The Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) began its journey over 15 years ago in a small town south of San Francisco called Saratoga. Since then, Dan Lebowitz (guitar), Steve Adams (bass), and Zach Gill (keys, vocals) have prolonged their legacy through several incarnations leading up to the current line-up with Dave Brogan (drums) which is starting to garner national attention. Carrying with them the idea that family is most important and should always come first, they have managed to finagle their family from girlfriends, to wives and now a legion of fans spread across the country. Focusing on a funk driven soul sound, ALO has bridged gaps in music that many in the jamband community consider taboo. A jamband is not supposed to have shortened songs with radio savvy, and they are not supposed to focus on lyrics or words. Well, if nothing else, ALO is not afraid to take a crack at re-writing the old jam book.
Animal Liberation Orchestra by Jay Archibald
By maintaining their pop sensibilities and mixing liberally with 20-minute guitar excursions ALO is breathing life back into the stale Santa Barbara music scene. They turned heads and moved feet this summer at the High Sierra Music Festival causing a stir that reached all the way back to the band's own campsite where they treated their most loyal fans to a truly intimate acoustic set that brought the animal out in everyone. Encouraging beauty in a world that is ruled by war is not an easy thing to do, but these cat's have done it day in and day out for the last 15 years, with no end in sight. In fact, the future seems brighter than ever with the upcoming release of their new album Fly Between Falls, (due out December 4) which features old friend, Jack Johnson. Come along as the Animal Liberation Orchestra open up about the new album, the past and what may be in store for the future.
Layton: So going into the studio this time around, how were preparations different from the first album [Time Expander]?
Gill: Well, we actually did a pre-production for this one, so we all got together for weeks at a time and flushed out the arrangements of a lot of the songs. The majority of the songs we had been jamming on and working with for a while, so we found ourselves with multiple endings and B sections, so the result of these meetings was to sort out what would be the definitive version on the album. With some songs, we had already deviated from the form on the album. For instance, Steve's [Adams] song "The Gardener," the version on the album is very different then how we have been playing it live, in fact there are like four different versions of it live, so we sort of took from each one and ended up making a studio version. There was a lot of recording and listening and re-recording, it was like preparing in a rough draft form, cleaning it up and having the final product before we even went into the studio.
Zach Gill by Susan J. Weiand
Lebowitz: While creating these definitive arrangements, we were also striving for a live and natural feel. It's a delicate situation because when you are in the process of arranging, it's easy to take things to far, and if you do, you end up with lifeless, over-arranged music. That is one of the aspects that I feel really proud of with regards to this album. I think that we struck a really nice balance.
Layton: Do you guys have any special guests playing on the album this time through?
Lebowitz: Jack Johnson sings and plays some guitar on "Girl I Wanna Lay You down," and Tim Young, a great guitar player from Seattle plays on the song "Fly." It was great to have these guys because they both contributed some cool guitar. Besides jam sessions, I rarely work in a double guitar context. It's fun to see how they hear the music and how they react to it. In both cases, they fit into the spaces nicely.
Jack Johnson with ALO in the Recording Studio
By Jenna Lebowitz
Layton: Did you guys find that you approached recording and selecting these songs differently then you did for the first album? I know that the majority of these songs have been in heavy rotation with your live shows for some time now, and the evolution and maturity of the tunes have grown tremendously, just like your fan base over the last two years.
Lebowitz: For our last album, we actually recorded twice as many songs as appeared on the album. This time around, due to our planning, we went into the studio knowing what we wanted. In selecting songs for the new album we were, first and foremost, looking for a cohesive vibe. After a lot of discussion, we came up with a list of about 20 songs that we all wanted to record. From there we pared it down to eleven that we thought would fit well together so as to create a journey from start to finish. Of the eleven, ten made the final cut.
By Susan J. Weiand
Gill: Well yeah, because on the first album we left out a lot of these songs that people liked and that we were playing a lot, but just never recorded. So our intention was to get all good recordings of these songs that people were telling us they love. Our fan base has been so good to us, so we really wanted to give them the songs that they love and in a good recording at that. I am really excited about this album, I think it sounds great, but I am actually already looking to the next one after this. I mean we already have enough material for a whole new album, and our wheels have been turning, you know. We have a lot of new material that I am really excited about.
Layton: How about you Dave, what has been your biggest highlight going from the Time Expander CD to getting into the studio to work on this new album?
Brogan: I agree with Zach on the pre-production as being vital. It was heavy duty in the sense that it allowed us to delve deeper into not only the songs but the creative process that we were going to have as a band that tries to be democratic. It was very important that we made sure that this was a four way process. Everyone got an equal say on any matter that came to the table.
Layton: With you guys playing different places all the time, such as High Sierra and Jazz Fest to the smaller clubs and bars do you find that your sound is better received in certain areas?
Lebowitz: Sure. One of the most beautiful things in life is how different people's tastes are. You know the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." A lot of people use music to define who they are, and in a sense, a means of differentiating themselves, even certain scenes take on a name, like the "SB Music Phreaks" or the "Utah Kind." It's cool to see people rally behind the music they believe in and create their own communities and sub-communities. Being that the tastes vary from scene to scene, we find that some places definitely go off more.
Jack Johnson with ALO
By Jenna Lebowitz
Brogan: It seems we always do really well in Hawaii. Jack's [Johnson] really helped us in the sense that Hawaii loves us now, which is really cool. It seems that there are all these pockets in random places in this country where people really respond to what we are doing. San Diego has always been great for us, ever since the first time we played there.
Gill: Winston's and Oktoberfest and really the places where this scene is thriving, they have all been really good to us.
Adams: Santa Barbara is a given though, I mean they are it as far as getting it going. But places like Seattle for some reason have been tricky as far as really getting something going and getting positive responses from the people.
Gill: We are really big on building personal connections with people, so I think more then anything, by us trying to make up our own community, we have been able to do so in like minded places where the people are open and looking for it.
Steve Adams by Jenna Lebowitz
Layton: So do you think that your sound is representative of the West Coast and its communities?
Brogan: I think it is. I mean you are influenced by what is around you right?
Lebowitz: We were all raised in California, so it's all we've ever known.
Adams: Then there are bands like the Mother Hips you know, which brought out this brand new music with California soul. But its like look at the Beach Boys, you can hear California in those songs, you can hear and feel sun and beaches and friendliness. It's all there in the music.
Gill: A lot of these songs are older, you know, so some were written in college when we were going to UCSB, and some were written after I had my daughter. So all in all there is like a ten year period that these songs came about and all of them were born out of our experiences in California.