Ebert: ‘Keep the courage blazing’

January 19, 2016
David Wexler

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros frontman Alex Ebert and Capitol Bells founder Ted Henderson hosted a Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session on Jan. 5, dishing on a wide range of topics.

Both Ebert and Henderson stressed the importance of using technology to strengthen our voices in Congress and in the White House. It’s an issue all too familiar to Ebert, who last year launched TheNewIRS.com — an experiential tool that gives “we the people the power to allocate our personal income taxes as we see fit.”

“The more tech can help us organize and quantify our civic priorities the better we’ll be heard by our elected representatives,” Ebert said.

Alex Ebert

Alex Ebert

Capitol Bells’ new Reddit-like civic engagement app – launched on Jan. 5 – allows users to “upvote important news, polls and debates to the front page while voting on bills alongside Congress.”

Below are some of the questions and responses from the AMA session:

Q: Hi, Alex. Longtime fan, have traveled many miles over the years to see you perform, and even had the pleasure of photographing one of your concerts for a local music organization. In theory, if The New IRS were to work, how would it ensure that every appropriate area would get proper funding? (I understand that there is an issue with proper funding, as it stands.) History has shown that we generally help those most like ourselves/similar belief systems and don’t share as much funds with issues/people that we see as different than ourselves. How would TheNewIRS prevent this from happening?

Ebert: So the way it would work is that each individual category of federal spending would only change by a maximum of 10% of its incumbent allotment (whatever $ it had the year preceding) per year. This lends relative stability to each sector and means that if, for instance, military spending were to come down significantly, it would take several years.

Q: As a recovering political hack, I am always interested at new ideas for governing. What I have seen in the quick review of this chat is interesting and I would be interested in learning more. Here is my question: Which presidential candidate from each party do you think would be most supportive of such an idea? Do you plan on doing any campaigning for any of the presidential candidates? PS I, too, am a huge fan and will always remember my first show. My friend convinced me to join him at your performance at ACL Festival by saying, “Its a bunch of shoeless hippies, you will love them!” He was right!

Henderson: Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders would be great candidates for Capitol Bells. They are both running issue-based campaigns and they are both current Senators, so we could compare their vote records directly to your voting records in the app.

Ebert: Agreed on those. Obviously anyone with a theme of populism as well.

Henderson: One huge bonus we have with CapBells is a couple current Members of Congress are already using the app for the vote alerts alone. The more people we can get actively using the app, the more incentive these politicians have to use it to share their positions with us too.

Q: Thank yall for doing this I have a quick two parter: I have so much distrust in media, so I generally gather as much info from as many sources before having an opinion, in what ways can we verify integrity in the media (if possible at all) what types of sources do yall find more reliable? Second: in what ways do you recommend for becoming politically active? How do you suggest anyone join or start a movement such as the ones you suggest?

Ebert: Any movement which resonates with our optimism is something worth taking a look at, and potentially embracing. The trick these days is not minding being outspoken. it’s a bit taxing to be outspoken – but its also very alive. For me the trick really is pushing beyond the social anxiety that prevents us all from expressing our full potentials.

Henderson: We actually are trying our an experimental feature in the next Capitol Bells build that collects every news link shared in every post and comment through the app. Then it adds every unique article into a Reddit-algorithm-powered hot/new feed, so the community can collectively curate the best news from any source.

Q: Hey Alex, huge fan of your music couple of questions. The information I provide (at the end of thenewirs.com) is being shared where and how? How will the information you collect on this site be provided to the right people to help make a change. Finally, when are you coming to Philly to play concert XD?

Ebert: We don’t share your individual data but compile it with all data from all users to create a composite pie of users and then compare that with current spending (showing the degree% of variance between the two, etc.) ideally it become a conversation that enters the mainstream.

Q: Hi, I’m a listener and reader of Osho’s work for many years now, and I would like so much to know your thoughts and opinions on him, since I see much of similarity with his ideas in your songs… Can you comment? PS: I’ve uploaded myself that Bonnaroo video to YouTube, it makes me very happy that you guys had a million views in it and that people share this blissful moment)

Ebert: Ohso was huge for me at the formation of the band – preceding it. In particular, a book called Courage, the Joy of Living Dangerously. He, like me, seems to balk at reverence for reverence’s sake. Destruction is a very important part of the constructive process.

