Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros' frontman Alex Ebert plays in a ramshackle folk-pop band cum traveling circus with nine other members, has a wild nest of hair atop his head, and spends large portions of his concerts wading messianically into the crowd. "Discipline" is a not a word you'd associate with this man. It also gives him some trouble. "The new album was very close to being a big sprawling thing," says Ebert, 33, speaking about the band's upcoming sophomore effort Here out May 29 on Vagrant. "Instead we found a way to make it more disciplined album." But, he warns, "it was about not to be."
That stricter sense of focus is evident on the sweet and stately lead-off single "Man on Fire," and the recently released country-funky "That's What's Up" (hear it here). The Los Angeles band's debut, 2009's Up From Below, had 13 tracks and a nearly hour-long running time. The new one, recorded mostly in Ojai, California, comes in at a lean nine and 37, respectively. "The difference really is that we were becoming a band when we made the first album," says Ebert, formerly of power-pop outfit Ima Robot. "Part of becoming a band meant hanging out a lot and eating together and drinking together and getting to know each other. I think that kind of overflowing feeling was reflected on Up From Below. This time it was a much more direct process."
Here was originally slated as a double-album — another full-length Edward Sharpe offering is still due toward the end of the year — but late in the recording process, explains Ebert, who will take the band on the road beginning in May 2 in Oakland, "we decided to tighten it up and put out an album of songs that really had a strong affinity with each other. I think the music has a maturity to it. We had the confidence to be simpler. Maybe a few years ago, I would've felt like I had to cover the songs up in some way, to keep them interesting. But we were able to keep things basic and just let the songs breathe." The new album, he believes, "is speaking from rather than speaking towards."
Ebert's also hoping that the band's time together has had an effect on the way the ensemble is perceived. "People seemed so preoccupied with 'Who is Edward Sharpe?' I had to answer that question a million times," says the singer, who named the band after the protagonist in a novel on which he was working. "I wasn't playing a character. I had to rehash that conversation over and over when it would've have been more interesting to talk about an infinite number of other things. I didn't think about how Edward Sharpe might be perceived along those lines for this time. I understand now that simplicity in message delivery is really important."
That's not to say that there is no relationship between Sharpe and Ebert. "When I was a kid all my heroes and aims were of mythic proportions," says Ebert. "And in some ways Edward Sharpe is a mythic figure. The most fun thing to do," he adds, "is catching up to the myth."