They brought folk back to mainstream radio long before The Lumineers and Of Monsters And Men hit it big, with blissful, down-home tunes popping up in jaunty car commercials and adorable father-daughter YouTube covers. This weekend, you can find the 10-piece Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix, where they’ll be rubbing shoulders with the likes of The Shins, Dr. Dog and The Roots.
The East Valley Tribune recently caught up with band member Nora Kirkpatrick, a blonde beauty balancing life on the road and a budding acting career. When she’s not tickling the accordion ivories with the Magnetic Zeros, you may find her doing guest stints in some of your favorite television shows – “CSI,” “The Office” and “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23,” to name a few. At the moment, Kirkpatrick is gearing up for a spring and summer jam-packed with tour stops and music fest appearances, of which Friday’s Valley performance is only the beginning.
Q: So to begin with, when did you first start playing the accordion and how did the Magnetic Zeros initially come together?
A: The band came together during the recording process for the first album. A lot of the songs were demos that Alex (Ebert) had been recording in his home. The band solidified when we started playing shows. Friends of friends accumulated until we had 10 people and felt the songs could be expressed fully with the instrumentation we had.
I started playing accordion about six or seven years ago. I've always played piano and organ, and I wanted a way to be more mobile. The accordion to me is like a one-man band – it can do so much. Now I am running it through pedals and getting some really interesting sounds I don' t usually hear from wind instruments.
Q: Aside from the band, I know that you have quite a steady acting career. What are some of the difficulties of transitioning from film and television – where you pretty much stay in one place – to traveling on the road for months on end?
A: It's a completely different gear living wise, but art wise it's not all that different to me. Touring does make it difficult to keep friendships and relationships as consistent as one would like, but it also gives you the opportunity to see and experience things you otherwise never would.
When I am home, I am really focused on doing as much acting as possible and make that my first priority, and then when we are on tour I switch gears. I find most artists I know express themselves through various artistic mediums, as ideas don't always come in the same form, or questions can't always be answered in the same way. I think it is good to be open, and follow the ideas wherever they may go.
Q: Have you guys been working on any new music in recent months or have a general idea about when fans can expect a third album?
A: The third album is almost done!!! It will be out in a few months. We recorded a plethora of songs all together, half of which became the second album, "Here," and the other half with a few additions have become the third album.
Q: With the success of your hit song “Home” and the Magnetic Zeros’ music in general, it’d be safe to say that you guys helped bring indie folk back to the mainstream – paving the way, in a sense, for more recent acts like The Civil Wars and The Head And The Heart. How would you describe your feelings on this sudden resurgence of folk?
A: Well, of the bands you mentioned specifically, and a lot of others that are coming to mind, I find there is an inherent simplicity to the lyrics and the music that is remnant of the folk music of the '60s and '70s. What's that quote, something like, "All you need is three chords and the blues." I find that can be very true, although we are experimenting with some pretty crazy stuff on our latest album, but with a kernel of truth, always that.
Q: I read that you’ll be appearing in a few episodes of “The Office” in the coming weeks. Anything you can tell me about that or working with the likes of Rainn Wilson?
A: Yes, I just finished shooting yesterday. It was an amazing experience. I don't know how much I can say other than I play a country girl named Esther, who is one of Dwight's neighbors on his beet farm. You'll just have to watch!
Rainn is such a great actor, and a really interesting and invigorating person to be around. He's created this great website called Soul Pancake that focuses on all different aspects of humanity, art and culture.
Q: Following the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix, you guys have quite a few festival appearances throughout the spring and summer. Any festivals that you’re especially excited for or places in general that you’re eager to visit?
A: I am looking forward to Bonnaroo, Red Rocks, and of course the Gentlemen of the Road Stopovers with Mumford and Sons, as they are good friends. Festivals in general are always exciting because you get to see and interact with so many other bands. It's really a smorgasbord of interesting people and happenings. Tight set times, though, that can be pretty tricky.
Q: Just to kind of wrap things up, what artists or bands have you been enjoying lately?
A: I have been listening to a lot of Blake Mills, who I have been a fan of for a long time. Gonzales’ album "Solo Piano," Arthur Russell, and I listen to an insane amount of the radio show "This American Life" on NPR. I would listen to it 24 hours a day if they could make that many episodes.
IF YOU GO: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will be playing at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix this Friday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.mmmf.com.