Magnetic folk

Pub date May 20, 2010

The video for “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros plays like a Super 8 summer memory you wish you had. The happy, whistling back-and-forth duet between front man Alex Ebert and real-life girlfriend Jade Castrinos is illustrated with scenes from a 21st-century Merry Prankster stopover in Marfa, Texas. Everyone’s playing guitars, running through fields, and prancing about holding hands in a way that suggests the 11-piece folk band’s bond goes beyond the ecstatic sing-alongs that have been the toast of festival crowds from here to Coachella.

The group’s creator, Ebert (who spent another life as singer for the sharply mod punk band Ima Robot) is undoubtedly the ring leader of all this. He presents himself in a vaguely messianic manner, with unkempt brown hair piled atop his head and enigmatic zeros painted on his torso. “But it’s done with a smile,” Ebert says during a recent phone conversation about Edward Sharpe, Ebert’s musical transformation, and art-based community making. The group’s namesake, he explains, began as his autobiographic ideal.

“Edward Sharpe was an idea of a better version of myself, the me that I wanted to be when I was five years old — which I think is what all of us want to be,” Ebert reflects, unhurried despite his publicist’s insistence that we talk no more than 15 minutes. “It’s not really such a big deal, I don’t think. I guess in some ways, when I started the band I didn’t feel particularly attached or close to myself. Alex Ebert — I didn’t know what the hell that meant anymore.”

So he got on a new deal. Met his new love, Castrinos (“The power her spirit exudes, the truth that pours from her eyes, the reminder of sort of something bigger whenever she’s around — sometimes you meet people that are inexplicably important,” he says about their relationship), started jamming with friends from around town, bought a white school bus, and took off on tour.

Ebert says his transition to folk music was a bid to create togetherness in the Los Angeles of his childhood, where sprawl seems to have precluded connectivity. “What the city did for me was really make me pray for community,” he says. “It made other people pray, and I think some of that yearning has made its way to the album as a heralding for some kind of community.”

It’s enough to make you throw on your peasant skirt and thumb for a ride on the bus. But what exactly would one be signing up for? What’s up with, say, the red zeros? Ebert laughs. “I still have to figure out what the hell [they mean],” he says. “I was getting really, really into mathematics and physics [back when in 2009, when he formed the band]. I was getting into trigonometry and not knowing what the fuck I was talking about. One night I came up with the Magnetic Zeros. It just sort of felt like something.”

So maybe the point is not to get bogged down in the specifics of the Edward Sharpe mythology. Which is fine, because the music is entertaining enough on its own. The ease of the collective background singing recalls the organic way it was created. Onstage, Castrinos and Ebert romp about, clearly quite pleased with the joy their adventure has brought to their fans over the last year — but perhaps less so about the sold-out shows and critical accolades.

“The music industry is … it’s just important not to take it too seriously,” Ebert says, reflecting on how he maintains joy in the face of hectic touring and promotions for the album. “That can be really crazy-making. It can be a bizarre, humorless game, so I think it’s good to bring some levity and levitation to this whole situation.”


With Dawes

Thurs/27, 9 p.m., $25

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000