Magnetic Zeros make Aspen debut | AspenTimes.com

Magnetic Zeros make Aspen debut

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times WeeklyAspen, CO Colorado

Julie LingCalifornia band Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros make their Aspen debut Friday, June 18 at Belly Up.

ASPEN – The phone connection is lousy. Jade Castrinos is pressed for time; Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, the band in which she sings and plays percussion, has just rolled into Bonnaroo, the massive Tennessee festival where they are scheduled to play the following night.Although the band is only a couple years old and she is a founding member, Castrinos claims not to know the precise origins of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, which began with some writings by frontman and lead singer Alex Ebert. (There is no Edward Sharpe.) And truth to tell, Castrinos doesn’t appear to be especially articulate, at least not at the moment of our conversation.But even if we’d had ample time and a five-bar cell connection, and Castrinos had the information and eloquence I was hoping for, it might be that what I was seeking – an explanation of just what Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros does, and how they came into being – defies words. The music on their debut album, last year’s “Up From Below,” is hard enough to pin down – freak folk played on violas and accordions, with heavy doses of mythology and theatricality, not to mention a fabulous and deep sense of rhythm. But watch a video of the band performing live, or one of the more crafted music videos that are reported to be part of a feature-length musical project, and a description becomes far more elusive.Certainly the word “hippies” will spring to mind; the clothes and overall look seem to be the work of a time machine that transported the band from 1967. And “collective”: the band can number roughly a dozen players when they take the stage. But to fully describe a performance, you might have to include the idea that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros aren’t performing, not in the traditional sense of a group of musicians playing to an audience. The members seem to be more focused only on what is happening on the stage, dancing with and singing to and even at times kissing one another, so caught up in the music and the ecstasy of being together that they have nearly forgotten about the crowd. Even in an appearance last September on “The David Letterman Show,” the band seemed to forget about cameras and viewership in the millions, and get lost in the tune (“Home,” a playful and passionate duet in which Ebert and Castrinos lock eyes and declare that “home is wherever there is you”).That method of playing doesn’t seem much removed from the way Castrinos describes the earliest gatherings of the Magnetic Zeros. The band began with Ebert, who had led the Los Angeles indie-punk trio Ima Robot, and Castrinos, who told me her previous band experience was playing “in a little band” with her father, through her teen years. “Alex and I became dear, close friends. And what was natural was to play music,” she said.Eventually what they started to play were songs based on a book Ebert was writing, with a protagonist named Edward Sharpe. (Castrinos declines to say much about Edward, saying that Ebert, who was unavailable for an interview, knew more about the character.) The music at the time seems to have been more about Ebert’s healing than about starting a band and making a career. Ebert was hooked on heroin, and was searching for a spiritual way out of addiction. The path included a relationship with Castrinos and the music they were making, but something bigger as well. The two brought singer-guitarist Christian Letts, a friend of Ebert’s, into the circle, and they found a prime location for their music-making at a Laurel Canyon home studio run by Nico Aglietti and Aaron Older.”We just came together to play music and we all just gathered around for the purpose of song and jamming,” Castrinos said. “That was natural, the way it moved.”While Ebert is the center of attention, Castrinos said that the band is a full-on democracy. “Everybody is always respected; all ideas are honored and heard,” she said. “We’re all raising our voices, and it’s good. Someone will say, ‘I hear this harmony and I’m going to give it a try.’ We’re all the core.”A defining moment came with the Magnetic Zeros’ first real show. In a white school bus that Ebert had bought, they drove from California to a film festival in Marfa, in southwest Texas. The gig was awful; the power went out early on. But the next day the band took to the streets, and they found that magic could happen in a less formal setting.They took their free-flowing style on tour, and discovered they could make it work in clubs and theaters. The Magnetic Zeros’ first tour sold out most of its shows. Following the release of “Up From Below,” they made a quick jump to festivals. After a set at California’s Coachella festival in April, which landed them on the front page of The New York Times arts section, they are scheduled this summer for appearances at Lollapalooza, the High Sierra Music Festival, and a featured Saturday night gig at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 19. Before Telluride, they stop at Belly Up Aspen on Friday, June 18, for their local debut.Castrinos said that it would be hard to compare a Magnetic Zeros show to anything she has seen. “It’s its own thing,” she said. “It’s a living, growing thing. It’s a lot of things. It’s an act of gratitude and joy and just connecting.”••••Beginning with the local debut of the Magnetic Zeros, Aspen’s music calendar this summer is highlighted by new things.The real big one will require some patience. Wilco, the mighty rock group of the era, makes its area debut at the tail end of summer, at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival. It should be worth waiting for. Led by singer-guitarist Jeff Tweedy, the band has released seven studio albums, each one – including last year’s “Wilco (The Album)” – superb. And they are said to be even better in concert, a notion solidified by the 2005 live album, “Kicking Television.”Also making their local debut: British ’80s hitmakers Squeeze, who play Belly Up July 24.Three superlative pickers – bassist Edgar Meyer, banjoist Bla Fleck and mandolinist David Grisman – are well known to Aspen, but they appear in different guises this summer. Meyer and Fleck perform in a trio with tabla player Zakir Hussain on Aug. 18 at the Aspen Music Festival, while Grisman ditches his jazz-bluegrass fusion David Grisman Quintet to play pure bluegrass with his David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, July 11 at Belly Up.The duo of NAS and Damian Marley and rockers Grace Potter & the Nocturnals both played here in recent months. But both will return with new albums released since their last appearances. NAS and Marley put out their debut, “Distant Relatives,” in May, while Potter and her band put out a self-titled album last week.In addition to firsts, there is also a last: the final season of the Glenwood Summer of Jazz, which exits after this, its 25th season. But they go out in style: the series opens June 23 with violinist Regina Carter, and also includes pianist Marcus Roberts (June 30), Trombone Shorty (July 14), and pianist Chuchito Valdes (July 28).stewart@aspentimes.com