Q: Hi! I had no idea Alex was so involved in congress and politics. I listen to Edward Sharpe all the time, and think the messages of the music should be shared with everyone! What you guys are doing together is great, and is headed in a wonderful direction, especially with the continuous rise of digital age. I am a UX designer that works closely with hackers and developers, and often think about ways to help the public become more involved in congress and politics, because often i find it difficult to understand our government system myself. There is so much opportunity for a more informed society with the majority of the population having mobile devices, yet there seems to be a lack of business dedicated to this. How plausible do you think an app like this could become as mainstream as using Uber or Facebook? Also, do you think that if this app continues to catch on, could it lead to the government implementing a more accessible digital voting or polling system, and in return, being able to feel closer to our representatives?

Ebert: Jump on board! (maybe CAP BELLS is hiring – nudge;) I think – I know – that years from now we will understand that the instantaneity of social media has found its paramount function in the realization of true-functioning democracy.

Henderson: I certainly this it’s plausible or we wouldn’t be pouring our blood sweat and tears into this, but I do realize the odds are against us. Politics is so corrosive and our government is so dysfunctional, it’s no wonder the average American wants nothing to do with it. Even the “democratic” party of our country is incapable of holding a democratic primary election — they already chose their nominee a couple years ago and it’s Hillary, and it’s not up to you to decide. However, I think if we could build a community around a piece of viral tech like Snapchat, that makes it easy to connect to each other and help each other stay inform and take action, something that’s part of your daily life like reading the paper and chatting with friends, then our voices can overcome the billions of dollars being spent to pay off our so-called democratically elected representatives. Maybe Capitol Bells can help make this happen, but maybe the barrier to entry is still too high and there’s a better solution out there.

Q: Hi Alex! I am interested in all the Jesus/Biblical references in your lyrics. What is it about that subject that is compelling to you? P.S. Thanks for your music :)

Ebert: The beauty and the resultant hypocrisy of those who have coopted the story and twisted or altogether ignored the message of love. Such a many layered heartbreak.

Q: It is lovely putting this to discussion. I’m not American so I have not the right to a moral call. Maybe the solution is wider than a state discussion. Can you, maybe one day, start a global discussion on democracy and taxation? Thank you and congratulations for this!

Ebert: Absolutely. Web tech is a democratization tool at its core – and the solution is relatively open source and worldwide.

Henderson: Gotta start somewhere! America is a big piece of pie to start with, but if we can make it work here, why not expand it into a platform for global citizens and global democracy. Who needs the UN then?

Q: Hello Alex, I too did the dreadful 12 step fellowships and came to a place of understanding within myself. I was wondering which drug you feel makes you feel the most creative? And also, what can a girl like me do in Arkansas to get more people to vote?

Ebert: I like fasting! Best clarity high there is… on juice tho – carrots lately. In Arkansas… welp – just gather the courage to allow yourself to be embarrassed and TALK to people, make yourself heard…

Q: I ask a question only to get the chance to thank you. Your music had literally saved me. I’m not sure I could have found the strength to handle my hurdles had it not been for your wonderful mind/music. What is the one thing you miss the most about your pre-Edward Sharpe life and how have you become so at peace with yourself and the world around you?

Ebert:: Much Love to you!!! Oh… pre-ed Sharpe… I was able to run around with no cell phone… and a ton of energy

Q: Hi Alex!! Such a massive fan of yours for years!! Was just wondering, do you think you’ll ever do anymore albums with ImaRobot?? Also could you tell me what you mean by Lovers In captivity? Muchas gracias!

Ebert: Oh thanks – Lovers in Captivity – just about any monogamous relationship can feel that way sometimes… :) but, ya know… Love is worth it

Q: Alex man you’re my absolute hero. Been through some rough times lately and your groups music has just been spot on. I was wondering in your opinion what’s the best way to live your life?

Ebert: With the courage to be willing to fail.

Q: Hi, Alex! I see that you able to cope with the internal depression, and you are very compassionate to the world. How do you manage of all this to create? Thanks!

Ebert: I allow the exhilaration of embarrassment to reinvigorate me.

Q: This is great, especially in an election year! You said there are Congressman using this … do you know if any pres candidates use anything ‘techy’ to reach voters?

Ebert: Not enough. Candidates should be using these things AS their platforms IMO, and sitting reps should be using Cap Bells to stay in real-time-touch with their constituency.

Henderson: The more people we can get onto Capitol Bells and other civic engagement networks the more they’ll have to use tech to reach us, the voters.

Q: Will you be playing Bonnaroo this year?

Ebert: naw :/ …then again maybe? doubt it… no. Love you tho

Q: I saw you at The Fillmore in Charlotte back in 2012. It was one of the best nights of my life. Your music has always made me so happy. What was the happiest moment of your life so far?

Ebert: This! each moment is a moth#$fuc&ing blessing.

