Alexander Ebert was only five years old when he discovered how much he loved recording. He found himself taping a cappella versions of songs from the Stand By Me soundtrack, complete with vocalized basslines and mouthed drums. “You could hear my sister in the background crying at one point. She’s two, and I’m trying to coax her into performing with me,” he explains.
“Recording is like painting for me,” says the singer. “When I’m by myself arranging a song, I’m running around naked, I’m eating crazy food, I’m yelling, I’m dancing. I change things, I try crazy things and silly things and serious things, and things I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable trying in front of a bunch of people. I just love recording and writing, so I’m always doing that.”
But, up until last year when he started crafting the songs for his album Alexander alone in his bedroom, all of his musical endeavors had been collaborative — including his ten-person band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. “I’d make demos and sometimes we’d use elements in the demos, but it was never upon me to do the entire thing,” Alex says. “I wanted to be able to build an album basically with my hands, like building a house by myself. And, by the way, building a house is something I’d love to do as well – to just be out in the middle of it by myself and understand what it is to do that.”
During breaks from touring with the Zeroes over the past year, Alex would hole up in his Los Angeles bedroom, working with a bare minimum of recording gear beyond a microphone and simple M-Audio direct box. He had his guitar, a Lowery organ he picked up at a St. Vincent’s thrift store in Los Angeles for seventy bucks, a clarinet he used for the bridge on “Truth” and a violin he’d found somewhere in Tucson on tour. He had his own voice, his breath, his knees to slap, his fingers to snap and his toes to tap.
He explains that some of his inspirations for the “mouth sounds” heard throughout the album come from all-time favorites of his like the 1970 chart-topping ditty “In The Summertime,” by British band Mungo Jerry. “You can find me whistling or singing that song all the time,” says Ebert, who also cites children’s clapping games like Patty Cake and the Disney tune “Zip A Dee Do Da” as loose inspirations.
There isn’t a single sound on the ten-song album that Alexander didn’t perform himself. “I knew I wanted violin on the bridge of ‘Glimpses,’ but I had never played violin,” he says, by way of example. “I was just about to make the call to have a friend come play it, but I first asked myself why I wouldn’t try it myself. I suppose, a fear of sucking. So, as an experiment, I took a walk and filled myself with as much love and fearlessness as I could, just to see what my take on it would be then. Of course, in that state, the adventurer took over and said ‘Fuck, yes, let’s do it.’ After all, I had a violin just sitting in my living room. To me, it’s a very humble album with sky’s-the-limit sort of qualities, and so I didn’t really shy away from doing whatever I felt like doing.”
And though there is tremendous depth, beauty and poignancy to be found in songs such as “Truth,” “In The Twilight” and “A Million Years,” an impish track called “Awake My Body” seems to epitomize the album as a whole. “I was feeling exhausted and wanted to encourage myself and my body,” He says of the tune. “Not in the sense of body image, but more like an appreciation of the cells themselves. It’s about trying to be the physical representation of my spirit, whatever the hell that is, whatever the heaven that is. It’s about what it means to wake up and be really alive and embrace the three dimensional world.”
Alexander comes out on March 1st. Alexander will play select shows in Los Angeles and at South By Southwest before returning to the studio to complete work on the upcoming second LP from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.