Alex Ebert is a singer/songwriter, film composer, writer, and social activist. He won the Golden Globe for Best Original Score for All Is Lost and is a Grammy winner. His band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a platinum-selling band, are going to begin recording their 4th studio album this year. He lives in New Orleans with his girlfriend, Roehm Hepler-Gonzalez, and their daughter. He is also currently completing a book "on the commodification of individualism" entitled Kingdom Cool.
US - Vagrant Records
With the release of Disappear Here, Bad Suns’ impressively wise and honest sophomore album, it is hard to believe the four-piece began as a chance friendship between Christo Bowman (vocals) and Gavin Bennett (bass) in a 7th grade Los Angeles County classroom. The pair picked up Miles Morris (drums) and Ray Libby (guitar) along the way, and together they spent their teenage years navigating the daunting Los Angeles music scene.
While many would consider the vast history and densely populated musical turf of Los Angeles intimidating, Bad Suns rose to the challenge. As Bowman recalls, “I can recount many instances where we’d play the Whisky a Go Go along with five terrible glam-rock-wanna-be bands. It made us want to do something different and work towards a new era of the Los Angeles sound.” While finding their place in LA’s scene wasn’t easy, Bowman is also thankful for the innumerable opportunities that come with living in one of the nation’s musical capitals. “Our band was discovered because we drove to KROQ and dropped off a demo in their mailbox,” he says, “At the end of the day, nobody’s going to care about your band unless you’ve got some good songs for them.”
The song that caught the ear of KROQ DJ Kat Corbett was “Cardiac Arrest,” the band’s first and breakthrough single, on her Locals Only radio show. From there, the band earned the attention of Vagrant Records, who signed Bad Suns in 2013 and introduced the band to producer Eric Palmquist (Night Riots, MUTEMATH). Together, Palmquist and Bad Suns polished up the demos to create TRANSPOSE, their debut 4-song EP which was released later that year. On the strength of the EP Bad Suns began to tour throughout the US alongside acts like Geographer, The 1975, and The Vaccines.
Less than a year later, Bad Suns returned with their debut full-length, Language & Perspective (2014/Vagrant). The shimmery alt-rock album, also produced by Palmquist, showed off the young band’s wide array of influences, which Bowman often says include The Cure, The Clash and Elvis Costello.
“Cardiac Arrest” began to pick up steam at radio nationally and climbed the Alternative chart (#14) and AAA (#11), and earning the band their debut Late Night television performance on Conan. With the success of “Cardiac Arrest” and a heavy touring schedule, Language & Perspective rose to #24 on the Billboard 200 and was included on many critics’ best of 2014 year-end lists. “Salt,” the band’s second single, followed suit and quickly climbed the Alternative chart and earned Bad Suns their first mtvU Woodie nomination for Video of the Year, a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and their debut at Coachella.
Just a few years into their budding career, Bad Suns had achieved no small amount of success with their debut record, something which can often be daunting for a young band staring down the barrel of a sophomore album. Instead of shying away or playing it safe, Bowman began to refine a set of songs which would become Disappear Here, Bad Suns’ 2016 sophomore album (Vagrant/BMG). Disappear Here shows the maturation of a band on the brink of fully realizing their identity and poised for a breakthrough.
“Language and Perspective was four teenagers trying to figure out how to make an album as a way to avoid college and real jobs,” Bowman explains, “With this album, it was our real job, and we were not gonna half-ass it. We love the work.”
Bowman was reading the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero, a book about the distorted lives of young adults in Los Angeles, during the time the band was beginning the recording process for album number two. “Maybe the second or third time the ‘Disappear Here’ billboard appears in the narrative, it sort of just hit me like a ton of bricks. It encapsulated absolutely everything. What a prompt, ‘put on this record, put on these headphones, and just disappear here for a little while,’” Bowman explains.
“It’s a roller coaster ride between pessimism and optimism,” he says. “I wanted these real moments of darkness to be represented and discussed, because we all go through it, but it’s really about hope and saying that you don’t have to succumb to that darkness. There is a light.”