Q: Which of your own songs are your favorite?

Ebert: Truth, This Life, America For Me, Amen. On the New Album – man, most of them are in competition.

Q: Alabama or Arkansas?

Ebert: Alansas

Q: Hi Alex. My wife is a huge fan and we’ve seen you guys play a bunch of times in the past few years. I am interested in your new IRS idea, but find it a shallow attempt at progressive politics. I don’t know your political philosophy, but I am pretty sure you are progressive and support left-wing ideas. As a Marxist myself I’m not disagreeing with your politics, but you wish to give people a voice in where there tax money goes. Theoretically there are a vast number of folks who don’t want their tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood, as we’ve seen in the last year. How would your New IRS idea prevent people from not funding things like this that many folks agree with? Doesn’t this run the risk of dividing the United States further?

Ebert: I find it terribly unshallow, of course. Think of it like this – the platforms we vote candidates in on are primarily promises as to how they are going to spend tax dollars. We vote them in and then they don’t or cannot deliver on their promises. an Allocation model better ensures the will of the people that voted them in – over the will of special interests that hold sway. “no taxation without representation” was the battle cry of independence. but it ought to have been “no taxation without allocation”. Keep in mind, tho, that thenewirs.com is an exercise meant to begin the conversation.

Q: Do you think that this type of “digital populism” could be a part of a candidate’s running platform? Perhaps even form a new political caucus (kind of like the opposite of the tea party?)

Ebert: Absolutely! In fact I was trying to convince a “prominent” politician, ex governor to use something like Cap Bells to use AS his platform. He kept balking saying “but I’ve ALWAYS represented my constituency”, etc. ego. But he’s a bit old guard. My vision is that these things literally become the platform on which the servant – the representative – our public servant – uses to run their candidacy… Btw – this ex governor was considering running for president this year – and the whole pitch we were trying to give him was to use democracy OS at the time.

Q: Hi Alex, do you mind giving me more of a run down of what The New IRS is? How will it help? Also, I’ve seen your band play many of times! One of my favorites was in 2012 at Wakarusa on Mulberry Mountain in Arkansas! You actually came into the crowd and held my hand and sang to me! Hope you’re doing well and thanks for doing an AMA!

Ebert: The New IRS is essentially a virtual experience of what it would be like to be able to allocate our federal income taxes as we each see fit. Though virtual, it’s worth noting that all laws and borders (and even bands) are virtual to begin. All polls are virtual until they become mandates.

Q: Hi, Alex. I’ve seen you hush a screaming ballroom to its knees and quietly daydream with you. What’s it like to still be standing?

Ebert: ha – exhilaration. and utmostly humbling, my friend

Q: I read an article siting your activism within the community in which you stated “right now, we have a bit more misrepresentative democracy than we have representative democracy.” Who, in the public sector, do you feel deserves recognition in representing their constituency?

Ebert: I think the constituency of most representatives are special interests, unfortunately, and Reps are doing a fine job of representing them.

Q: I just wanna let you know that your music makes me feel alive and heals my soul.Thanks for everything! Will you tour in Italy this year?? “Please!”

Ebert: I hope so!

Q: Standard Oil was broken up in 1911, women didn’t get the right to vote in the US until 1919. To say that Standard Oil had more sway on the voting populous than Koch today, really fails to consider how grossly different the context is in really every way. It’s not even apples and oranges, it’s more like apples and Saturn. Which is to say, the political landscape has changed so much, there is such a broader field of voters, so for the Koch bros to affect it as much as they do is serious testament to how much wealth continues to consume electoral realities in this country.

Ebert: Well… Standard Oil – and lets lump in Morgan with them because they were in cahoots – really did flat out buy McKinley his presidency. Their power was far more vast. That kind of Wild West politic has largely left the building. The difference is that they were more brazen, which, ironically, makes them seem less grotesque. Its the cloistered, loop-hole nature of superpacs that make them feel somehow more powerful – more is left to our imaginations.

Q: That’s an interesting point re Standard Oil. But we live in different times now .. nearly everyone carries a smart phone, so why not use them for stuff like this? Maybe Standard Oil would have been broken up earlier if every voter could have had their say.

Ebert: Ali! hola. Political Impotence is of course a problem – the solution is respecting inertia and momentum. Political engagement must become facile, swift, and the results must feel and be immediately tangible – just like life. Tech facilitates worldwide instantaneousness – a virtual town hall the world over – meaning real participatory democracy is, now, possible.

Q: How did you devise the subcategories for the dividation of personal income tax? PS. Any musical visits to London in the foreseeable future?! Your fans at home and abroad are eagerly awaiting your album release. Thank you for all you contribute to us today and tomorrow.

