It's been a long, strange musical progression for Alexander Ebert. From his first taste of commercial stardom as the frontman of power-pop outfit Ima Robot, to his role as leader of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the singer has gone through a number of musical transformations with relative ease.
Now, after a long period of fronting bands, Ebert has gone solo -- and not just in name. "Alexander," Ebert's first major solo release (out March 1 on Community Music), was performed entirely by the singer himself.
Video: Edward Sharp & the Magnetic Zeros, "Home"
"[Before] I always felt like a singer/songwriter who would demo things up and then pass the demos off to the rest of the band to redo," Ebert tells Billboard.com. "It felt like it was time to go ahead and turn these recordings that I love making so much into an album, where it was shared directly from my bedroom to the world instead of recreating them in the studio."
This included playing every instrument heard on "Alexander," from the clarinet to the violin. Acccording to Ebert, it was the latter that gave him the most trouble -- after all, he had never played the instrument in his life. "I had a song that I really wanted strings on, and I debated calling a friend to come play some violin on it, but up to that point I'd recorded everything else and I figured, 'Why not?'" Ebert says. "I actually had a violin sitting there in my living room, so I figured I might as well try it. But eventually it stopped making noise, and that's sort of where I stopped recording it. It's on the song 'Glimpses.' It's just kind of funny; later on I found the reason that it stopped making noise was that you have to, every once in a while, apply this stuff called rosin."
Although it's far more Edward Sharpe-leaning than his material with Ima Robot, "Alexander" possesses a prevailing sense of simply being its own thing. Among Ebert's influences on the album: Paul Simon and Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime."
"In ['In the Summertime'], a mouth is making the percussive noise in that song," Ebert says. "I didn't have a drum set the whole time, and there's a bunch of stuff I did without and instead used my lap, my teeth, my tongue, my mouth, my hands -- that sort of playful, preschool element came out even more."
Ebert feels there is a marked difference from his work with the 10-person Edward Sharpe band on "Alexander," calling the album "a bit less forceful. Not in a pro- or negative way at all, but just a bit less forceful, a little bit more introspective. And then, you know, there's no piano and there's no trumpet and there's no real drum kit, so it's on that level. It's more introspective and stripped."
While he professes to love all the songs on the new album, one song in particular that Ebert is proud is "Truth," because "if anything just for the sheer fact that I'm sort of rapping on it," he says. "The cadence is prolific; there's a lot of words involved. It's not that often that I feel like I have so much that I want to say that I want that many words into a song, and thereby sort of rap."
2011 looks to be a busy year for Ebert. Following the release of "Alexander," he'll embark on a
short tour (which includes stints at SXSW later this month). In addition to his solo aspirations, the singer will hole up in the studio once more to finish recording the currently-untitled follow-up to Edward Sharpe's 2009 debut "Up From Below," which featured the band's breakthrough song "Home."
"The next Edward Sharpe record looks to be a bit more of a Wu-Tang operation: Jade (Castrinos)'s got a song and we're doing backup, Christian (Letts) has a song and we're doing backup. And then Aaron Embry, our piano player, has a song that we're singing on.
"The album feels really beautiful. I think recording music in general is a brave process because it feels particularly… courageous, in a way. We're not overanalyzing stuff very much and just sort of rolling on feeling. We have a ways more to go, and we'll be recording before the summer."