Alex Ebert

by E. Ryan Ellis

Just Add Water And Stir
We as humans have an inexorable need to deify artists from a previous time. Hell, we deify those living who might as well be artistically dead [see: Dylan, McCartney]. “Beethoven was as genius as anyone! As much as Einstein!” sputters the bulbous ren-faire enthusiast. And who’s to say he’s wrong?

The Greeks called it apotheosis; making a hero divine, all the while the hero’s just a regular fleshy Joe. Theologian Karl Barth once stated, “It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together [casually] they play Mozart.” Matisse once described Cézanne as “a sort of God of painting.”

So let us perform a quick exercise whereby we demystify a handful of artists, before going forward.

-Da Vinci’s alleged last words: “I have wasted my hours. I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” -Mozart’s face was pockmarked from small pox. -Haydn’s face was pockmarked from small pox. -Wagner loved women’s pink silk panties. He sent Nietzsche to buy them. -Dvořák once told a fellow composer: “I have composed too much.” -Gauguin was driven from Tahiti after residents grew tired of his orgies, drugs, alcohol, and his resultant multiple illegitimate children. They threw his paintings and sculptures into the sea upon his leave.

Now let’s talk about Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe). After garnering much attention over the years with his Magnetic Zeros, Ebert took a recent foray into composing a score for the Redford-starring All Is Lost, a movie set entirely at sea, with a single character and almost no dialogue. His score—which included only one song with vocals—yielded a Golden Globe win for Best Original Song.

Was the process of composing the score for All Is Lost overwhelming? Any of it?

It seems daunting. Yeah, but that’s the great part, you know? As I told my dad when I was five years old from a chairlift, “Boy, do I love adventure.” And that’s basically me in a nutshell.

Did you dream about it at all? That’s a good question. I don’t remember.

I don’t know how immersed you became in recording, but what did you use to cleanse your palate afterward? Well, the good thing about recording the third Edward Sharpe album at the same time was I just went back and forth. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and I enjoy working like that in general. I write a lot, so I’ll switch from writing to music, and I have a couple paintings going.

You’ve lived in L.A. and New Orleans. Neither is landlocked. All Is Lost takes place at sea. Did that play into the music? No, but it’s interesting. When I think about being landlocked I get a mild panic attack. I like the idea of being on the water; I don’t even know if I’ve actually thought of it in quite that context but I think that’s true.

What do you think about electronic music? When I think of electronic…the way that I make that question relevant to my mind is that you know, you have the evolution of tools and I think that’s the beautiful thing, and I love synths to produce feelings that are profound as anything. One of my biggest influences as a kid was Vangelis, you know, my dad would play Chariots of Fire. The Vangelis canon upped the ante on that style. I’m using synthetic horns lately on my demos and then I make beats.

I think that there’s something really great about the evolution of tools, in general. The only thing that sort of irks me a little bit—if I could make a general comment—is that the back beat has been, I think, overly simplified to four-on-the-floor. Which means: Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

There’s something natural [to it]. There’s an attraction to four-on-the-floor, it’s very easy to dance to and it mimics the heartbeat without the trip switch. These days, if you want a hit you just put four-on-the-floor on it and a nice tune around it. I’ve actually really tried to avoid doing it, and now I’m actually coming back to it again. I’ve had frustrations with it and I’ve also accepted it.

The only time I went through a period where I listened to techno was when I was a freshman in college. I ended up being friends with this kid who was from Europe. He had a tiny dorm room with a disco ball and we’d drink and there’d be like twenty people in this tiny room and we’d go out and I’d dance.

When I hear people in their club bumping techno at 1 p.m, I just don’t understand how you can do that. I think it depletes your adrenal glands.

What noise do you think best describes water? Maybe an instrument in particular. I think I’d have to go with piano, and then I have the double bass. It’s got depth. The electric guitar sort of slides, it can feel like submergence. But a piano has the ability to literally be a waterfall, be a movement of water, which I think is pretty miraculous.

I notice there are a lot of low tones in the score; it gets very bleak at times. One tone in particular sounded almost like a didgeridoo. That’s a giant crystal bowl. I had these giant crystal bowls, the first time I heard them, someone started you know, when you’re at a dinner and someone drags their finger on the edge of a wine glass. The first time I heard one, I could not believe how filled the room became.

The great thing is that by recording them, I was able to sit there and stroke these crystal bowls and for sixty minutes [I] was bathed in this sound, and they’re actually tuned to certain frequencies slightly off from the A440 scale so they’re supposedly more on the scale that’s in tune with the actual hum of the earth which I think is around B-flat.

Stylist: Hala Moawad.