We’ve all heard Jane and Alexander boast nostalgic spills of last cigarettes and broken asses. When you think of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros what comes to mind? Transcendent dreamy desert scenes, billowing peasant skirts and beards so majestic you could just cry at their beauty? Check, check and check (#igetweirdforthebeard).
After years on the road, rife with adventures and cooked breakfasts’, the (upwards of) 10 piece have garnered a reputation as a must-see live act, regarded for their unpredictability, compassionate connection with crowds and lilting musical mayhem.
Their self-titled record is melodically outstanding, continuing on a progressive path of deliciously spacious arrangements and all consuming choruses. Though the deeply entrenched message of their lyrical content rings true to the old, their growth and direction has come a long way. I had a chat to Crash (just Crash) about Bowie, kitchen metaphors and helping people embody courage.
Hi Crash, how you going?
Ahh, so good (laughs). I was just running some errands and I just got back in time.
That’s cool, what are you up to?
Nothing, just trying to get used to being home (laughs). I can tell I’ve outgrown the domesticated life. I’m leaving the house without my wallet; I’m making all sorts of mistakes. I went and bought embroidered towels for our state manager and drum tech.
Oh, that’s super nice of you.
They’re like these hand embroidered towels with Biggie Smalls on them.
I got them in a series of Rastafarian colours (laughs). He’s gonna love it!
Where did you find those?
Ah, my friends Etsy page. She was doing a hip-hop series. She sold out of the Biggie Smalls pretty quick, but I put in a special order. So I feel like a pretty lucky dude.
Very lucky! What time is it over in LA?
That’s a good question (laughs). I’ts six o’clock.
We’re on opposite ends of the world right now.
It’s true! It’s true! (laughs)
Are you with the rest of the band? Do you guys all live together when you go home?
Ahhhh, (laughs). Like in a shoe? All together in a shoe? Ummm, no, no most of us are here in LA, if not, on the West Coast. We got a couple folk in New York and then Alex is in New Orleans, but relatively close I’d say.
Ten people is a lot of people. How did you get together in the beginning?
It was kind of like a big kitchen. It was like a huge kitchen and Alex sort of being the chef, he (laughs), he would leave and grab some ingredients and return to the counter, to the stove. And then he would leave and grab some more ingredients and bring it back to the kitchen and the stove. That’s how I remember the process in meeting everyone. My band The Deadly Syndrome, we had just recorded our record there in the studio and immediately after Alex came in and started forming Edward Sharpe. So Mark Noseworthy who now plays guitar (3.29) he’s been in the band since then. I kind of met Alex through him. And Aaron who was playing bass at that time for Edward Sharpe was producing that record. So maybe through them and through that studio and geez, many other musical networks in the city.
That’s pretty incredible.
Yeah, I mean, it was quite a lot of people to bring together. I know now there’s 12 of us on stage, but I’m pretty sure on that first record there’s more than 12 people. There’s gotta be maybe upwards of 20.
Wow, does it get pretty crazy when you guys are touring around? Just with so many people?
Ahhhhh crazy? It gets crowded, crazy. It’s like running a children’s nursery for the tour managers if you would ask them to break it down. Everybody’s got their different priorities on the road and in between gigs. I just like to laugh so uhh (laughs), pretty easy for me. But sure, it’s cool. I mean, gosh, I could go on and on about the things we do and how we spend our time and how crazy it gets.
You’re just like one big family on the road, I guess.
Sure, sometimes we’ll get to cooking breakfast outside the bus first thing in the morning. We’ll bring like these camping ovens and stoves and do like a non stick pan (laughs), throw some butter in there. People driving by thinking, who the hell is in that bus!?
Your self-titled album really shows an evolution of your sound. How would you describe the new LP compared to previous sounds/albums?
It’s certainly a breath of new life into this record compared to the previous two. The word would be rambunctious. That’s just kind of like the go to word for the difference in sound. There’s definitely that great energy. It’s pretty obvious at even the first listen. It’s cool. I think it really raises the whole reason and goal of celebrating the live shows. You know when you play the songs and the audience is looking more and more familiar. If we could just sing them all together and celebrate them and have a really good time, you know?
Tell me about the artwork for the album, what was the creative process behind that?
(Laughs) uhh, there was a lot of back and forth over which art concept would actually make the record. We went from one idea, which was a candid photo, not every one of us was even in the photo. But it was a candid photo nonetheless where we all were dancing. It was black and white. Something about it spoke to a lot of us and we were gonna maybe use that photo, but then that turned into something else. This wild confetti glittered stuff with a big peace sign. You know, two fingers for the cover, but then that went away. Then this cover came across our inboxes and it seemed like a pretty unanimous yes. It spoke to us a bit more than the other work. They were cool ideas however; they just didn’t last in our mind. This idea however, resonated a bit more with us. So yeah, once again we just went back and forth and talked about it for a while. We finally pulled the trigger on it probably well after the due date (laughs).
