Catching Up With... Alexander Ebert

Music Features Alexander Ebert
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Alexander Ebert first grabbed our attention as frontman of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Now, Ebert has returned to his birth name with his first solo release, Alexander. Paste caught up with Ebert following his return from a few solo shows in the UK to discuss his debut solo album, Edward Sharpe and trading one name for another.

Paste: What inspired you to take on the solo project?
Alexander Ebert: It just sort of happened, really. While doing it, I knew there were several reasons why I was doing it, but the initial reason was that I was writing and recording a lot. I love recording, and I didn’t particularly feel like making demos. I wanted to sort of share what I love doing so much in my bedroom without having to feel the need to go re-record those demos, and make something I can share directly from myself. Then the other thing was the experience, a sort of rite of passage into musician-hood and really like I’m on the path to being what I would consider a musician. And we’re all musicians and all of that, of course. This is sort of the example I’ve been giving, but when I would fill out cards to enter countries and it would say, “Occupation?” I would hesitate to say musician because I considered myself more of a songwriting singer as opposed to a legitimate musician. It just sort of felt like it would be a fun thing to do, to play everything and just sort of really go for it.

Paste: How did you feel about the whole experience after it was finished? Did it turn out the way you wanted?
Ebert: Ah, man. I’m amazed by it, actually. It was just so fun to do to begin with. I’m really happy with it which for me is a really big deal because it’s not that easy for me to be totally happy with the way things come out sometimes, and sometimes I just have to sort of just let it go and go through a process of letting it go and all that. I guess maybe because I was doing it by myself I was really able to really tinker as much as I wanted to without feeling like I was sort of wasting someone else’s time or anything. I was able to really just get almost obsessive with it. It took plenty of time, and there’s plenty that I forgive about it. It’s not that I think that it’s the perfect sounding album or anything like that, but it sounds right for what I was doing. I made it almost all in my bedroom, nine tenths of it in my bedroom, without any outboard gear and just kinda having fun and playing everything myself. I just see the album for what it is and not any grander than that, and within that, I feel like it’s something really really grand actually for me. It’s just this experience of making an album and doing it and having lyrics that represent me in a day-to-day personal sense. I’ve always tried to be relatively personal, but I’ve also had an eye towards broad themes, and also I think that’s partly to do with being the lyricist in a band of many people. I have a slight feeling of wanting to represent somewhat a large group of people and not just my own sentiments. So, I got into stuff like specifics of relationships and sort of day-to-day feelings of what was going on for me throughout the last year. So, in many ways, it’s really sort of a gratifying experience.

Paste: What kind of expectations did you have for yourself when you first set out to make this record? What kind of record did you want to make?
Ebert: Well, I wanted to make something that was just sort of humble and fun and childish and poetic and deep and all the qualities that I admire, but I guess the expectations were just the reality of me doing it the way I was doing it and feeling okay with that and feeling okay with being a sort of an elementary guitar player and rudimentary bass player and a completely novice violinist and just experiment with instruments that I didn’t really have much experience with and having fun. So my expectations were just sort of about joy and the love of doing it and wanting to share that, but really it was just so much fun.

Paste: Did you play all of the instruments on the album?
Ebert: Yeah, yeah. It was really fun.

Paste: What sort of influences did you have for this album? You said that it was really focused on this sort of innocence and joy.
Ebert: Well, no, it wasn’t totally focused on that. There was the innocence of the process, but lyrically and emotionally there was a lot of other things going on as well. There was a sunken period where I was just sort of upset and frustrated. “Glimpses” came out of that, when I really just feeling fed up and wanting to express that. And a song like “Truth,” where I wanted to turn towards my inner darkness and sort of embrace it instead of running from it and give it love so that it eventually shines love itself. Then storytelling stuff and relationship stuff like “In the Twilight” and then hopeful stuff like “Let’s Win.” It was sort of the whole kit and caboodle in there really, thematically. I felt like, for instance, on a song like “Truth” I felt free to finally, for the first time in quite a while, to stand behind something that was a bit more hip-hop and where my actual musical roots were for about 10 years of my childhood and teens. I guess it was because I had enough to say lyrically that it made sense to put into sort of a rapping format. So, there was quite a bit of influences on there, anything from stuff that’s influenced me for a while like [the Mungo Jerry song] “In the Summertime,” sort of making percussive noises with my mouth and slapping on my knees to Paul Simon and that elegant storytelling sort of stuff and yet fun and danceable and all that. It was all just feelings. I was just kind of going for it. It certainly happened song by song and throughout a year of heavy touring. So, it wasn’t like I sat down with a master plan and recorded it all. I was just sort of song by song.

Paste: Since you’ve been performing with The Magnetic Zeros prior to this under the alias of Edward Sharpe, how does it feel to be recording material under your own name?
Ebert: It was a little shocking when we were in London and the gear came in. They were like, “Who are you with?” and then they’re like, “Alexander.” I was just like, “Whoa.” It felt really sort of shocking to me. I guess it almost felt embarrassing for a second because I’m there with five other dudes, and the name of the group is my name. So, I had that slight feeling of embarrassment. I immediately felt like I wanted to include everyone into the name somehow, but I think that for me it’s a sort of really liberating thing because the name Alexander, being my name, doesn’t, for me, mean or represent any type of music or any genre of music. It’s an avenue for me to explore whatever I’m feeling at any given era of my life or my inspiration. So, that’s really a liberating thing to feel comfortable enough to put things out there under my name which for me doesn’t necessarily connotate any specific kind of music. I mean it does, but it doesn’t. Whereas something like Ima Robot or even Edward Sharpe, if you start to made a severe left turn, you start thinking, “Should this be a different band with a different name?” Because we wanna keep the branding the same or whatever kind of thoughts that get brought up for things like that. But for this, it’s just me. So, you’re gonna get whatever I am at some given period.

Paste: Were the rest of the Magnetic Zeros supportive of you doing the solo album?
Ebert: Yeah, I mean, as far as I know. [laughs] The answer is definitely “yes” because we’ve all been supportive of each other doing things. Christian’s got an album he’s working on, and Jade’s working on stuff. Aaron Embry, our piano player, is working on stuff, and Nico works on stuff. So we’re all working on stuff, almost all of us. So, it’s just natural to wanna support each other through all that.

Paste: Are you going to be doing any sort of extensive touring in support of Alexander?
Ebert: Nothing planned right now. We’ve got some shows at South by Southwest, and then we’re doing some Edward Sharpe stuff, but what I’m assuming, and we’ve talked about it, is we’ll be incorporating some of these songs into the Edward Sharpe repertoire. Likewise, we’ve played some of Aaron Embry’s songs during Edward Sharpe shows. So, Edward Sharpe is sort playing host to all of us. It’s fun to do all of it, and it was fun to be in London and play as Alexander as well.

Paste: So what’s the next step?
Ebert: Well, I don’t know. I’m starting to get that bubbly feeling of wanting to write and record more stuff, and Edward Sharpe is in the middle of making a new album. So, there’s all that. And sort of inviting in the new sort of adventures in expression, I guess, and in purpose. I’m gonna go up to Salt Lake City in a couple of days after we play this show and play just sort of by myself, but with some local musicians up there in support of [climate activist] Tim DeChristopher going on trial for trying buy up some land that the government was trying to sell off for oil drilling, and there was an illegal auction. Anyway, there’s a rally for that. So, I’m gonna go do that. Just kinda taking it as it comes. This year we’ve got some really cool things planned. This year upcoming is kinda interesting. We’re doing some really kind of off the wall touring stuff.

Paste: Last question: Who’s the kid on the cover?
Ebert: That’s me.