Photographed by Aaron Stern

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros explore and enthrall on their third album.

Stomp, clap, knock-knock. The familiar palpitations that open “40 Day Dream,” the first track off Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ 2009 debut, inspire an appreciative roar from the Governors Ball throngs. The sun’s about to
set on the second day of the festival, held annually on New York’s Randall’s Island, and as the tune’s organs pipe in, the entranced crowd sways as one, or as much as they can, ankle-deep in a field of gray muck from the previous night’s downpour. Frontman Alex Ebert glides center stage, a rose in the lapel of his linen suit. “I know I’m sleeping, ’cause this dream’s too amazing,” he sings, 
kneeling at the lip of the stage to grasp outstretched arms and a fan’s cell phone. He snaps a selfie, hands it back, and tosses his rose into the crowd. He’s gesturing wildly, as if trying to hug the uni- verse. “Oh-oh, now I can die.”

About five hours earlier, half of the Zeros are camped out next to a mini-golf course in the festival’s makeshift backstage. A posse of 10, they’re taking turns traveling here by van from where the tour buses have parked. After 15 minutes of banter and Axl Rose impressions, the second shift arrives, including vocalist Jade Castrinos, whose sad eyes and electric smile enchant in ways YouTube could never do justice to. Behind her strolls Ebert, sporting an unruly topknot and facial scruff, his lanky body barely contained in a loose button-up, blazer, slacks, and unzipped boots. He looks as though he got dressed quickly and not without some discontent—15 minutes earlier he was relaxing in a cozy “Christmas Vacation mobile,” as he calls it, the RV he’s traveling in with his girlfriend, artist Roehm Hepler-Gonzalez, and their 10-month-old daughter.

“This tour is kind of a family vacation,” Ebert says later, as we walk past the band’s RV-bus caravan en route to the catering tent. Fans high-five Ebert and question whether it’s really him. “Nah, that guy’s too skinny,” one says, which causes Castrinos to erupt into a fit of laughter. “Did you hear that?” she squeals. “We have to get you some food. Quickly!” 

While Ebert insists the band’s main objective is to “de-pedestal- ize” the artist, it’s not surprising that the response from fans bor- ders on worship. Early hits like “Home” and “Janglin” still feel fresh today, even after running ad nauseam in NFL and Ford commercials. There’s also the fact that the group’s frontman bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus.

“When I started writing songs for this band, I had come to a place where I’d forgotten why I was even doing music,” Ebert explains. “I’d been so wrapped up in the major label thing with [pre- vious band] Ima Robot, writing for radio, just stupid shit.” A transformation was required, “a shedding of all those years of angst,” he says, and “getting back to my initial experience with music, in elementary school, singing in uni- son, banging tambourines, just a completely inclusive experience.”

The band’s third album, self- titled and out now, is its most sprawling to date—a little less punchy but a lot more profound. “It was more about a feeling,” Ebert explains, “a rambunctious, adventuresome thing, a little less immersed in vibe and a little more pointed. I love ditties, but I also love exploration within each song, because a moment can be so varied, and why not express the many variations of life?” The album ends with the cathartic “This Life,” a moving statement from a new father who witnessed his daughter’s birth at home.

“It was a crazy experience,” he says, “like being in triage. It was intense. But it’s obviously the most beautiful thing ever.”

Ebert digs into a mysterious gray patty and describes the conundrum he feels as a meat eater, of “being a sentient being while having an innate animalistic fire within,” when a crewmember from another band stops by to hand out roses and thank the group for “bringing the sunshine.” “All right! Thank you so much!” Ebert enthuses, tucking the flower into his lapel. “That’s so nice.”