NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The new self-titled album from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros is late. Way late. More than a year overdue.
Frontman and producer Alex Ebert wouldn't have it any other way.
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"I'm just glad we didn't put it out all the way back then because so much developed since then," Ebert said. "Not just the difference a year makes, but the difference even an hour makes. We were in the studio while taking a break from mixing when I came up with this song 'Life is Hard.' Songs developed at sort of the last minute."
Some of the 12 songs on the band's third album, released last week, were recorded more than 18 months ago with the music that would eventually appear on the California-based folk-rock band's 2012 release, "Here."
Ebert had so much music, he considered making "Here" a double album. Then he thought he'd release the material a few months later as a second album. But summer came and went. Seasons ticked away.
These were eventful times for the band, which has a sliding lineup that usually numbers more than 10 around founders Ebert and Jade Castrinos. "Here" opened at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and the band played to larger and larger audiences in bigger and bigger venues. This was driven in part by the popularity of "Big Easy Express," Emmett Malloy's documentary that landed a Grammy Award for the Zeros, Mumford & Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, and the open-armed nature of their music, which lends itself to large-crowd sing-a-longs.
All the while Ebert continued to work on the album.
"The work was very, very sort of diligent and 16-hours-a-day sort of work. At least 12," he said in a phone interview. "There was very rarely a day off. So it wasn't like, 'Oh, let's take our time.' It just wasn't ready yet and stuff kept evolving."
Along with the appearance of new songs, the material recorded earlier evolved as well. Ebert might change his vocal or alter instruments. Some songs were stripped down and rebuilt like a custom car.
As an example, "In the Lion" started as "a completely different song called 'Help Somebody,' and with completely different lyrics, and a different arrangement and different sounds," Ebert said. "I spent a couple of days mixing it and getting it pretty close, and just decided it wasn't quite right. So I started laying down an acoustic guitar over the whole thing and just instantly I realized that I needed to keep going in that direction."
By the time the process was over, the shimmering harmonies and sunny moods of "Edward Sharpe" evoke the folk movement of California in the early- to mid-1960s. Ebert incorporates others' sounds and feelings as well, but for the most part, he's trying to inspire a certain communal feeling -- the same that the band's many members share when they gather to make music.
"For me I want to start a new golden era," Ebert said. "I want to have stuff that contributes to a new golden era. To me that means that the production and the songwriting, it all needs to sort of change in order for that to happen. For me personally music has not been as good as it has been in the past. To me it's not necessarily about reaching back into the past."
Ebert said the reason he was able to form Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros was because he was able to get "a good footing songwriting-wise where I had to think back to when I was a child and music was truer to me."
He believes the same thing is true with music in general. "Sometimes you have to look back and remember a time when things were better or more pure or just more potent."