Recorded over two sessions in the Summer of 2015 and Winter of 2016, the album begins with the title track and first single “Disappear Here,” a cut that immediately engages listeners. The first song released in anticipation of the album was the opener, title track, and first single, “Disappear Here,” followed by the album’s second song, “Heartbreaker,” which debuted on Zane Lowe’s Beats1 Radio Show. “Off She Goes” holds a strong emotional connection for Bowman. The track came to life as just melodies and chords on the piano before he wrote the lyrics and he remembers, “just being moved to tears the whole way through.”
Conversely, “Love Like Revenge” started off as an electronic laptop demo recorded on a plane back to LA from London. Bowman was excited to share the track with his bandmates, “I gave Ray my headphones, looking for his opinion, and I still remember his face of approval as he listened to it in the seat next to me on the plane. That’s the best. We’re always aiming to impress one another.” The unique instrumentation makes it a standout on the record.
“Defeated,” a track that Bowman penned when he was only 16 years old, had been cyclically recorded and abandoned over the years. “It was a huge relief to finally get that song where we wanted it,” he says, “It’s one of the simplest songs on the album, but was the most difficult to work through.” “Daft Pretty Boys” is a song the band is particularly proud of, one that they might point new listeners to as an introduction to their sound. Disappear Here closes with “Outskirts of Paradise,” a track that feels like a breezy, late summer day in Los Angeles. With the simple refrain of “separate yourself / integrate yourself / when the time comes,” Disappear Here fades out, with all the certainty and uncertainty of a coming of age tale.
Crafted for the live show, Bad Suns can’t wait to take the album on the road. After serving as main support on massive tours for The Neighbourhood and Halsey in the past year, Bad Suns embark on their biggest headlining tour yet this fall. “Our fans are so warm and loyal. A lot of them will go through some shit in order to make it out to one of our concerts. I’m talking flights, busses, 12-hour car drives, you name it. That will always be very special to me,” Bowman says, “We’re really grateful to be in this position where we can sell out clubs across the country, and we still feel we have so much to prove.”
Since quietly making his debut album, Break Mirrors, which critics hailed as one of the best albums of 2010, Mills has been consistently busy. He produced the highly acclaimed sophomore album Sound & Color for The Alabama Shakes, which reached #1 on Billboard charts and was nominated for six Grammy’s, winning Best Alternative Album, Best Engineered Album, Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. He has worked as a producer with a wide variety of others as well, including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Sara Watkins, Conor Oberst, Sky Ferreira, and Fiona Apple, with whom he toured extensively in 2013 and 2014. Currently he is producing upcoming albums for John Legend, Dawes and Laura Marling.
As a session player and sideman he has worked with Beck, Cass McCombs, Jackson Brown, Lucinda Williams, Moses Sumney and Neil Diamond, among others. Rick Rubin and T Bone Burnett frequently call upon his services as a guitarist, and equally enamored is Eric Clapton who recently told Rolling Stone magazine “Blake Mills is the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal."
Dan The Automator
Dan “The Automator” Nakamura is one of the most celebrated and successful music producers of our time. The Automator sound is unique, but often imitated; an eclectic yet deliberate storm of burr and jangle, spattering off slow-grinding plates of rhythmic bedrock and slashed through with unexpected flashes of light and heat. It’s the sound of new creation; the sound of the end of the world. It has sent acts like Gorillaz, Cornershop and Kasabian to the top of the charts, and it has turned visionaries like Kool Keith and Del tha Funkee Homosapien into underground legends.
Inspired by the soul and R&B music he heard on a neighbor’s radio, he began collecting records, and eventually, to DJing at parties in order to support his vinyl obsession. In high school, after hearing Malcolm McLaren and World’s Famous Supreme Team’s early dance/hiphop collaboration “D’Ya Like Scratchin’,” Nakamura began experimenting with turntablism, until an encounter with two emerging superstars — DJ Qbert and Mix Master Mike — led him to realize he’d never be able to reach their pinnacle of ability. He turned his talents instead to producing new beats for DJs to cut, scratch and mix, converting a basement storage area in his parents’ home to his first studio, The Glue Factory.
The cramped workspacealso became a second home for other Bay Area indie hiphop visionaries, notably Josh Davis, Xavier Mosley and Tom Shimura, who — as DJ Shadow, Chief Xcel and Lyrics Born — would form the seminal Bay Area rap collective Solesides.
