"We wanted us to write songs that would push us to the edges of ourselves" - hmv.com talks to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
With their new album PersonA now in shops, we sat down with rollicking folk rockers Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros mainman Alex Ebert to find out about it all came together, why this is an album all about life and death and how they got Olivia Wilde to direct their new video...
When did you start work on PersonA?
"We started in the fall of 2014."
How did you want the album to move on from your self-titled record?
"I want to the new album to reflect the bandit we had become. We had become something like great in my eyes – musicians who could really listen to each other and play with each otheron a special level. So I wanted us to write songs that would expose that and push us to the edges of ourselves."
Has the way you write songs changed in your years as a band? Or do you write in the much same way you did when you started?
"The first album I wrote mostly myself and demoed up before recording with the band. So that has changed dramatically – this last album only one of the songs had a pre-existing demo that went along with it. Some of the songs had voice memo recordingsthat predated the album, but a large portion of this album was written all at once in the company of the entire band."
You recorded the album in New Orleans, what was it like working there?
"New Orleans is my favorite city in the world – so special to me that I ended up moving there and someone accidentally buying the studio there that we recorded the salmon. I think it had a pretty remarkable effecton the way I approached being a bandleader and Ranger – but I think it had a pretty large impact on the rest of the band too, even though they were there for just two months. There's something there that adds more heft to the soul."
You made the decision to record in a very minimal manner, why was that?
"I don't call it minimal, I just call it real. I don't like stacking a lead vocal for instance. I like hearing all of the flavor of someone's voice and that's only possible if you can pick out the single human voice. Studio trickery has gone so mainstream that we become use to a pallet that is synthetic and decoupled from all of the vulnerability of the human experience."
Which of the songs on the album took the most work to get right? And which came together most instantly?
"'The Ballad Of Yaya' probably took the most time musically because of all the core changes and key changes. But hot coals took the most time lyrically. I had an entirely different melanotic structure and and lyrical story sitting on that song for about nine months until going into the recording and changing it. Several of the songs came together quickly, but my favorite one of them is perfect time. It's one of those songs that feels like it preexisted it's discovery."
What’s the song on the album that you’re most proud of?
I think 'Wake Up The Sun' is the song I most proud of in the song I think we all are most proud of him on the album. Both musically and lyrically it feels like an achievement of sorts, perhaps also our most daring song. Perhaps also Our most truthful. The places it goes in the seven and half minutes take me on a seamless journey."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Does it have a unifying theme?
"I think the unifying theme lyrically is just life and death. The big theme to tackle obviously, but in some ways the only thing to really tackle. Life and death of everything. Change."
When did you decide on the title of PersonA? Were there any other titles in contention?
"I came up with a title probably a year before we started recording I know there were never any other titles in contention."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"We've done a little tour of ourselves playing just those new album. We've made a documentary about the process as well that should be wrapping up in the next month."
Finally, you got Olivia Wilde to direct your new video for 'No Love Like Yours', how did the collaboration come about? And are you happy with the video?
"Olivia and I have been friends and wanted to collaborate for a while – she's always supported this band so much and expressed wanting to do a video for some time. Finally the time presented itself and her idea for the video was perfectly in line with the theme of the album. And yeah I love it – it forced me to dance which is always a good thing for the destruction of the go and the elation of the Spirit."