Summer School of Rock: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Let me start off with a bit of a confession: I have a serious case of FOMO. For those of you who don’t know, which I’m assuming is most of you, (I swear I didn’t make it up!) FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out. Symptoms include:

  1. Staying out unnecessarily late so as not to miss anything.
  2.  Walking into things on the sidewalk because you’re too busy checking every single social media app on your phone several times even though nothing has changed.
  3. Eating your feelings on nights when you have to stay in.
  4. Anxiously thinking about all the fun things your friends might be doing at any given moment without you.
  5. Any combination of criteria 2, 3, or 4 i.e. crying while stuffing your face with ice cream and flipping through your friends’ Facebook pictures from last night while you were stuck at home babysitting. (Note: Scenarios are completely fictitious and have no basis in fact or any real experiences of the author.)

gavel2In the midst of my 12 step program at FOMOholics Anonymous, I admit that I have a serious problem, and that I am powerless over it. Thank God I can profess my deepest secrets on the Internet where no one can find them.

The other day, my addiction took me to my Facebook news feed as usual, and I was hit with pictures and statuses that gave me the biggest sense of missing out that I have felt in a while. It was worse than missing a party, a flash mob, and a beach trip all in one. It was the Firefly Music Festival.

Now as an avid music fan, it is completely unacceptable that I have never been to a music festival before. You can only imagine how my FOMO really took over when I was previewing all of the upcoming festivals for the summer. So when I popped open Facebook to see band t-shirts, open fields, and inebriated hipsters sitting on each other’s shoulders, I was HEARTBROKEN. What did I do to deserve this?! I had done everything right. I’d researched all of the headliner bands, looked up RV rentals, put the pre-sale ticket date on my calendar, everything except…. getting a job for the summer. Whoopsies. Not important.

So how’s a broke music lover supposed to enjoy the magic of a music festival in the comfort of her own home? Well, there’s this revolutionary thing called iTunes. I’m sure you all have heard of that one. I’m stuck in the dark ages of PC and even I use it.

But where to start on such an extensive line-up list, one may ask? The hyperactive unknown band enthusiast in me told me to start at the bottom, with the bands in fine print whose names people squint at and think, “Really? That’s their name?” I forced myself to pass by the groups that I already knew well, whose music had stocked my library for years and who were old friends of mine (I’ve been trying to keep my relationship with Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend a secret for years. I want to avoid the ‘razzi.)

Photo courtesy of stereogum.com.

Photo courtesy of stereogum.com. 

But as much as I dabbled in underground bands like Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, and The Last Bison, I couldn’t help myself from going back to my old favorites at the top of the list. Sure, they’re mainstream. THAT’S WHY THEY’RE HEADLINERS FOR ST. IGNATIUS’S SAKE. Pardon my French. May he rest in peace.

I guess my point is this. Yes, it’s true that lots of people listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend. That’s because they’re really good, they’re comfortable, and most importantly, they’re easy to listen to. A friend of mine, an avid movie fan/snob, once described this perfectly. At the end of a long, hard day at work, you don’t want to come home and put on an indie, artsy fartsy film that requires 100% concentration and focus. You just want to put on a chick flick, an oldie but goodie, a movie that is entertaining, predictable, and easy.

The same thing can be said about music. As much as I love discovering new bands and sharing them with the rest of the world (a.k.a. my faithful readers), sometimes I just need to listen to what I know best. Something catchy, something easy to sing along to, and something that I can play in the background without having to give it much attention.

The term “catchy” often carries a negative connotation with it in the music world, like “Oh, this song is awful and it’s way overplayed on the radio, but it’s so catchy that I just can’t help but like it.” But I don’t think that catchy is necessarily a bad characteristic. I think I can safely assume that bands want people to play their music over and over again. They want entire crowds to be screaming out the lyrics during concerts. They want their songs to get stuck in your head so deeply that you can’t help but think about them all day and annoy the hell out of your friends.

As brilliant as some bands out there are, with their unique instrumental combinations, innovative use of sound effects, or ingenious raps, it all comes down to how the band appeals to the biggest audience possible. If the song isn’t catchy in some sense of the word, it won’t win them any fans.

Sometimes as music fans, we feel the need to always look for something different. It has to be edgy, it has to be innovative, it has to be new. We’re often afraid of catchy and of settling down with what we already know and love. Even I learned a big lesson this week:

Lesson #5: Sometimes, it’s okay to be comfortable.

Alex Ebert, aka Jesus. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Alex Ebert, aka Jesus.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.

One of the bands at the top of Firefly’s line-up list has been on my list for a number of years, and I couldn’t be happier to see that they were in big font on the poster of such a major festival. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, originally out of L.A., formed in 2007 when lead singer Alex Ebert met fellow singer Jade Castrinos in downtown L.A.  Now comprised of 12 members, the troupe has released one EP and two studio albums, with a third to be released this coming July 23.

The band’s name has a really touching story behind it. After breaking up with his girlfriend and addressing his problem with addiction, Ebert started writing a book about a messianic figure named Edward Sharpe. According to Ebert, Edward “gets sent down from outer space to sort of help out humanity.” At the same time, Ebert created sort of a non-practical form of mathematics called magnetic zeros, and when you stick the two together, you get the perfect, original name for the perfect, original band.

In terms of sound, the Zeros draw from a number of influences. Ranging from folk to gospel to Dylan-esque rock, the group develops its signature big sound from the diversity of its members. I mean, it’s kind of impossible for twelve people to all agree on the same musical style, but in the end their differences in training and taste manage to create a unique bond between the members, which is evident throughout each of their songs. Among the multiple voices, the sounds of the tambourine, and the occasional orchestral swells, each piece evokes a whole lot of TLC and a whole lot of love.

Screenshot by Mary Yuengert/Gavel Media.

Screenshot by Mary Yuengert/Gavel Media.

Let me paint a picture for you: twelve friends, all jamming together while touring in a renovated school bus, playing parks and parking lots across the country to create a “free-for-all of joy.” I don’t know about you guys, but I kind of find it impossible not to fall in love with a band like that. This sort of hippie-ish, free-flowing, running through the streets with your shoes kind of romanticism is what is most comforting and easy for me, and that theme is definitely heard throughout their music. Take a listen to a few favorites, “Home,” “40 Day Dream,” and “Janglin’.”

https://soundcloud.com/therabbleblog3/edward-sharpe-and-the-magnetic-zeros-home

https://soundcloud.com/b-a-m-records/edward-sharpe-and-the-magnetic-zeros-40-day-dream

Needless to say, my FOMO would’ve been nearly impossible to handle without the help of Edward Sharpe, a dear old friend and savior. In the words of the wise Alex Ebert, “I think fun is one of the best gifts we can give to each other. If everyone was having fun we’d be in good shape.” The Zeros gave me fun, and as we all know, the best gifts are the ones that keep on giving.

You’re welcome.

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