Folkie singer is setting sail on sonic journey 

click to enlarge Edward Sharpe
  • courtesy photo
  • The plentiful Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, known for their rousing gospel-inflected sound, play at the America’s Cup Pavilion in San Francisco this week.

Fans know Los Angeles artist Alex Ebert by his bearded, preacherlike folk-pop persona Edward Sharpe, leader of a ragtag, gospel-fervent ensemble of roughly a dozen musicians known as Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

He and his group are also renowned for the 2009 single “Home” and are co-stars of Emmett Malloy’s recent Grammy-winning documentary “Big Easy Express.” In the not-too-far future, he also may be recognized as something else entirely — a first-time Oscar winner.

Ebert, who plays The City this weekend, has been busy in the songwriting department. On Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ eponymous new third outing, he cranked out uplifting philosophical anthems such as “This Life,” “Country Calling” (which trumpets Ebert and his girlfriend’s recent move to New Orleans) and “They Were Wrong” (an indirect ode to their new baby daughter).

But he also scored J.C. Chandor’s upcoming film “All is Lost,” an almost dialogue-free, one-man-vs.-the-sea saga starring Robert Redford, which earned raves at the Cannes Film Festival.

How did Ebert get the gig? He laughs.

“I don’t know, man! I don’t know what the hell they were thinking!” he says.

But he jumped wholeheartedly into the project, composing nautical-themed pieces before seeing any footage, then filling in the rest once he viewed scenes.

“It’s a major trend these days to have a movie score be primarily drone sounds, just humming tension builders,” he says. “But I was really interested in trying to get some real melodies out there, so I just kept writing them.”

Chandor gave his composer strict sonic parameters, like no piano. “But eventually I landed on the instrumentation, and we worked together pretty well after that,” says Ebert, who waived synthesizer sounds for Tibetan brass and crystal bowls.

“I played them with these straight mallets, and you just create friction along the rim. People use them to meditate, so each bowl is at a different frequency, and you just sit there, painting these beautiful sounds.”

Ebert also used his voice, but sparingly.

“I whistled, which is one of my favorite things,” he says, adding that it might be buried in the wave-crashing mix in theaters. “But on the score that we’re putting out on the album, I re-included it. I was able to make the songs more complete from their original versions.”

The singer even visited the Mexican water-tank set for “All is Lost,” where he met Redford, who was drenched from filming. “I didn’t want to disturb him,” he says. “But he goes ‘Mr. Ebert!’ He must have figured out what I look like, so I walked over and we just chatted it up!”


Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Where: America’s Cup Pavilion, Piers 27-29, S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $47.35 to $52

Contact: (800) 745-3000,

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Tom Lanham

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