By: Dennis Cook
One of the functions of music is to help us process emotions and life experiences. If music is to become a soundtrack to our lives it must carry some verisimilitude and hold an honest mirror up to our lives. So, it seems no accident that the opening verse on ALO's new release, Man of the World (arriving February 9 on Brushfire Records and currently available as a world premier on JamBase), on the stunning, moody, philosophical "Suspended" is as follows:
Lost the plot, but we found it again
It's a mirror in which we all blend
Shades of darkness, shades of light
Everlasting, with no end in sight
The first time I listened to this album I was in a foul mood. At the ass end of one of those days where despite one's best efforts the world vexes and befuddles in countless ways, I put on Man of the World and by the fourth cut I realized this was music custom made for bad days. Where some of this S.F. Bay Area band's past efforts have been a touch too sunshine-y (or just plain goofy fun) for my taste, here I was awash in music that reminded me of Fleetwood Mac and Crowded House – wonderfully executed pop-rock built upon the shared reality of people living hands deep in the suds, scrubbing away at the dirty work of this world, wrestling relationship entanglements, and struggling to find good reasons to get out of bed in the morning.
The new album finds the quartet - Zach Gill (keys, lead vocals), Dan Lebowitz (Lebo) (guitar, pedal steel, vocals), Steve Adams (bass, vocals) and Dave Brogan (drums, vocals) – exploring some heavy themes – hopelessness, the persistent urge for going, the past and how we live with it in the present – and while the material has a pleasant sheen and catchy character, there's ink black edging that gives this set honest, substantive weight.
"You have to because that's a reflection of true life, at least for adults. For kids, it's maybe not all lights and pretty colors, but it should be! As an adult you don't want it to be all rainbows and leprechauns," observes Dave Brogan. "There's darkness and art that doesn't reflect true life or some experience of true life, well, I don't know. It's questionable to me. You have to have some dark edges, and I think we have a better balance on this album than in the past."
"Some people that follow us don't want dark edges in ALO music because they perhaps want an experience slightly akin to a childlike experience with our music. So, they're looking for a little escape from their dark corners," continues Brogan. "But, I don't think we really escape our dark corners, no matter how much Ecstasy you take or how happy the music is. And if you can deal with this darkness in the music it's way more helpful and positive than shutting that stuff off and watching Teletubbies for four hours straight. We all struggle everyday. It can be as simple as someone cutting you off in traffic and you want to kill that person. It's not tragedy; it's just life."
Meet Zach Gill
What is your favorite word? So many good ones, but I've always enjoyed "onomatopoeia."
|Zach Gill by Susan J Weiand|
What is your least favorite word? Stupid.
What turns you on? Intellect and creativity.
What turns you off? Flakiness.
What sound or noise do you love? My daughter singing.
What sound or noise do you hate? Piercing feedback.
What is your favorite curse word? H E double hockey sticks.
What is the craziest damn thing you ever saw? My daughter being born.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Professor of something along the lines of history/anthropology/art/mythology/psychology or... a professional dancer or...
What profession would you not like to do? Anything that felt like a dead end.
What is one album that you never tire of listening to? Recently I've found myself listening over and over again to Regina Spektor's Soviet Kitsch.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Something along the lines of, "If you thought that was fun wait 'til you see what's next."
Working With Jack Johnson
Man of the World is ALO's most egalitarian effort yet, with all four guys taking a bigger hand in songwriting, arranging and even tackling lead vocals on at least one cut each. Where often the group has been weighted a bit more towards Gill's side of the stage, this album reflects an ALO where four gifted, strong personalities shine very brightly.
"We all feel this album is the most true to ALO of anything we've done. The playing and even the messages are just true to where we're at as people right now," says Lebo. "We have so much to play with from this album! The first day of our new tour [beginning February 11 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solano Beach, CA – full tour dates here] will be the second time we've played 'Suspended' and the first time it's ever actually been played in its entirety with the vocals [laughs]."
|ALO w/ Jack Johnson :: Oahu, HI by Dave Homcy|
Another big change was bringing in another strong personality to help helm the recording process, namely longtime ALO pal Jack Johnson, who brought the boys to his studio in Hawaii and pitched in on everything from guitar to congas to lyrics and arrangements.
"We've known him for a long time. We lived in the dorms [at UC Santa Barbara] and tracked recordings with him there, and we've talked about doing something like this together for a while. We've put out records on his label but we'd never actually worked with him on a project. And it was really natural," says Lebo. "We'd never really worked with a producer and had heard all the producer vs. band horror stories. ALO is very collective. A lot of the time you'll have two people who like a thing and two people that don't, and you spend a lot of time sorting that out. It was great having a producer, a fifth person, we trusted in these sorts of situations. It kept things moving much faster than in the past. Being in his context, his studio, he had a lot of ideas to contribute. We have our way of working together with the four of us but it was great to have his take on things, too."
"When we played the Byron Bay Blues Festival [in Australia] a few years ago, he kind of became the fifth member for that set, where we alternated between Jack's songs and our songs. It was like, 'Really? Wow, that's a good band!'" says Brogan. "We kind of have the same background and everyone has known each other for a long time. Working with him was great. He was very involved with all of it; he plays on a lot of the songs, especially on 'Man of the World' [title track] where he and Dan are playing different parts. That alone was pretty magical. In the past with recording we've always missed someone in the producer role who can take everyone's input, process it and then say, 'Okay, let's do it this way.' We've always been pretty leaderless in the past, and this made everything a lot easier. And we had our trusted helmsman Dave Simon-Baker [engineer]. I kinda can't imagine making an ALO record without him at this point. He's got a great personality for the studio and great engineering skills."
"Jack had a lot of enthusiasm for the project, and we fed off that a lot," adds Lebo. "Usually he's in the studio working on his own thing – where you have your own history of what people like and pressures from labels, etc. – and I think this was just a very creative space for him. It's different when your job is to help others craft something."
Meet Steve Adams
What is your favorite word? Hola.
|Steve Adams by Susan J Weiand|
What is your least favorite word? Duh.
What turns you on? Patience.
What turns you off? Typos.
What sound or noise do you love? Paul McCartney on vinyl.
What sound or noise do you hate? Piercing feedback.
What is your favorite curse word? Blast.
What is the craziest damn thing you ever saw? Rolling our van on tour - the whole sliding, tipping and rolling, plus the aftermath of broken gear and band flyers floating down the road. Easily the craziest most surreal firsthand sight for me ever.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Café owner (with awesome food, art and music).
What profession would you not like to do? Anything that would confine me to an office cubicle for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and require a painful commute. I'm not even sure what job that would be, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like it.
What is one album that you never tire of listening to? Wildflowers by Tom Petty. Close runners-up: What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, Rumors by Fleetwood Mac
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? Hola.
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