After a chance encounter with Keith Thornton, better known as Kool Keith of the Ultramagnetic MCs, Nakamura collaborated with Keith on the critically acclaimed indie rap album Dr. Octagon (1996), whose cult success gave Nakamura a deserved reputation as a musical visionary. Requests for his services began to come in from all corners: He lent his talents to the obscure but brilliant British raga-pop group Cornershop — mining a shared love of Bollywood and filmi music — and the album he produced, When I Was Born for the 7th Time (1997), hit #5 on the Billboard Heatseekers album charts and spawned multiple hit singles, including the lyrical “Brimful of Asha.” He produced Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s album Acme and remixed tracks for groups ranging from Pizzicato Five and Cibo Matto to Depeche Mode, Air and old friend Mix Master Mike.
In 1999, he and De La Soul producer Prince Paul formed a group called Handsome Boy Modeling School on a whim, playing fictional personas “Nathaniel Merriweather” (Nakamura) and “Chest Rockwell” (Paul). Their album So…How’s Your Girl? (1999) became a breakout hit, and was named Spin magazine’s #2 album of the year. The album brought also him together with two of his most frequent collaborators, Eric “DJ Kid Koala” San and Teren Delvon James, better known as Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.
Their subsequent project remains one of his most remarkable artistic achievements: The indie rap milestone Deltron 3030 (2000) — still one of the decade’s most critically acclaimed underground hiphop albums.
Deltron 3030 led Blur frontman Damon Albarn, a guest vocalist on the album, to invite Nakamura to produce a novel project he’d been planning with designer and graphic novelist Jamie Hewlett. The following year, the project came to two-dimensional life as Gorillaz, a “virtual band” whose lineup featured Nakamura as producer, Del providing lyrics and flow (notably on the album’s biggest hit, “Clint Eastwood”) and Kid Koala on turntables. The self-titled album Gorillaz (2001) was hailed as an alternative rock landmark; it has sold over 8 million copies to date.
Following the success of Gorillaz, Nakamura released Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (2001) under the name Lovage, with vocals by Faith No More’s Mike Patton and Elysian Fields’ Jennifer Charles and the second Handsome Boy Modeling School album, White People, while working extensively with European artists like French pop diva Anais Croze and UK swag-rock band Kasabian, as well as British jazz-pop prodigy Jamie Cullum, for whom he produced the two lead singles on his new album Momentum. (“I’m not opposed to making hits — over the past five years, I’ve produced two number-one hits in France and three in the UK,” says Nakamura. “I’m just opposed to the way they’re made here in the U.S., where you get three days in the studio and you’re told to make a hit song. And I feel that that’s selling the artist short; it’s selling the music short.”)
Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros
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Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is a 10-piece musical ensemble founded in 2007 during the yearlong recording of their first album, Up From Below. Disillusionment with his major label experience with Ima Robot drove founding singer-songwriter Alex Ebert to maintain a DIY recording ethos. "Un-professionalizing professionalism is my profession,” he recently quipped at a show. Considered pioneers of the folk-pop revival, the band's self-produced albums have experienced some popular success (plus one platinum song, "Home").
It is the band's live shows, however, that have seen them celebrated by fans and critics alike. Often likened to "a religious experience," many of their live shows have taken place in unusual venues (cathedrals, circus tents, underground train depots – even off of trains themselves, as seen in their Grammy-winning documentary Big Easy Express). Their shows are performed without set lists and their songs usually undergo spontaneous improvisation, with Ebert spending a portion of the show singing amongst the crowd. "Our shows give us a chance to break the barriers between ourselves – to 'break the glass ceiling’ as we say."
Since its founding, the band has undergone several iterations. Most notably, singer Jade Castrinos left the band in 2014. According to lead singer Ebert, this marked a transformation in the band's music. "We had long been a social experiment first, musicians second. Over time, though, we were emerging, by virtue of hours spent, into a group of musicians who could really play together. When Jade left, that confirmed our new fate – music first."
