By The Winnipeg Folk Festival
Winnipeg Folk Fest attendees will get the full Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros experience when the band makes its local debut headlining Thursday’s main stage show on July 9 at Birds Hill Park.
The 10-piece Los Angeles collective’s sound is a trek back in time to the sun-kissed freak-folk psychedelic era of the 1960s combined with offbeat pop, gospel and roots for music that is positive and exuberant while even managing to turn raw introspective numbers into a celebration of life.
“There are a few darker-toned songs, but with the live show it’s about getting out on stage, living it up, having a good time and leaving our troubles behind,” says drummer Josh Collazo, one of two percussionists in the band, over the phone from his home in L.A. “One thing we always try to do is go out there, give it our all and make an experience out of it.”
The group is the brainchild of Alex Ebert, frontman of electro-punk act Ima Robot, who created the character of Edward Sharpe as a conduit for a new musical direction.
He began writing and recording songs with Jade Castrinos in the late 2000s, recruiting friends from the Los Angeles music scene to work with until the number of group members reached double digits.
“I was in there fairly early on. It was just friends of friends coming out to work on songs. It never had a professional vibe of ‘We’re looking for a guitar player,’ or ‘We’re looking for a keyboard player,’ it just happened organically,” says Collazo, a veteran of the L.A. jazz scene.
The band’s debut album, Up From Below, was released in 2009 and featured the whistle-along single “Home,” which earned them international attention, has received nearly 30-million views on YouTube and been used in commercials, the movie “The Book of Life” and several television shows, including “Modern Family” and “Glee.”
The group’s unconventional setup and bohemian clothing prompted many to wonder if the band was some sort of cult, which couldn’t be further from the truth, Collazo says.
“People, I think, have this weird idea because they’re used to seeing four-piece and five-piece bands, then you see 10 guys and it almost puts people off because it’s not as commonplace. Then unfortunately, people say, ‘They’re a cult,’ but we all live in different houses and have our own families,” he says.
After making a noise in the music community with their infectious live shows, in 2011 the Zeros hooked up with Mumford & Sons and the Old Crow Medicine Show for the inaugural Railroad Revival Tour, riding vintage train cars to six cities from Oakland, Calif., to New Orleans, La. A documentary about the tour, Big Easy Express, won a Grammy Award in 2013.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros went on to release its sophomore effort, “Here,” in 2012 and followed it up a year later with a self-titled album before Castrinos left the group in 2014.
In the midst of all that, Ebert released a solo album in 2011, won a Golden Globe Award for his score of the 2013 movie All is Lost starring Robert Redford and moved to New Orleans, where the band recently recorded its fourth album in Ebert’s new studio.
It was the first time the band entered the studio with nothing written in advance and collaborated on all the music.
“Musically it has a wider sound to it, not really jammy, but there is a lot of improvising going on behind the core of a song. Nina Simone was brought up a lot in the studio and how energetic her live performances were and how she took it to the next level,” Collazo says.
Whether a new song or two makes an appearance during Folk Fest is a mystery since the band’s live shows are designed to be spontaneous happenings.
“Get ready for some looseness on stage,” Collazo says. “We don’t go up with a set list so call out the tunes you want to hear and we’ll try to play them for you.”
For a full schedule of Winnipeg Folk Fest performances, July 9-12, visit winnipegfolkfestival.ca.