Alex Ebert Shares How Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s often said that the first thing someone puts their mind to as a child is the thing they really love, the thing they should be doing their whole life. If you’re inclined to agree with that thought, then it won’t surprise you that Alex Ebert, principal creative mind behind the well-known musical projects, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and Ima Robot, as well as his own solo work, recorded his first song at five-years-old. The artist, who released his latest solo LP, I vs. I, earlier this year, adored recording at a young age. And it’s a love affair that has continued through the decades – albeit, if not a little rocky at times.

“When I was about five,” Ebert says, “I had this little music class in kindergarten that ended up going all the way through 6th grade – that class actually was the model for Edward Sharpe. I remember my first recorder-thing. If I remember correctly, it had a little microphone. It was the only prize possession I’ve ever lamented losing.”

As a teenager, Ebert’s love of song led him to hip-hop, a genre that would profoundly shape his career. The first cassette he asked his parents for was Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather. He’d play it on repeat in the backseat of the car during family road trips. Later, he started a rap group. But before long, Ebert found punk rock and soon he began to sing more and rap less. Shaped by his diverse home city of Los Angeles, Ebert dove more into art and music. That desire only burned brighter when he moved to New Orleans.

“I came to New Orleans and I kept thinking, ‘Is this fucking Disney Land? How did this place end up like this? This is fake, right?’” says Ebert, now a Golden Globe winner. “New Orleans gives you permission to live. It’s hard to describe. It gave me permission to live.”

For as prolific and creative as Ebert is, he’s needed forms of permission throughout his career to help propel his work. In many ways, Ebert’s mind is like a cornucopia. In one moment, he may write you a short story or poem. In another he might engineer a rap song and decide in a flash to sing falsetto over it instead. His imagination – as displayed on I vs. I – is like a boom of confetti on repeat.

But Ebert didn’t always recognize his innate abundance as a creative super power. He’d often harp, instead, on his lack of focus. He’s since evolved. To do so, he’s turned his focus inward, to his very creative instincts. If he’s able to re-strengthen those creative impulses, Ebert says, then the rest will follow. Ebert, in this way, is concentrating on his creative roots for the sake of the future garden.

“Music is like life, they’re very similar,” Ebert says. “What I’m interested in mastering truly is life itself. By that what I mean is that I’m interested in mastering instinct, ever-shortening the distance between ideation and creation.”

While these ideas may seem heady, Ebert is ready for the challenge. He doesn’t shy away from standing out, seeming different or contemplating complexities. As a result, his latest offering is a diverse collection of songs and inspirations. In some ways, more than a concept album or singular idea baked in, Ebert likes to think of his record’s sequence as an eclectic playlist that represents an ever-changing nature, expressed singularly.

“My bread and butter has been a supreme confidence,” Ebert says. “I’m constantly being undercut intentionally by a will to self-destruct. It’s almost a necessity to self-destruct. But I’ve gotten to a point in life recently where I want to say very specific things. I don’t want to enshroud them in poetry, I want to nail each word on the head.”

Standout tracks on I vs. I include the futuristic and forlorn “Jealous Guy,” the bravado-laden “King Killer” and the hot-summer-night-inspired “Automatic Youth.” The record is a testament to Ebert’s constantly firing imagination and the appreciation of music that’s continued ever since he first fell in love with songs as a kid, before any A&R representative ever crossed his mind.

“I was in a depression for like six months recently,” Ebert says. “And I was walking off this airplane when I saw this kid. He was probably like eight-years-old. I looked at him and I just started imitating him, making sure no one noticed me. If he tapped on the window, I tapped on my window. If he tugged on his shirtsleeve, I tugged on mine. Within seconds my depression was gone and stayed gone. I think being in that childlike state of wonder, there’s something to that.  

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