From Zeros to heroes... the rise and rise of a superband

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

If you have seen Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, you will know they are the next big thing. As they tour the festivals of Europe, Sarah Morrison meets them in Paris

Alexander Ebert's preoccupation from a young age with founding a community, a "posse", or a group of his own, has found a harmonious home. The singer has stopped worrying. The 33-year-old Los Angeles musician now finds himself at the helm of the 10-piece musical collective known as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a 1960s-inspired folk-pop band that is rapidly achieving cult status.

Likened to Arcade Fire and The Polyphonic Spree, Ebert's ensemble of musical minstrels first made it mainstream in 2009, appearing on David Letterman's chat show in the US with their aptly titled first album, Up from Below. The free-spirited gang has since headlined festivals across the country, being handpicked earlier this year by the actor Kevin Spacey to perform five shows in London's Old Vic Tunnels, all of which sold out. On Tuesday they are set to play a sold-out gig at London's Shepherds Bush Empire. And all this without having yet achieved major conventional chart success.

Yet as they stand on stage at Paris's Rock en Seine festival, their tambourines shaking, accordions vibrating, and Ebert's voice resonating across the crowd, they are still surprised when the foot-stamping French audience echoes their lyrics back perfectly. The European music industry has not always been quite sure what to make of the self-defined "Edward Sharpe Experience" of euphoric songs that spread the earnest messages of hope, love and joy, accompanied by, banjos, horns, whistles and handclaps.

Ebert has his own theory. "When we first came over here two years ago, the climate in general was snarky, pessimistic, and cynical – all rock'n' roll in that sort of sense," he says, during a quiet moment away from the rest of his group. "While they appreciated us, there was a real disparity in vibe between the two continents. Now I feel, there has been a slight cultural shift in Europe. It feels more pure-hearted and open-minded. It seems less about pessimism and more about embracing something new."

While the frontman performs shoeless, Ebert was not always so carefree. His band might now be driving the folk revolution, but it "started in a place of desperation", when the songwriter could not handle his drug and drink addictions any longer and his former band, Ima Robot, signed by Virgin, felt sterile. It was around this time in 2008 that he met bandmate Jade Castrinos, 25, fell in love, bought a second-hand touring bus and piled in with a group of artists he knew, to start singing "for fun".

London-born guitarist Christian Letts, 33, has known Ebert since he was four. Practising in a studio flat in Echo Park, Los Angeles, for years, Letts says the creation of the band "evolved naturally". He adds: "We have never set out an idea of what we are or what we are going to be. It has always evolved in a natural way." Accordion player Nora Kirkpatrick, 26, from Iowa, says the band has made it through "working out" its own "groove".

Three weeks into their sold-out European tour and Edward Sharpe – named after a fictional messianic figure dreamed up by Ebert who could manipulate music "as if pulling on strings" – insist they provide an authentic experience in an industry often criticised for the absence of it. Seeking the community he has sought since childhood, Ebert, whose grandfather, Carl Ebert, co-founded Glyndebourne Festival Opera, says he wants to make music "devoid of any sense of irony".

"I had a South African teacher at school, a sort of hippie who played the acoustic guitar while us five-year-old kids would sing along, playing our tambourines and recorders in unison," explains Ebert. "It was just this deep sort of atmosphere, you know, of not taking it too seriously, but feeling a sense of community while playing the music. That's partly where this all comes from – I'm acting like a five-year-old and it's impossible to bullshit at that age."

Perhaps it is this unashamed honesty that convinces the initially hip-swaying French fans to join Ebert in a dance-off as he frantically jumps about the stage and then into the cheering crowd. Vocalist Castrinos says the band focuses "intently on the present", offering listeners in that moment something that "can give them strength of feeling, an emotion, even for the length of one song". It appears to hit the mark. As they launch into "Home", which professes "my home is nowhere without you", the audience responds by singing back "Maison" to the band, in unified agreement. Ebert remains adamant his band can embrace success without losing the DIY appeal that has made them so popular. "Everybody has the power to stay true to themselves," he says.

On the eve of their British tour and with an eagerly awaited second album imminent, the band is enjoying an increasingly popular sense of community. Ebert's "crew" has "fallen together like puzzle pieces", says Kirkpatrick. "I don't think any of us could ever have expected it, but it's true."

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders