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Right away, let's clear up any confusion surrounding Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Edward Sharpe is not the frontman; it's Alex Ebert of Ima Robot fame. And Sharpe isn't his alter ego either. As for Ebert's long-haired, bearded, neo-hippie Jesus look, that's just his personal style. To top it off, the Los Angeles-based troupe doesn't even consider itself a band — it's more like a family.
"That's just kind of how it worked out," guitarist Christian Letts says. "It wasn't a goal but a byproduct of just hanging out together and getting really close. But I think of it as a family first, and I just get to play music with some of my favorite people in the world."
Letts and Ebert have been friends since the age of 3, and the other members found their way into the group by similarly familial associations. Each grew up around Los Angeles. Drummer Josh Collazo has been friends with the guitarist for nearly 17 years, and they played together previously in a band called Written House.
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"Alex met [percussionist Orpheo McCord] one night at a party," Letts recalls. "He was playing a drum, and we needed a percussionist. Alex was just running around Runyon Canyon and took a turn we thought we needed to take, ran into Orpheo, and he was like, 'Hey, we're going to [Marfa, Texas]. You wanna come with us?' And Orpheo was down."
Since then, the group's organic growth has led to its critically acclaimed debut, Up From Below, recorded over two years in guitarist and coproducer Nico Aglietti's Laurel Canyon home. Letts recalls a picture-perfect bohemian scene with people jamming in the living room while others cooked dinner in the kitchen.
"I remember just walking in and there's an idea being kicked around," he says. "And we just sat in the living room with two guitars — someone's like, 'There's an upright piano upstairs, and we should include that.' And 20 minutes later, we went down and recorded the song, which was 'Up From Below.' And we did it on the first take. We did three takes, and the first was magic."
Letts also notes it was the first time he had toiled through analog recording with an old 24-track.
"It was cool," he says. "There'd be, like, five of us playing at once, and you get it down to the last note because you can't just punch in. You have to do the whole take over. But there's something about tape. It's got this really warm feel, and I don't ever see us shying away from it."
Indeed, the album radiates warmth. From the Motown-flavored opening "40 Day Dream" to the catchy, '60s-tinged "Janglin'" to the anthemic "Home," the disc paints vibrant vistas. However, the guitarist still isn't prepared to easily classify the group's one-of-a-kind sound.
"There have been some funny descriptions," Letts says. "Somebody called us spaghetti hippies. Somebody else was saying it's desperado Motown. I actually have a hard time describing it as well, honestly. That's the first question people ask: 'Well, what kind of music is it?' And, you know, I'm always like, 'You know, it's kind of everything.'
"It's very tricky, because there are so many people in the band. And recording, it's even more people, different friends playing instruments on it. There's ten people with very different musical inspirations."
However you choose to describe it, the music is something special. And onstage, it's downright magical. In a very short span, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have earned a reputation for wowing fans with spectacular live shows while trekking tirelessly across the country, hitting up festival spots such as Coachella, and even heading abroad to Australia.
"Every show is different," Letts says. "We always have fun. There's no two shows that are the same, and we never play a song the same way twice live. There might be a guitar line we play different, or the drum quiets down somewhere you weren't expecting it. It's almost like a live score for the evening. We're going to have fun, so hopefully [the crowd] has fun too."