Edward Sharpe: Tunnel Vision

The Cult LA Band Light Up an Underground Dance Party

LA-based folk-rock outfit Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros form a tribal dance circle around a 15-foot-tall illuminated wicker man in today’s film. Director Jacob Sutton and set designer Gary Card staged the mesmerizing scene (soundtracked by the band’s spirited anthem “Kisses Over Babylon”) in the Old Vic tunnels underneath Waterloo station, where the group performed a five-night sold-out run of shows last month, complete with puppeteers, fire-eaters and acrobats. The 19th-century subway labyrinth was launched as a venue in 2009 by Kevin Spacey (creative director of the Old Vic Theatre) and his business partner Hamish Jenkinson. Led by enigmatic singer-songwriter Alexander Ebert, the ten-strong troupe have amassed a fiercely loyal fan base following the release of their 2009 debut Up From Below, thanks to their blend of hand-clapping country-tinged tunes with southern gothic melodies and shambolic live performances—known to devolve into sing-a-longs that spill out to the street. NOWNESS spoke to the band's bohemian frontman.

How did this show at the Old Vic tunnels come about?
It was funny, my manager approached me and said, "So, Kevin Spacey wants to…"; it was the most Hollywood beginning to a sentence regarding a gig. For this performance I thought: Let the love be all consuming! Let all the darkness and tunneled vision that you feel down there be light. I think there would be something wrong with the power of celebration if it could only take place in certain environments.
Your fans talk about a cathartic element to your performances. Do you feel that too?
I do feel that. When I look out into the eyes [of audience members] looking back at to me, the feeling is one that re-instills a belief in possibility and magic. What happens then, in the best-case scenario, is that everyone comes away remembering how possible that feeling is to achieve.

You have a signature look—wearing all white with a red scarf—but an aversion to being styled. Why is that?
I have the scarf at my apartment but I have not been wearing it lately because I think it may be too filled with energy from around the world right now. I wore the [white] robe the first night [at the tunnels] and I felt that put distance between me and the audience—you know, I have a beard and I’m wearing a long white robe and I was sensing some apprehension. Sometimes it's best to just dress really simple and street, so I've been wearing a tank top and sweater. But generally dressing ourselves feels more real and adventurous. In this business it’s easy to feel like a guinea pig for someone else’s thing, which is not what you are here to do at all.

Rather than traditional music videos, you have Salvo!, a 12-part movie musical set to the songs from Up From Below. You've completed three chapters thus far—is there an overarching theme?
The whole [message of] Salvo! and Edward Sharpe is that the hero is not one person. The world does not need another superhero story where we are waiting for the one guy to come save us and everyone else can do fuck-all but sit around and wait. That is definitely not how the world is going to be made better.
To hear Ebert's thoughts on staging performances at unconventional venues visit our Facebook page here.

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