Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes made his film scoring debut with J.C. Chandor's "All is Lost," known for ts cast of one -- Robert Redford -- alone at sea on a boat. He's ready for more.
"I found it liberating after 15 years of verse-chorus-verse," Ebert says. "One of the reasons that I love doing this is that the interaction with the director regarding the story -- the music needs to expose the inside and that's a wonderful process."
Ebert's early exposure to film music was through a couple of scores his father listened to when the musician was young, specifically "Chariots of Fire" and "The Mission." As an older musician he fell in love with Ennio Morricone's 1960s work, which he says definitely influences Edward Sharpe, and after meeting Chandor the first time, he learned that they shared a love for "The Mission."
They had only one meeting. Ebert's premise was that the film needed a a considerable amount of silence, suggesting "we could do a song where one note happens and couple minutes go by and a second note happens and 49 seconds go by and it's the interval, and then the song finally appears."
Ebert discussed the score and writing outside Edward Sharpe with Billboard.
Once you got past a shared love of Morricone what was your plan of attack?
We talked about music that is lyrical and melodious and it set the premise for me to be able to include melody in this movie. It's a very neo-realist, stark reality-based piece of poetry. It's easy to incorporate toney drones -- how do you get the melody in there and bring out the emotion?
Obviously that's a difficult task as the film has so much silence.
The most difficult [aspect] was 'how does something with melody that is not of this world come in?' It has to be galvanizing. It would be an emotion that wants to speak, but because there is no one to speak to, there is music. There ended up being a theme that was not his voice, but the voice of surrender, his fate calling to him. greatest triumph of the score. what I wanted to do and was able to do is to have a theme that sort of presented another character that was calling to him.
You used a lot of out-of-the-ordinary instruments. Could you discuss a few of them?
Instead of just using a low droney tone, we played all these Tibetan crystal bowls and bowed bass, banged on a drum here and there. The Tibetan bowls are made for meditation and made in different intervals, and the first time I heard them I could not believe how sonorous they were. It totally permeates the whole being. I approached this movie as a spiritual allegory so it made sense to use the bowls. I tried the oboe before I tried the alto flute, but what I found is that the oboe is Morricone's, to my mind anyway. As soon as I used the oboe, it was like wearing his red sweater, though there is oboe in the theme.
Where did you record and what did you play?
It was mostly done in Ojai, though I recorded some of it in New Orleans [his current home]. I played the bowls, some acoustic guitar and all of the synth underneath some of the strings. I played everything on keyboard and then replaced the strings on the lower stuff. I kept some of the synthetic stuff in there. And I sang and whistled.
You performed the score and the song "Amen" at a private show in Los Angeles. It was a moving experience and you never know how those things work because you never listen to the music in one straight shot. Have you done it again?
I almost cried. I got choked up, probably during the chorus of 'Amen.' That was the first time I played it live and I hope I play it again.
What's ahead in 2014?
I 'm writing a lot and I don't know where it will go. I imagine a solo album. Another score. I've been talking to do some directors. I'd really like to do an album of orchestral music for no reason. I grew up around a lot of classical music and when I was a lot younger I used to concoct classical pieces in my head. It went away, but it has come back. At the same time, the American part of my brain says 'what are you going to use that for? Who's going to listen?' But I think it would just be fun. It feels so pure. I'm also writing books. One is non-fiction, 'Kingdom of Cool,' a history of cool as a movement, as a philosophy. It's blowing my mind. I'm writing a screenplay that's a musical. A lot of the story is based on a story Heath Ledger and I were talking about. He was going to direct a movie about chess and he decided he didn't want to do that anymore, so we were going to do this musical where we play brothers bumbling through the dessert. It's a 'Withnail and I' in the desert, as he would call it.