Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros unmask ‘PersonA’

April 15, 2016
David Wexler

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Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros convened in Alex Ebert’s recording studio in New Orleans in the fall of 2014 with the goal of collectively recording an album that would shatter the proverbial “glass ceiling.”

Today, the 10-piece band unmasked its fourth studio albumPersonA, breaking through its own glass ceilings and reaching new heights. The result is the most daring, ambitious and courageous album to date.

“What was really amazing is that a band of 10 people managed to all sit around and have the patience to hack through chords and continue to the process of discovery altogether,” Edward Sharpe frontman Alex Ebert told Rolling Stone. “That took a lot of patience. We all did that. A good deal of the songs were written altogether.”

The album, released via Community Music, is offered in CD and LP formats, as well as being available worldwide across all download and streaming platforms. On the album’s cover, the words “Edward Sharpe” are crossed out, signaling a new identity for the band, and in a way, a rebirth of ESMZ.

“When we all got together to record PersonA in New Orleans, it was damn exciting,” says drummer Josh Collazo. “After many years of being a band and everything that comes with it, I feel like we were ready for a rebirth. Into what, we did not know, but the underlying feeling was there. That silent feeling made us really reach together. We inspired each other. We struggled together. We dreamt together. BUT ultimately, we worked hard and succeeded together. As we always have.”

The album – the band’s first without vocalist Jade Castrinos and accordion player Nora Kirkpatrick – features 10 tracks, featuring such powerful musical masterpieces as Wake Up The Sun, No Love Like Yours, Hot Coals and Perfect Time. Lyrically, the album focuses on such issues as freedom, family, religion, politics and of course love.

“When we came together, it was really about, ‘Well, we’ve become a band. Now let’s see what we can do,’” Ebert told KCRW this week.

Ebert said the aim was to “explore where the edges of that are and to see what the most is that each of us can bring to any song, and see what those outer limits are and how gently we can hang together and how thin those cobwebs can be rhythmically and even lyrically.”

The album’s first song, Hot Coals, sets the tone – a blazing seven-minute song that ends with an intense two-minute instrumental that shows off the musical genius of each member of the Zeros, highlighted by the beautiful trumpet playing of Stewart Cole.

Cole shines again with a catchy trumpet line to open Perfect Time, another love song that centers around the ups and downs of life. “Skipping … hugging … laughing … singing … dancing … romancing … spinning … singing. God, tell me what to do. It’s the perfect time for love with you.”

Wake Up The Sun (a personal favorite of Ebert) is a song rooted in ancient rhythmic trance. It is “a love song unlike many others we hear in modern times,” says percussionist Orpheo McCord. “A song that goes beyond the dualistic nature of man and woman, through the depths of dogma to find that God is Love!”

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The song is the most risk-taking song on the album – both honest and courageous. Among the best lines: “I’m tired of God. I’m tired of church. I’m tired of Jesus. I’m trying to serve. No religion. My only job is love” … and “God approves this message…” The song’s powerful political and religious message is reminiscent of I Don’t Wanna Pray (off of Here), which Ebert says was the most “dangerous, chilling song” he had ever written.

“Last year was a tough year,” Ebert told KCRW. “Every year is tough year, but last year, I feel like just what was going on around us, we had a lot of things going on in our personal lives, and just the rise of this extremism everywhere. This concept of really just saying exactly how I feel, not really poeticizing it but actually turning words into lyrics as opposed to poetry into lyrics.”

PersonA also gets personal for many of the band members, with many of the lyrical themes centered around family. Somewhere, for example, is a song written by Ebert about his girlfriend. Lullaby, a song Ebert wrote about his daughter Eartha, reflects on the inner child in each of us and the full circle of life.

Says Mitchell Yoshida: “As we reach the midterms of our lives, we gain perspective on the ebb and flow of life, of perpetual motion, rotation and revolution/ We see the outgoing tides pulling at the heels of our parents, the waists of our grandparents. And we see regeneration, the genesis of our love and the wild dance of DNA, a crazy, insane miracle that laughs and cries and dances and sings and bounces off the walls. This quiet moment is a meditation. It is eschewal of chaos and war and hunger and politics and greed for just a billionth of nanosecond, to sing to sleep the little tabula rasa that knows not of the evils in the world. It is a reflection on what it means to be human, what it means to be a child, what it means to be innocent, naked and careless. From the cosmic perspective, this moment is nothing. From our perspective, it is everything. Is time linear or cyclical? Can we ever become children again? The world spins round.”

During the first three weeks of writing the album in Ebert’s studio, the band amassed more than 40 songs. To really bring out the best in the band, Ebert knew he needed to take a more collaborative approach, giving each band member the liberty to contribute their ideas and provide input during the creative process, both lyrically and musically.

“Three albums deep, it sort of started to feel like a posturing of a commune basically,” Ebert told Rolling Stone. “My whole vision for Edward Sharpe to begin with was this merry band of pranksters or brothers and sisters; sort of this egalitarian ideal. But I was taking eight tenths of the song burden as far as songwriting and yet splitting evenly the money.”

Track Listing:

1. Hot Coals

2. Uncomfortable

3. Somewhere

4. No Love Like Yours

5. Wake Up The Sun

6. Free Stuff

7. Let It Down

8. Perfect Time

9. Lullaby

10. The Ballad Of Yaya

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