Two words frequently came up in my brief sit down with Orpheo McCord and Christian Letts of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: together and love. For the ten piece band heralding from Los Angeles, California, no two words could be more apt. With recent successes and constant touring, the band has never been closer and it shows. The way they present themselves, speak to each other, interact, all of it has the vibe of an eternal friendship and affection for one another.
This is most evident in their latest album, Here, the successor to the widely successful Up From Below. When asked how this album differed after years of touring, living and growing together, guitarist and vocalist Christian Letts offered a simple description: “It sounds like a warm blanket.” Percussionist, Orpheo McCord, continued with the idea explaining, “All of us as an ensemble were more involved. Christian was more involved. At the start, we were just kind of sprinkled in, but now we’re more of a collective. It was all about us becoming family and being lifelong friends.” Comparing the two albums, the statements resonate with the idea of the band being more than just Alex Ebert, the “frontman,” if you will, of the band. Here found new ways to showcase the multiple talents of the various members. Curious of how the album came together, I prodded further into the song writing method (if there even was one). “There was no set method,” admits Letts. McCord offered, “Alex comes together with most of the ideas and we just kind of flesh them out. Everyone is open to feedback and working together.” Letts nodded in accordance following with, “There is a lot of arranging and working together” offering up the fact that the song “I Don’t Wanna Pray” was all done in one room with one take as evidence of their pushing each other to try new things.
One must concede that the band has gathered a formidable following. Though Letts admitted that “he felt something coming” during the bands days recording the first album and touring, it was never evident that it would rise to such status. “I remember Alex calling me up to work on some demos and it always going to be about the music.” For McCord, “I can’t even project into the future now. It was always about us coming together and that fate becoming true.” He likened the band coming together to meeting “someone special and they become your wife. It was about us coming together at that crossroads.”
Now, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have entered a realm of a special kind of renown. The crowd at the Malkin bowl was varied in age and the fan base is extremely broad. Their music is that which speaks to youthful love, optimism and hope while also relating to the nostalgia in any grown being. It’s the reason they fill venues with children, their parents and sometimes even grandparents. For the band, the success and hype is staggering. “I remember going to Australia, somewhere none of us have been close to and everyone is singing along. This came from the early days with recording demos in Nico’s apartment and stomping because we didn’t have drums,” Letts offered, pensively. “The whole thing was fulfilling musically,” continued McCord, “going through the neuroses and finding the togetherness, and now it’s bigger than us.” For Letts, it even meant going “so far to even affect [his] relationships in life.” He concluded, “It’s really changed me and I wouldn’t go back.” As for success affecting them, McCord had this to say: “We’ve never compromised and at any sign of interference we’ve broken off to stay independent so we’ve always done our own thing.” When I asked about the label’s role in their music, both agreed with how lucky they were to have a label that respected what they’ve accomplished and given them such independence. “All you hear are the horror stories,” said Letts, “but we’ve we always had it good. Our band manager, I’ve known him since I was six years old.”
Here isn’t the only thing the band is celebrating. Big Easy Express, a movie documenting a tour by train featuring Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Mumford and Sons, and Old Crow Medicine Show was recently released. Touring with such a line up had to have a profound effect on the band members both as musicians and people. McCord likened coming together for a tour to the forming of the band, itself, saying “It was like meeting people you feel you’ve known forever.” According to McCord “It was all of us coming together because we had met before. When we met in Oakland in First and Last Chance bar, we drank whiskey and jammed for days straight getting to know each other.” For both McCord and Letts, it meant getting together with people they only ran into at odd places across the globe, then finally getting together in one place to make a lifelong set of friendships and a unique musical collective. When it came to travelling around, Letts had this to offer: “One night we were in the Mad Man car with the Old Crows and it’s like and old time car from the 50’s or something and they were playing with horse hairs flying [from the bow] and everyone was into it. That got me into bluegrass and I wanted to learn the banjo and grow.” For everyone involved, the experience meant new experiences that expanded their personal interests and relationships, pushing them to try new things and expand as musicians.
As the session was coming to close, I had one last chance to ask what lay ahead of the band following their prospective tour. McCord admitted it was time to take a break, go to families. Both seemed excited by the prospect as both appeared to have much to look forward to outside of their band commitments. “There is a new record coming out,” he conceded. “We’ll probably tour again to try and share our music with everyone out there.” It was an answer you’d expect from a member of this collective: There is time for rest, but there is always a desire deep down to spread a message and a common love to whoever will listen. The band has grown and matured from the cathartic Up From Below. Now is the time to spread happiness for them. Now is the time to share their message.