The bearded man of mystery, Alex Ebert — known to many by his alter ego, Edward Sharpe — sat down to chat with us before taking the stage to headline this year’s Oyster Festival. Though he may look like what our grandparents would call a rag-tag hippy, Ebert has his own agenda, full of ideas for social and political reform. Currently living in New Orleans, the recent Golden Globe winner discussed musical inspirations and how he believes in following his instincts.
SFCS: What do you typically do when you get to explore a city?
AE: Walk around, see what’s going on.
SFCS: What’s your favorite city?
AE: New Orleans.
SFCS: What’s most important to you in a live show?
AE: Live show? That I follow every instinct. That’s all. I count the show by the amount of infractions I commit against my own.
SFCS: Where are some of your favorite places that you guys have played?
AE: You know it’s not about the place, as much as it’s about confluence of circumstance. Suddenly a great show will happen. Some of my favorite are The Gorge, those beautiful spots are amazing.
SFCS: What’s the last concert you went to as a fan?
AE: I could tell you the next one — Paul McCartney, at the Smoothie King Arena in New Orleans. That’s in a couple weeks. I go once in awhile. I went to JazzFest the other day and caught some of Bruce Springsteen. It’s honestly been a very long time since I’ve gone “Ooo I’m gonna go see a show I’m very excited about.” Years and years. [Laughs] Except the last one was out in San Francisco. Al Green I think, at Outside Lands.
SFCS: What’s the most important song you’ve written?
AE: Most important? I think “Home” is very important to a lot of people. I think that “This Life,” the last song on our last album is our band’s best song and best performance of the song, as far as any recording, probably the most powerful live.
SFCS: You guy’s don’t do setlists right?
SFCS: So that flows with your instincts?
SFCS: Where is your favorite ice cream?
AE: I don’t really eat ice cream anymore but there’s this place in LA called Mashti Malone’s, which is a mix of Iranian perfume and ice cream. A lot of rose water. It’s fucking amazing. It’s on La Brea, just north of Sunset.
SFCS: If you could be known for something other than your music, what would it be?
AE: My thoughts. My ideas.
SFCS: Can you talk a little bit about your New IRS project?
AE: Yeah! I can explain it. The idea [is] that when you fill out your taxes, you get to allocate your own personal federal income taxes to whatever portions, to whatever slices of the pie you want to. Spread it around. Be involved. The problem with representative democracy, even if you elected a really great politician, they run up against realities. And the realities are enforced by business as usual, and it has to do with money. Any platform they run on is basically just a promise of how they are going to spend or not spend money. Then, they get elected and they’re not able to go through with all the stuff you wanted them to. So this will sort of be a second vote, the enforcing one, the vote that actually enforces the vote. You know what I mean? It’s just a way to be more involved.
SFCS: How would you allocate yours?
AE: I did it! I shared it, I shared the whole pie on Facebook. I did a general sort of even-handed thing, and we found that most people were pretty even-handed. Military spending we found got cut significantly, around 10 or 11 percent. And the biggest bump, the biggest variance, was 14 percent more allocated to education and jobs, job training. Which is pretty wildly low. So that was the biggest jump. But what’s fun to see, of all the people that signed up and participated, there wasn’t some weird lopsided irresponsible sort of spending or allocation by people. It was really pretty temperate.
SFCS: That would be a crazy social experiment.
AE: Yeah! We’re gonna keep it going year after year. It’s part of something larger called Second Government, which is a fun thing.
SFCS: If you were a kitchen utensil, what would you be?
SFCS: You answered that very quickly. Why?
AE: [Laughs] Cause I can flip things over. It’s fun.
SFCS: If you could take credit for any song, and claim it as your own, what would it be?
AE: That I didn’t write? Well, I would’ve liked to have written certain songs. You know, it’s not so much the song writing, as it is the performance. I’m very into performance. So I would like to do James Brown’s TAMI Show, 1968, Teenage Music Awards. You should definitely check it out. He goes on right before The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones, according to people that I’ve heard say, that was their biggest nightmare, was having to follow him. It was just this horrible thing, because he was just unbelievable. You’ve got to see this performance. Especially his performance of “Please.” (Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vruy2GRUsV8)
SFCS: We will check that out!
[Editor’s Note: When referring to James Brown’s performance, Ebert cited the year as 1968, though our sources confirm the year was 1964.]
Photo by Sam Engel