Unfortunately, he says "like," like, a whole lot when talking to the press. (It looks bad in print. That's all we're saying.) Fortunately, he's usually quite charming while doing it. And even more fortunately (for him and everyone else), right at that moment of utter confusion he so inefficiently described above, he met singer and future girlfriend Jade Castrinos.
Alex and Jade hit it off famously. Ebert had been singing with ironic post-punk getup Ima Robot (at least, we hope those imitation British accents were ironic); Castrinos had been a singer in a series of bands. Both lived in L.A., and they met fairly randomly, the musical gods stepping in to alter the course of history. A few months into an enthusiastic romance, they had recorded an album together, the first step in what would become Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' 2009 breakout, Up From Below.
"We'd been meeting around for awhile," says Ebert. "We'd seen each other around… she was at the Starbucks across the street…"
"And I was just working on my MacBook Pro, and he was working on his MacBook Pro, and I was looking at an LL Bean catalog," Castrinos cuts in, lisping in a near-perfect reference to a scene from the movie Best in Show.
"We met online," says Ebert.
"We met on J-Date," counters Castrinos.
And finally, what we think is the truth comes out: "We would see each other around and we were sort of friends with friends and then all of a sudden it was just basically…we were both having like a really transitional summer. A really important time. And for me, when I saw Jade, sitting on the street corner outside of Little Pedro's, I was instantly like, oh my god, this is…I need to…like we need to do this together. You know what I mean? Like…this is a very important relationship," Ebert finally gets to his point. "And then we basically spent the next…"
"Five years on mushrooms," Castrinos cuts in.
"Yeah, in a way," Ebert agrees. That's their story and they're sticking to it.
That crazy moment in Ebert's life, just before he met his future "Home" co-writer, included a break-up, a move, and an experience in a 12-step program for addiction. Before all this—and before the birth of Edward Sharpe—Ebert is the first to say that he was a hipster with a real negativity problem: "To be lost is as legitimate a part of your process as being found. So, it's not that I'm disowning any of that. That was me. But I was posturing. I was upset. I was destructive and defining myself against things as opposed to for things."
But with the thrilling meeting of Ebert and Castrinos and the formation of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a new era was ushered in. Suddenly Mr. Ironic Post-Punk was sporting hippie robes and roaming the country with a 10- to 13-person band who took their first big tour in a gutted school bus and seem most at home barefoot in a field, playing music in a circle. The music that Ebert, Castrinos, and a group of friends and acquaintances recorded that summer turned into a record deal, and the record deal turned into a pretty huge amount of national and international attention for a small indie band.
The band's image is a surprising one among today's polished pop stars: each and every one of them are basically straight out of the 1960s. The men have beards or long hair; the women wear flowing clothes and floral prints. There are lots of knit items on and around them, and they often seem like they’re on the drugs. They have a definite "free love" vibe, to say the least. And what's even more surprising is that none of them seem to think of it as an ironic performance, or even as an imitation or a throw-back. It's just who they are, they say. They call themselves a family.
Ebert feels that there’s a type of love between all the “family” members in the band: "I don't think that we would stick it out together if it wasn't that. There's just been a lot of forgiveness and talking it out. We really are a family now, after this tour, because we went through so much. Almost everyone tried to quit the band at one point and it got really intense, especially in Europe. Passing through that was like the fire that we got put through—the test of our love. Being together right now is a testament to that, to live through it in a really positive way."
Not convinced that they really mean it about all this New Age love stuff? Neither was Pitchfork, the indie rock standard bearer who gave Up From Below a 4.1 on a rating scale that goes up to 10. The reviewer was a bit irritable about Ebert's newfound hippie vibe: "There's handclaps and horns, sprightly choruses and thousand-part harmonies to go around, but all the fluff either seems appliqued onto the song as an afterthought or the only real thought the song's got. A carefully curated list of influences abound, but no matter who they're reminding you of, Sharpe and company are careful not to outdo anything that's preceded them in energy or inspiration or both." Ouch.
The only exception to Pitchfork's long complaint? "Home," the most popular track put out by Edward Sharpe so far, and the one that seems to define the band for its audiences. The song, written by Ebert and Castrinos, might sound reminiscent of something you've heard before, but it also has a unique liveliness and original energy to it that can't be missed. "It feels glaringly original amidst the daisy chain surrounding it, an obvious affection passing between Sharpe and Castrinos as they murmur sweet nothings," writes Paul Thompson of Pitchfork.
Wait, what's that he said? Affection between Sharpe and Castrinos? Uh-oh, Pitchfork. Contrary to what some have promoted, Edward Sharpe is not an alter ego for Alex Ebert. Edward Sharpe is a character Ebert imagined during his darkest hour. As he was getting through addiction problems and shifting toward a more positive perspective, Ebert apparently started writing a novel about a messianic figure called Edward Sharpe who came to earth to heal humanity through love (or something like that). Edward Sharpe was the inspiration for the band's name, but Ebert is careful to point out that he is not trying to be Edward Sharpe. While he certainly acts as a front man, the band's efforts are collaborative.
And nowhere are they more collaborative than on the wacky love duet "Home." Alex and Jade wrote the song together the summer after they met, and when they sing it live, the performance is driven by a clear, genuine chemistry between them. The two seem to be connected, musically and spiritually, and that fact is unmistakable even in a studio recording. Whistling and group sing-alongs make the song more than just another duet; it has the feeling of a big "love-in," which is apparently exactly what the group was going for. For Alex Ebert, the Summer of Love was in 2007, not 1967.
"We basically reconfigured our DNA towards what we actually knew was, you know, the way," says Ebert. "And it was that summer that I wrote most of the songs that are on the album, and that we wrote 'Home.'"