After commanding the recent attention of a massive crowd at the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif. -- which included power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé -- a band of merry pranksters called Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros is becoming one of the hottest touring acts of summer 2010. And that has helped propel the Los Angeles group's Community Music & Fairfax Recordings debut album, "Up From Above," into the Billboard 200 for the first time since its release last July. To date, it has sold 80,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
And just who are Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros? Sharpe is the alter ego of former Alexisonfire and Ima Robot singer Alex Ebert, while the Magnetic Zeros are his ex-girlfriend Jade Castrinos and a loose-knit bunch of eight musicians who at first glance could easily be mistaken as homeless. More important is how the band's folk-rock revival sound is quickly selling out dates on its May 1-Aug. 9 summer tour, including New York shows in July at Webster Hall and the Beach at Governor's Island. On the horizon: gigs at Bonnaroo, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, the Newport Folk Festival and Lollapalooza.
"The live shows are catapults for us," Ebert says from his Silver Lake home. "The word-of-mouth from people enjoying our live shows and the sold-out gigs are getting us to the place where music can put food on our tables."
Driving the band's popularity is an eminently enjoyable album full of instantly hummable songs ---in particular the whistle- and washboard- drenched "Home," which has so far reached No. 16 on Billboard's Triple A chart. The band's songs have also been heard on TV shows like "Gossip Girl," "Chuck" and "Ugly Betty."
The act began gigging around L.A. in April 2009 and hit the road that August as a headliner. A surprise booking on "Late Show With David Letterman" at the time the album was released last May forced Heather Kolker, the group's agent at Paradigm, to route a tour around that appearance. Support slots for a 10-piece band were nearly impossible to find. So instead, Kolker booked rooms small enough to fill through word-of-mouth but also with stages large enough to accommodate all the players, like Schuba's in Chicago and New York's Mercury Lounge.
"It was a combination of seeing 10 people onstage and then hearing the songs," Kolker says, "which are amazingly catchy, feel-good, hippie pop songs. And word started spreading."
The group's manager Bryan Ling agrees. "The people who caught on to this band first have been our best marketers and promoters."
Ebert and company are already looking beyond the summer tour season. In addition to writing and recording songs for a follow-up album, the band hopes to stage a revival-style tent tour: a traveling extravaganza complete with a participatory experience.
"I have a very sort of fuzzy, utopian idea of a future," Ebert says. "But I keep my mind on that and my eyes on my feet for the next step."