Travel changes Edward Sharpe frontman 

click to enlarge COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo

Touring the country by bus may sound romantic, but for musicians, it also can be a cramped, claustrophobic nightmare, says Alex Ebert, frontman of the 12-member Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Then again, the singer — appearing this week in Oakland with the band, promoting its upcoming gospel-fervent sophomore recording “Here” — says he was spoiled by last year’s unusual Railroad Revival Tour.

The Zeros, Mumford & Sons and the Old Crow Medicine Show hopped a 15-car, 1940s-vintage train in Oakland for a six-gig whistle-stop jaunt that ended eight days later in New Orleans; the journey was detailed in “Big Easy Express,” a new documentary by director Emmett Malloy.

Ebert saw an early screening, and was dumbfounded.

“Some really beautiful events happened during the trip, and they captured them really well,” he says of the footage — a combination of digital, 16-mm and Super 8. “There was this one cloudburst over Austin that was just outrageous, and the cars themselves were really beautiful, with little areas to sleep in. And there was so much music and merriment going on, it was just a revelation, and really magical.”

Ebert, 33, is a deep thinker who’s sensitive to otherworldly phenomena. As a mortality-obsessed teen, he sought consciousness expansion in drugs, and cheated death a few times during an ensuing addiction.

He emerged from rehab a new music-minded man, with a cathartic idea for a book (unfinished, but soon being retooled as a graphic novel) concerning a preacherlike character named Edward Sharpe, out to save humanity ... and maybe form a band, as well.

“Still, that Railroad tour was paramount in my canon of experiences. I lived that childish fantasy of a time when land could represent freedom and traveling could represent hope, possibility and endless adventure,” he says.

Ebert’s keen perception extends to Zeros compositions, too. Recently, he decided that the band’s 2009 debut “Up From Below” was a bit too bombastic.

“So with ‘Here,’ we really wanted to do a more meditative group effort, something a little more tender,” he says.
Buttressed by rafter-rattling choruses, strummers such as “Mayla,” “I Don’t Wanna” and “That’s What’s Up” are as rousing as any Sunday morning spiritual, and perfect concert sing-alongs.

“Whenever we do a show, it seems like everyone in the audience is a part of the band, anyway,” he says.

Watching “Big Easy Express,” did Ebert glean any new insight into his own labyrinthine psyche? Yes, he says.

“After I heard the monologue that I was doing, I realized that I sounded just like Morgan Freeman! So I might have a career in narration some day.”

If you go

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Where: Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $32.50
Contact: (510) 548-3010, www.ticketmaster.com

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Tom Lanham

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