then we were in the studio 10 minutes later recording a new song. There are no rules, which I really, really like. There’s no way to box it into this certain category. It just is what it is, you know?
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros play the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.) this Friday, July 2, at 8 p.m. For info, visit clubmercy.com.