There is no formula for success in the music business. There’s no magical number of hits a band needs on their social networking sites to make it big, no amount of rehearsal that will guarantee a mistake-free show. Some things are just meant to be; some acts, destined for greatness.
Music might be mankind’s finest invention, but within the tough constraints of the modern day music world, many deserving artists never earn their due.
Imagine that first campfire when humans figured out what to do with the rhythm that circulated in their veins. The first musical notes probably came in the form of a stick beating a rock. Simply put, it all started out simple.
Fast forward thousands of years to 2010 and meet Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a Los Angeles band of normal folks with gypsy tendencies and the ability to summon the same simplistic emotion that created music from the start.
To say that this band has built no walls would be elementary. Even the band’s members fluctuate from night to night. The only constant within the translucent boundaries of this act is the lack of routine. It’s a nod to the earliest form of music—without the egos, the labels, the long practice sessions and the set lists. It’s this grassroots, organic way of conduction that makes their sound so infectious.
Just before their sold-out affair in Knoxville, and fresh off of the biggest day-tent crowd in Bonnaroo history, BLANK was able to catch up with Christian Letts, guitar player and vocalist of this rising indie phenomenon and ask him about the current tour, the band’s name, how there are no stars in Los Angeles and much more.
BLANK: How did Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros come about?
LETTS: Alex (Ebert, lead singer, pictured on cover) and I have known each other since we were three, so we’ve been creating for a long time, and I’ve known the drummer (Josh Collazo) for about 16 years now. We were in a band together called Written House before this. But believe it or not, LA can be really small. It was a series of interesting encounters. We all just kept running into each other. We ended up booking a show without even having a band. There were about five of us who showed up and we all called some friends and ten people came out. And that’s basically the same group of people who are in the band now.
BLANK: Where was the first official show?
LETTS: It was at The Troubadour. It was a pretty special night; you could feel that something was brewing.
BLANK: How many people are in the band?
LETTS: There’s ten people traveling right now, but we have some friends who play with us whenever they can. We’ve got 14 people in the family.
BLANK: Where did the name come from?
LETTS: The name comes from a character from a novel that Alex was writing at the time. It was about this man named Edward Sharpe who was sent to Earth to make people happy. We all loved the concept, so we ran with it.”
BLANK: How do you keep your shows fresh amidst the long tour?
LETTS: I don’t look at this as work; I’m having a great time. The songs are never the same any time we play them. We don’t rehearse…ever. We’ve rehearsed like three times since the beginning of this whole thing, which is great because it allows for the show to be really free. We don’t have set lists either; we just kind of figure it out on stage. I could see how playing the same set would get monotonous, but it never feels that way because we never really know what’s going to happen. I love that about this band. It keeps you on your toes.
BLANK: What was the first trip on the road like with so many people?
LETTS: The first trip we took as a band together was to Marfa, Texas. There was a film festival we were going to, and it was really special because of the bonding that took place. I’ve never seen stars like that in my life. In Los Angeles you can’t see any stars.
The first show in Marfa, we played about three songs and got shut down and then someone asked us to play a bar they owned and the police tried to shut us down after four songs. We were all laughing because we doubted that they had a cell big enough to hold all of us. So we just kept playing, and eventually the cops relaxed and everyone started dancing and having a hell of a time. There were 25 or 27 of us on the bus or something outrageous like that. We had some friends who were writing articles and other folks who came with us. It was a big white school bus. That would be two years ago now.
BLANK: Is it already to the point where you can’t go out and have a beer without someone noticing you?
LETTS: I don’t feel like that really. People keep asking us stuff like everything has changed, and really I just don’t think about that stuff. We just like to play music and have a good time. It’s not to the point where everywhere we go people know who we are. Most people just know one song. I’m trying to enjoy everything that happens. There’s a lot of stuff happening at once and I feel really good about it all. When I go to bed every night, I just think about how blessed I am for doing this. It’s not about anything else.