I noticed when I was listening to it last night that there are a lot of great ambient sounds that creep in, little bits of laughter and such. What sort of vibe were you trying to capture?
The atmosphere was a live atmosphere. The record needed to sound as if you were in the room. Even in the recording process, the more tracks you throw on top of one another, the more noise and sounds in the room that build up. A lot of times you’re busy cutting those out, but this was an effort to leave the character and the charm in the recording. So there is that feeling and that vibe. Alex and us would love to do the next record completely live. I mean us going into a room with you know, pots and pans and chains and just really strip down and bimp and bomp and bap and scream and just really go from there. There’s something really cool about that sort of primal approach.
Tell me about the music making process for Edward Sharpe. Is it mostly collaborative, do you all have your input? Or is it more one person steering the ship?
Well, with so many people it’s very easy to do the collaborative thing. There’s always ideas’ coming through and down the pipeline. I think sometimes the songs you will find maybe need a more focused attention. Then in that case, the original author of an idea or maybe just Alex himself, will just carry it down the way and then bring it back. In that case on this record, Alex did a lot of carrying, if you will, because there was this vision that he gained of the album and just wanted to see it through, for which we’re all really, really pleased and super excited about it.
If you had to use three words to describe your music, what would they be?
Three? Just three. Three is so many. Three is so few. Well, I’d say joyous, I’d say colorful and I hope I would say uplifting.
I like those. I like those a lot.
Alex I think would say, courageous. He’s really been gunning for writing songs that really help people embody courage and take on courage. Different answers of course, but I think courageous too.
I think that works. Your songs have a lot of positivity and that gives people courage.
Sure, and even me, as a songwriter myself, I do a lot of reading back on the lyrics that Alex will put down. If I were free just to question assumptions, you know, are you not free? And why would you say so? You live in America. And what do you think is compromising that freedom? It’s interesting to read those lines and see that deeper message there and the way he is challenging some status quos and some ways that we’ve just sat back complacently accepted. Its really cool and I really love it.
Yeah, definitely. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals or on stage traditions?
The pre-show ritual would be a huddle. We huddle before every show. Those can get pretty funny (laughs). It can also be really cool for just reconnecting us and reconnecting everyone and just getting us on the same page before we step out there for all the eyes and ears to see and hear. It’s a really special moment, I think for each and every show. Even when it’s hard to do, it’s really been a great element to have. And then on stage I’d say (laughs), the tradition is asking the audience which songs they want to hear (laughs), and also, just sort of passing the hat and allowing more and more of the song writers amongst us to pull out some material. Jade has been doing her songs on the records and also some other songs that shes’s written. Christian, the same for him. Songs that he has on the Edward Sharpe records as well as some others he’s done. We’ve been doing a song called “Motion Animal”. The whole passing of the hat has been really cool and that’s becoming a pretty fun way to approach things, a good routine if you will.
What songs do you find people call out when you ask them what they want to hear?
Ohhh, well “Home” is a given, right? So there’s always that one (laughs). People call it out as if we won’t play it (laughs). There was maybe a show, no more than a handful where we have not played home and it’s strange every time that happens, we sort of feel so deeply satisfied (laughs). But, there’s a lot of great songs that are requested when we just give the audience the opportunity to shout em out. You get “Dear Believers” or um “Fire Water”, people will request some of the Alexander material so like “A Million Years”. All sorts of stuff really, “Child” gets requested a lot. It’s a real interesting thing to see what people are gonna shout out from city to city.
What is the most pleasing thing about what you do?
I think just constantly being humbled in a really breaking way by how special this opportunity is. I think we’d be lying if we didn’t say, we feel like we’ve hit the lottery and it’s just been a ton of fun. We’ve had the opportunity to meet many great and amazing people and see a lot of the world. To do that carrying a message such as this and a vibe about ourselves such as this I think is pretty fulfilling. So I guess I’d be a fool not to say that.
That’s a really lovely sentiment. I must ask aswell, what’s the story behind the name, Crash?
Well, it came up on a job. My performance wasn’t so good. So I think the kind young lady who sparked the nickname was just trying to make sure it was fitting for me. I wasn’t showing up on time in the mornings and I wasn’t in the best condition or shape to work when I would show up. So I think she got me with a dagger and it kind of stuck. But yeah, it worked out. It’s been a silly ride with that nickname as well.
If you could pick one person, dead or alive, to play a show with, who would it be?
Oh man, dead or alive. I mean there is so much material and people out there. You know what’s cool, an icon of ours that is still rocking today and I believe just released some new material. Bowie would be pretty exceptional would it not? David Bowie, that’d be really neat. If I could just aim high, I would say Bowie.