Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros will perform at West Coast Blues ‘N’ Roots at Fremantle Park on Sunday, April 13. BOB GORDON reports.
Sometimes it just takes a word. And sometimes that word is Perth.
“Perth!” explains Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ vocalist/percussionist, Michael ‘Crash’ Richards.
“I remember Perth! We did a really nice show out by the vineyards, at this beautiful stoned amphitheatre (Belvoir Amphitheatre). It was my first tour to Australia with the band, but they’d been there several times before.”
“We were with Mumford & Sons on that trip. So we were playing all these massive shows; some places were big like the arena in Sydney but we also did this show in a remote area called Dungog (NSW).
“So going over this time will be interesting; we’ll be doing smaller, more intimate shows as well as those festival dates. I love it there, it’s something to look forward to.”
Here in the West, down Fremantle way, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros will be doing it festival-style at West Coast Blues ‘N’ Roots. At such festivals, bands often play to fans who come to the stage and flock to the front, but also, in most cases, the uninitiated. However, the music of the Magnetic Zeros has such a universality about it, that in a very real way you don’t need to know the songs to enjoy them.
“The festival gigs are usually the most eclectic or universal crowds that I find in an audience,” Crash says. “Maybe even in general the shows that we play in venues get a mixed crowd, but I think, naturally, with a larger bill of acts playing at a festival that creates a nice diversity and it becomes a really great vehicle to see what kind of response you get to the music. Where all kinds of citizens of the world come together to enjoy the music – it can be explosive at times.”
Songs such as Better Days seem to capture time, space and ambience in a jar. It must be something to travel to far-flung corners of the world and witness how four minutes of sound can speak so compellingly to so many.
“The fact that you’re just even able to do that is just really rewarding,” Crash ponders. “With Better Days you could just take that around and for anyone who’s heard the new record and has grown attached to that song or any song, it’s a very rich experience for us to see them move about and sing it as if it’s the anthem they have been carrying with themselves throughout the day.
“It sort of translates to us as, ‘wow, this is more than a song, it’s bigger than us’. That’s always moving for us to realise.”
Crash was a contributor to the Magnetic Zeros before becoming a fully-fledged member. He just belonged.
“I was finishing a record with a band I was in at the time called The Deadly Syndrome,” he recalls. “We had finished the record in Laurel Canyon on Woodrow Wilson Drive, and as that happened Alex (Ebert, bandleader) came in with some Edward Sharpe stuff because Nico and Aaron (Aglietti and Arntz, former members) produced out of that space.
“So I met people once Alex came through the studio and of course those were the early days and my time was split, but I would sing with them and go on the road here and there. I guess within two or three years I’d jumped on board full-time. I think now we’re up to 11 of us onstage (laughs).”
Ebert is an enigma, albeit a friendly one, who has high expectations of his collaborators yet allows plenty of creative freedom with it.
“All of us, I’d say, have pretty high expectations for how we want this to come across to our audience and how we want this to sound in a given space,” Crash explains.
“Of course leading that march, or that high standard, would be Alex. He has a real drive to see those things through; to bring the show and the songs and the material to the height that could be the highest for what it is. Like I said, it’s a pretty mutual standard amongst all of us, but very appreciated too, from one member to the next. It’s really great to have that kind of help and be a part of this type of team.”
The DIY video for the band’s new single, Let’s Get High, was directed by a fan, who won a competition via an online call out. Social media has certainly opened up the dialogue between fans and bands, but this goes into a further artistic conversation…
“These are tools that are here for us for that reason,” Crash says. “Especially for a band like ourselves today, we are perfectly positioned for that kind of interaction. I think it’s imperative for what we do.
“Maybe there was a time when artists and musicians – and perhaps it still happens – would have this great divide between them and their audience. It feels like with every opportunity we get we try to eliminate that boundary.”
Speaking of boundaries, in a special poll announced last week for each state in the US, The Magnetic Zeros were identified as the favourite band of Pennsylvania. Congrats!
“It’s flattering and silly all at the same time, I guess,” Crash laughs. “But yeah, apparently there was this study and someone got this data that Pennsylvania was our state. The funny part is my brother lives there, so I immediately sent that to him.”
And he concurred?
“Of course! He got a good laugh out of it.”
Following The Magnetic Zeros’ Australian tour, Crash is readying himself for the release of his debut solo album, Hardly Criminal, later in the year.
“It’s been a fun opportunity for me to stretch my wings, if you will, in this manner. Having so many lovely bandmates along the way, and even with the Magnetic Zeros and the creative pool that it is, sometimes you just write songs that aren’t so fit for everything that’s going on.
“These songs came about, mostly, from being on the road with Edward Sharpe. It was really fun to be able to put some of my independent works down on an LP and share it. I’m really excited about it.”
And Crash isn’t alone in this regard, with plenty of outside creative pursuits coming up from The Magnetic Zeros camp in 2014.
“The cool part this year is that there is a lot of material being born, in that Alex is doing a lot of production, working on film composition and scoring and whatnot. There’s my Hardly Criminal debut as I said. Christian (Letts, guitar) will make a record and Jade (Castrinos, vocals/guitar) I believe, is working on a record, as well as Josh (Collazo, drums/saxophone).
“So it’s gonna be cool, we’ll have a nice balance of Edward Sharpe, as well as our independent ventures blended with it.”
Back in 2010, X-Press interviewed Alex Ebert in the lead-up to the band’s first ever Australian tour. Ebert took the call on his cell phone, waiting outside the band’s rehearsal space for a delivery truck to drop off an old grand piano. It was a scenario that seemed indicative of a musical life.
It’s a story that resonates wildly with Crash.
“You have no idea,” he enthuses. “I trip out on that fact quite often. I know a lot of us try to really keep our heads about ourselves and try not to drift off, if you know what I mean. I think it’s very fortunate for us to have this ride and lifestyle and opportunity. There are people all over who are trying to succeed in music that are very talented and gifted and with all of that I think even still, we’re pretty fortunate to be able to do that.
“And if waiting on a piano delivery is the worst of it? Then yeah, it’s not so bad (laughs). It’s interesting; you balance your personal life with this freelancing, loose-ended type of career, but it all seems to come together, you know? It’s great.”
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros will perform at West Coast Blues N’ Roots at Fremantle Park on Sunday, April 13.
Get your tickets here.