June 10, 2011

elephant interview: Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. ~ Hannah Marshall

“That’s part of the inspiration of it and why it feels so glorious to me, because it has that sort of ‘anything can happen’ sort of feel to it.”

Railroad Revival Tour. April, 2011.

Music lovers poured into the open lot situated in Tempe, Arizona on hot April day. The stage erected by the train tracks served as the platform for three playfully passionate and emotion evoking bands to fill the air with music that was sure to touch the lives of the masses that came to experience the unique tour.

Photo: Emma C.

Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford & Sons made up the musical line up traveling from Oakland to New Orleans via a classically vintage train. As Alexander Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros put it at the beginning of their set,

“Hey Tempe, do you know why we came here? The only reason we came here? Because the train stops by here!”

While the audience members may have found themselves at the show by a mode of transportation other than train, the excitement of this distinctive tour infiltrated the crowd of all ages. The train has been a classic form transportation in the U.S. since the 1830s. However, as time has passed the glorified image of traveling across the vast miles of the United States seems to have found its place into the memories of this country.

Alex Ebert with Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons

The Railroad Revival Tour reopened the imagination and connection to the boxcars that were once a staple to travel. I had the pleasure of touring the RRT train and experiencing a glimpse of the adventure the boxcars offered with Alex Ebert. Looking not only into the childlike imagination the tour seemed to embody, he also reflected on the sheer musical appreciation the tour offered. Anyone who has listened to the music of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will surly pick up on the joyful natures of their unique songs.

As I entered the train, Ebert was sitting in a cream colored set of long underwear situated with the late afternoon sun pouring through the windows. I was immediately transfixed by the vast view the train offered. With Old Crow Medicine Show’s song Wagon Wheel playing in the background, Ebert began to share his personal connection to the tour, and what it represented.

“Trains were always were always a big part of my Wild West sort of fascination.” Playing with the concept of “childness”, he stated,This whole train idea to me feel very child, child like, like an idea a kid would have – lets tour on a train!” Going on to say, “I think that is sort of the point in a way, that’s part of the inspiration of it and why it feels so glorious to me, because it has that sort of ‘anything can happen’ sort of feel to it.”

I could relate to that feeling as we walked back a train car or two to be front and center at his “favorite venue” – right on the train. He showed me the space where all the bands would all jam together. Microphones were set up throughout, surrounded by old wood and dark carpets. It felt as if it were a cocoon, a space protected for the creation and musical transformation that would take place.

Watching the show, one could feel the sense of community that had been created on the tour. Different members of each group would collaborate on stage through the various sets, only to come together at the end in a finale of Woody Guthrie’s, “This Train is Bound for Glory” – a massive conglomeration of all the musicians. All three of the bands on the tour are well known and loved for the emotions that are exemplified and transmitted though their songs. From here, Ebert spoke of the appreciation for music and the opportunity to travel with the group of amazing musicians. He stated that being a musician offers the opportunity for greater appreciation.

Being surrounded by these bands, and any musicians who are all about playing music all the time and loving music. I mean, I am not a guy who usually does cover songs or even knows how to play cover songs, or even knows the lyrics to a lot of songs. Which in some ways is something I need to work on, because it means I am not appreciating music as much as I could be, you know what I mean. But a lot of these guys are all day playing songs, they know so many of these old, old time classic sorts of songs, that are folk songs really. And it is nice, to be around that, that appreciation all the time.

But the music was not the only place where appreciation and inspiration was found. He reflected back to himself as an eight year old boy, to the mindset of imagination and fascination that comes with being a child and the road trips he would take with his father. When I asked about the influence of road trippin’ it as a kid, he said it “Opened me up to beauty, cinematic landscape. The interfacing of the motion and landscape and nature. That thing of having music being blasted by my dad in the front but I’m in the back of the van. That integration of music and motion and landscape.”

While he talked much of beauty, integration, inspiration and appreciation, he said it was not always easy to hold on to these ideals. “Now it’s easy, but for a while I had to go though a sort of renunciation of all things beautiful. I went intentionally into sort of more of the ugly aspects of myself and of everything. Destruction I should say.”

“…I mean, nothing is really ugly is it?”

Eloquently describing the experience of finding oneself in a dark place, he distantly looked back saying, “Beautiful things were making me sad, making me want to cry. So I was sort of exploring the option of the way to solve that… to tear down the beautiful things as opposed to trying to construct them.”

He acknowledges that he wishes he could have avoided the ‘dark places,’ but it has led him to greatly appreciate his life now. Ultimately capturing the essence of the tour, which was exciting, collaborative, and tear jerking, he offers, “I hope in a way it [the tour] inspires the same thing [child like adventure] within other people. At least the inspiration of what ever in their world they may want to go do…

Because it was one of those things, everyone thought we were crazy, and we did it anyway.”


I’ll leave you with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s song Home. I dare you not to dance, clap, sing, or whistle along.

*All images via railroadrevival.com

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