The shift is tangible in the band's 4th studio album (set for release in the spring of 2016). Recording the music almost entirely in one room together in New Orleans, their approach was a far cry from their ramshackle, come-one-come-all production audible on recordings of their previous albums. "We seem to be done for now with distractions from the music itself, the bones of it," says Ebert. This album also marks the first time that the band has jointly collaborated on a majority of the songwriting.
The band's members are Mark Noseworthy, Orpheo McCord, Josh Collazo, Christian Letts, Nico Aglietti, Seth Ford-Young, Mitchell Yoshida, Christopher Richard, Stewart Cole, and Alex Ebert.
Every one of its members has their own "solo" projects outside of the group. Most recently, Letts and Richard (aka "Crash") released albums and Ebert won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score for All Is Lost.
The band also operates Big Sun, a non-profit focused on funding and developing co-ops and land trusts in urban areas around the world. Their first large-scale project, "Avalon Village," is in Highland Park (within Detroit), Michigan.
London-born Christian Letts returned to his native countryside to record his first LP, Hold Fast, with his friend and collaborator Marcus Mumford who produced the record. Hold Fast will be released on February 17, 2015, on Community Music/Vagrant Records. Other friends from their respective bands (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mumford and Sons) joined them at the farm, where, over the course of two consecutive Januaries, they crafted the ten tracks that comprise Hold Fast. The release will coincide with a series of art exhibits of Letts’ paintings and watercolors throughout the United States and Europe.
Letts is a songwriter, singer, painter and sculptor. Across all mediums there is a common theme of overcoming darkness. The sea, the sky, the countryside, the people within and their strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures. Spirits and guardian angels, recurring dreams, the unseen forces that silently sway. He explores himself alongside and within these elements on Hold Fast.
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ICES is a celebration of flight, levity, and the conviction that you can leave earth. You take wing in an airplane, you go to real places when you dream, you have out-of-body experiences, you get high, you lose yourself in someone else.
When we started work on these songs, I was beginning a gradual move to California, constantly traveling back and forth from New York. I was experimenting. I was falling in love. Our studio in the Hudson Valley was full of electronics and computers and the sounds of future ships sailing through the vastness of space, and I sometimes forgot where I was. The first songs we wrote were called “flying 1,” then “flying 2,” and so on, which eventually evolved into songs on the album. Flight became a metaphor for the ignition of the imagination. The process created a lightness in me, a freedom and positive energy that I’d never before felt or explored.
This recording session became a two year music and spiritual retreat with my psychic twin brother, Eliot. A private journey during which we abandoned old habits and familiar sounds. We got really geeky and experimented in our studio. We obsessed over sympathetic magic, “Ancient Aliens,” and the NBA. We allowed everything we loved to find its way in: Persian percussion, hip-hop beats, lo-fi, hi-fi, Pakistani pop, Link Wray, Jason Pierce, gospel, dub. We developed new systems; we worked with synthesis, software, and samples; we became producers. The Hudson Valley was home base, but I wanted to keep flying. I wrote songs in California, recorded vocals in Atlanta, and worked with Clams Casino in Brooklyn.
Each song became a collage of times, places, and people. Most of them started in the Hudson Valley, where Eliot and I wrote and recorded vocals, guitars, synths, and beat ideas. We’d send those first incarnations to Clams Casino in New Jersey and then we’d meet up in Brooklyn to arrange the new parts together. We worked in the penthouse of the Wythe Hotel – a floating glass box , a blank slate. We’d set up our computer, mixing speakers, midi keyboards, and all our weird gear, plus thai food and red wine. We’d bring up one of our demos and we’d sit behind the midi keyboard and sift through sounds and ideas and beats and find new things together. After the Wythe Sessions we took different tracks to Woodstock and Los Angeles to layer in live drums and percussion, and I went to Atlanta to record final vocals. For the first time, Lia Ices felt like an inclusive project with its own identity, not just a name.
ICES as a whole is devoted to these certainties. While we have evolved, we are still animals. We respond to planets, patterns, and cycles. We require the sounds of our origins. We live in the future but stay bound to the primitive and primordial. We will always want tribe, we will always want rhythm, we will always need music to guide us into our deepest sense of what it means to be human. So we hear sounds from all over the planet in this album. We devour so much music, and with this album we allowed ourselves to claim bits from all of it.