Alexander Ebert Goes Solo

Nicole Rallis
Alexander Ebert, the 1960s-channeling, ever-optimistic long-haired mastermind of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes and frontman of experimental punk outfit Ima Robot, isn't easy to get on the phone, and with good reason.  He's constantly on the road with the jubilant 10-member troupe Edward Sharpe, all while prepping his genre-infusing solo LP, Alexander, for arrival this week, in addition to new material for future releases.  Only a few months into the new year, and Ebert has already managed to pack his 2011 musical calendar with touring dates, press and recording sessions.
Taking the plunge and venturing out on his own, the frequently shirtless LA-based songwriter's solo-effort features his signature laid-back sound, while drawing on recent experiences for his most lyrically personal release to date.  Recorded mostly in his bedroom alone, Alexander's songs are about friendship, love and peace that effortlessly flow through each cut, complete with a jangly rhythm section, exuberant melodies, whistling flourishes and avant-garde sound effects.  The charming, softly-sung Ebert recently spoke to PAPERMAG on the brink of Alexander's March 1 release about new-love-inspired songs, the creative process behind his solo foray and recording new tunes for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes.
You just got back from playing in Australia with the Magnetic Zeros. How was that?
It was awesome.  I mean Australia is an interesting place and it's fun to be there and the people are great. The food is a little weird. It all looks great, smells great and tastes great, but then there's something that feels like it's missing, and I have to figure out what that is. It's like some essential quality that I'm not used to not having.
And you've also been really busy this past year. When did you write and record Alexander?
Well, I did it somehow in the middle of all that. We'd come home and I'd record non-stop, and I actually brought a lot of my equipment with me on the road.  That last song, "Let's Make A Deal," was recorded, if I'm not mistaken, in a hotel room in Philadelphia, but the rest of it I recorded at home in my bedroom in L.A. So I'd come home off the road, and it would be amazing because I would be so happy to get into my bedroom and start recording! It was just really fun, so that's what I did.
How did the writing process for your solo album compare to writing songs for the Magnetic Zeroes and Ima Robot?
The process is similar, you know. Now with writing the Edward Sharpe songs, now that we're sort of a band writing a new album, it's a little different.  I'll come up with an idea, but instead of making a whole demo or anything--I haven't done that with some of the songs on the new Edward Sharpe album--it's much more communal.  It's sort of more let's see what happens, and who's gonna bring what to the table because with Edward Sharpe there's other people writing songs, too.  With Ima Robot, the way we write songs is we write them all together at once.  We sort of get in a room and just eff around, so it's different actually now that, that's going on.  It used to be that I would write a lot of the songs, and I would demo them up myself, which was how I did this album, except that I didn't want to make demos.  I didn't want to re-record what I was doing, I wanted to sort of express it immediately from my bedroom to you.
How did the song "Million Years" come about?
"Million Years," well, we were playing a show in Michigan... Pontiac, Michigan, and I get into the audience and then I see this girl for about two seconds who is smiling. It was sort of warped speed, everything warped into some other dimension, and I sort of lost track of what I was doing, but then I didn't see her again.  And later on I reconnected with her, and that feeling, just of that initial feeling of seeing this person was sort of that feeling of like... I suddenly felt this feeling in my chest, and it wasn't just my chest, it was my brain, it was everywhere. It was this piece that I felt like I hadn't... I was only very faintly acquainted with it.  I hadn't either experienced that in a long time or known it in a long time or ever.  So, you know a million years was just a round number to explain the feeling of sort of experiencing something that feels very distant, yet so familiar.
Yeah, are you still in contact with that girl?
Oh yeah! Yeah, all the time.
For the Magnetic Zeros you created the Edward Sharpe persona, which I've read was a facet of yourself, and now your solo album uses your real name.  So, how does the Alexander persona differ from the Edward Sharpe persona?
Well, I guess in some ways it differs just in that there's no... for some reason I guess it's just different.  The Alexander stuff to me... or me using my name, my solo music is just sort of me.  It's not trying to do anything other than capture and be what I'm doing right now.  It doesn't really have an eye towards anything other than the moment, I guess.  Where as with Edward Sharpe, I always feel a little bit of a responsibility to express broader sentiments that can be understood and that can be helpful.  So, I guess in a sense Edward Sharpe is a little less selfish in a way, where as this stuff is just wherever I'm at, and just whatever I'm doing.
Awesome, and what was the inspiration behind the cover art?
Well that's a shot that my dad took of me a longtime ago.  I always loved that shot, so I just called him up and asked if he had that picture around, and he sent it to me.  I just made the rainbow come out of my hand because it seemed like the posture that I was in was sort of magical.  It expressed the rainbow and magical sort of sentiments that I think [are reminiscent] of possibilities and childhood.
Do you remember how old you were in the picture?
I think I'm about six, probably five or six.
Ryan Gosling and Zach Shield's label Werewolf Heart Records put out Ima Robot's latest album. How did you get involved with them?
Well, I'm not sure other than that Timmy from Ima Robot is friends with Ryan. Ryan and Timmy have a label, and I think that Timmy has sort of been running most of it, but I'm not sure. I don't know how Timmy met Ryan actually, but yeah Ryan's been around.  Timmy produced [Dead Man Bone's] first album, and he's in Ima Robot, so it was sort of just one of those things.
Have you been working on new material for Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes?
Well, yeah we have been working on stuff.  We're gonna be working on it this year, and we're really hopeful that it'll come out relatively soon. I'm really excited about it.
Yeah, that's really great!  Do you have any favorites from what you've worked on so far?
Yeah, sort of, but it's just a front process. We went to Louisiana and all stayed together for a month in this house, and it was so fun.  It was so great!

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