Ebert: We used the existing subcategories as individuations.

Q: Alexander, any clues what does the government think about your idea?

Ebert: Likely any existing representation will feel threatened by anything that might force their hand into anything resembling direct democracy – its very hard on the old ego. But they are our servants – being a representative is supposed to be a very humble job.

Q: Will Edward Sharpe be playing at Bonnaroo this year? Your performance there in 2013 is one of my all time favorite shows I’ve ever been to.

Ebert: Not this year :/ I wish

Q: I know it’s hard to explain your lyrics, but could expound a little upon the line in Truth where you say “tilt my chin back, slit my throat, take a bath in my blood get to know me”? The song has always meant so much to me and hearing your thoughts on it would be incredible.

Ebert: It means I am offering my most naked self to you – I want nothing to hide. Sometimes – often – that feels like a certain death of self is required. Death of an exterior.

Q: Do you think politicians are currently spending our money efficiently? Their stock options show 2.5x more returns than avg. Coincidence? The median age in America is 20-something. I feel that generation would invest more in clean energy than 60-somethings who will never see the full force of global warming.

Ebert: Not 100% sure – but I do believe we ought to see – because its the one thing I feel fairly certain we’ve never (despite popular information to the contrary) experienced.

Q: Hi Edward, I saw you perform at Occupy LA. Your democracy apps look great; have you considered basing any of them on a blockchain for increased decentralization and trust?

Ebert: Certainly with regard to music transparency and unmediating the $ chain block chain is going to play a role and yes been working on such stuff a bit.

Q: I love the concepts behind both of these projects and intend to keep a hopeful eye on them. That said, how much change do you think can realistically result from these efforts?

Ebert: As much as we all decide to put into it. We get out what we put in. the New IRS is a virtuality. an experience of a more powerful democracy. A talking piece and a data collection point. Cap Bells is an example of a combination of virtual and actual – virtual in the sense that each user’s vote does not actual count to congress, but actual in that it is interfacing with congressional activities. Remember, too, that all laws and all polls and, indeed, all votes are virtual until they are enacted. In short – playing make believe really hard begets new realities.

Q: Is Ima Robot still active at all? “Alive” is one of my favorite songs of all time

Ebert: We talk about reuniting regularly

Q: Alex, how’s it been recording the new album? I’m a big fan of Edward Sharpe and your solo stuff :) How are you hoping the political landscape will change in 2016?

Ebert: Thanks I appreciate it you saying it outloud ;) I am hoping that people begin to have fun sustaining their interests in political and social change – as much fun as they have fb’ing or graming or tweeting.

Q: Alex! I love you and your music so much! Anyways, how freakin jammed are you to be performing at Coachella? This is a huge moment for you and your career! I wish I could attend but you should know that I’m with you in spirit!

Ebert: thanks a lot :) gonna be a blast

Q: Alex, any plans to ever do a solo hip hop album? I hope you don’t mind me sampling some tunes.

Ebert: go for it and yes

Q: Do you think citizens allocating their own taxes would help republicans or democrats more? What issues do you feel would be better represented financially?

Ebert: I think it would help the people more – really tho – both. The pubs complain bout $ going to social programs, so they can allocate accordingly. The dems want to cut war spending – so they can do so accordingly. It gives us each a vote with our money, enforcing the platforms that our reps get voted in on.

Q: Hello, I love the idea of the New IRS, thanks for creating it! What are some of the specific ways you are planning on publicizing and sharing the data after tax day? Who do you hope will see the data and use it?

Ebert: Thanks! Me too. Practically speaking, we need to reach a threshold of users. WaPo asked for 20K before running an article and printing results, for instance. the primary objective is to get the conversation started and give people a taste of that kind of power. Even for me, tho I came up with it, it was surprisingly empowering to go through the motions of self-allocating.Total rush.

Q: First of all – how cool does this sound. Looking forward to checking it all out. Alex – when did you write “Feel the Bern” and did you work with Bernie on it?

Ebert: Ha I wish I worked directly with Bernie on it! That would be some fun… no, I wrote it maybe 6 months ago. It’s nice to just sit with a guitar and write a simple singalong that might have some real-world, off-stage application.

Henderson: Maybe we can help make that happen? I know a guy who knows a guy

Q: What’s your favorite fan story from when you preform “Home” live? P.S. Thank you for making your music.

Ebert: All good – my favorite was this moment in Bonnaroo. Unreal. Watch at 7:26 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qa10–IPdI … SOOOOO many proposals – used to get nervous the girls would say no..

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