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.
One of the most beautiful things in life is how different people's tastes are... A lot of people use music to define who they are, and in a sense, a means of differentiating themselves. --Dan Lebowitz
Layton: After being together for 15 years, and seeing all these bands come and go and now with Phish gone and all these bands coming into the scene that sound like regurgitations from the previous bands we have listened to, do you feel that you have a heads up on some of the other groups? Do you feel tighter in the sense that you all know each other so well, and even with this surge of new material, that you perhaps haven't even gotten to a half way mark with where you could take the music?
Lebowitz: It's a very special thing to have been playing together as long as we have. Especially the fact that we really started our lives as musicians together. We taught each other some of the first songs each of us ever learned. And still, to this day, teach each other so much about music. This type of experience creates a deep bond.
Adams, Lebowitz, Gill by J. Lebowitz
Gill: I feel that we are only operating at a tenth of what we can do. Not that we aren't giving it all we can, I just feel that we are coming up with so much, and we have known each other so long that it comes faster then we can even harness it, if that makes sense. A perfect example is that we are putting out this album with all these songs that we have had in our catalogue for some time, and yet we have written a ton of new material that can already make up a new album. The thing with Phish was that you can hear in their music that they spent a lot of time putting the music together. They spent a lot of time putting these arrangements together and practicing and doing that, whereas with us, we grew up together you know from like before puberty and now I have a four year old daughter and a wife, and Dan [Lebowitz] is married, and Dave [Brogan] lives in Seattle. So we are still fully committed to the music, but the time for us to devote to it isn't as readily available anymore, but for these same reasons, when we do meet up and we are playing, it is always happening, and something new is on the horizon. I think in that sense, we are meant to be playing together, because it just flows.
Layton: Do you think that it has a negative effect on you guys being so far apart?
Brogan: I don't know, because the time that we are together, we are writing a lot and getting a tremendous amount done. It makes it harder to practice, but at the same time, for whatever reasons, we are able to create new music and it is all sounding good.
Dave Brogan by Jenna Lebowitz
Lebowitz: On the positive side, we are forced to be really focused about our rehearsal time. Rather than set aside a couple hours on Monday and a couple hours on Thursday, we'll set aside a week and put in ten hour days of quality uninterrupted rehearsal. On the negative side, if somebody has a new idea that's going to take some time to hash out, they might have to wait a bit before it can get worked on. We keep a pretty active touring schedule, so the week long rehearsal sessions, while frequent, don't happen every week.
Gill: In the van we will work on vocal stuff for hours on end, harmonizing and exploring new areas vocally.
Adams: Back in college though, we were all living together, and that time was pretty special because it was a non-stop creative process. Any ideas that one of us had, we were able to go into the shed and figure it out. I don't think that we will be in that situation again, but for when it was like that, I feel we accomplished in those few years what takes some bands forever to find. I think that the respect that each of us has for each other carries through in our writing process and in our being able to have a quick turn around time in creating all this music, even if it is in the van or right before a gig.
ALO by Susan J. Weiand
Gill: I feel like we have stumbled into this new territory. In many ways, I feel as if we are a new band. It all feels fresh and new. It is weird for me to think that we are 15 years old as a band, because it all seems so new and exciting, this new material we are working with is some of the best stuff I think we have done, and it seems to just keep coming, and I love it.
Layton: Do you think that a big part of that is your following? You guys have one of the most supportive, dedicated followings of a lot of bands out there.
Adams: We have a great support network, especially those in Santa Barbara. They have allowed this to happen, and it goes back a long way. I think in many ways that started with Jenna [Lebowitz]. I always credited her in keeping the band together and moving forward and bringing more peoples attention to what we were doing. There was a point where we could have gone our separate ways musically, and I think she kept us together.
Gill and Adams by Jenna Lebowitz
Gill: We are very much a family. As far as our Santa Barbara fans, I consider them family.
Layton: Do you consider Santa Barbara or San Francisco your home?
Lebowitz: Both Santa Barbara and San Francisco are places where we have deep roots. We have spent a lot of time playing music in many different contexts in both towns. When you are on tour, you generally show up in a town, play the show that night, and leave the next day. However, when you spend more time in a town, you begin to function in that particular community as more than just a musician. This is where the walls between performer and audience get torn down. It becomes more of a person to person thing, and that feels real. Not to say that these relationships can't be achieved outside of one's hometown. It's just that in a hometown it's a really natural and common occurrence.
Adams: I agree. I mean ultimately the California coast in general has been our home.
Gill: It's just like growing up, you know. You live with your parents and that is your home, but then you go to college and that is your home, or get married, whatever the case may be, you always consider these places your home. I just feel so fortunate to have so many supporters and love all along the state, so it's all home to me.
Zach Gill by Susan J. Weiand
Layton: Over the years, who have you guys most enjoyed playing with, who do you consider in the family from the people you have been able to share the stage with?
Gill: We have been on the road a lot, so we have been experiencing a lot of cross pollination, but bands like The Ritual and Vinyl are really close with us. One of the highest musical moments for me was on stage with Steve Kimock. It was unreal to be creating music with someone of his stature; he is a legend in his own right. I think we have a real kinship with Tea Leaf Green and Hot Buttered Rum String Band, those groups especially because we all sort of come from the same place. Trevor [Garrod] from Tea Leaf actually went to our junior high and high school; Steve was even in a band with him. So those ties go back a long way. I definitely feel like there are some really good friendships being made with the bands that are coming from the Bay area right now.
Adams: John Whooley is always a pleasure to play with, his spirit is so incredible, and I love the music that we make when he is sitting in with us.
Brogan: Alfred Howard without a doubt.
Gill: I love Al, he has always had such a positive attitude, and it tickles me to finally see him getting the recognitions that he deserves.
Lebowitz: Another exciting collaborative experience has been the Everyone Orchestra that Matt Butler has been organizing. We have done a few of these and had a blast each time. This is where we played with Kimock as well as many others. The next one we are doing will be at the Boulder Theater on November 19 [Editor's note: which was a huge success] and will include Michael Travis [String Cheese Incident], Peter Apfelbaum [Trey Anastasio Band], Kai Eckhardt [Garaj Mahal], Jamie Janover, Matt Butler, Liza Oxnard, Leslie Helpert, and Aaron Holstein [Zilla].
Layton: Well, you guys have a show to do so I am going to end it here, but I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you. I have been associated with your music for a short time in retrospect, and in that time the amount of positive energy I have experienced has been unparallel. Thank you for the music, the dancing, the laughter and most important, the friendship, you all deserve the best in this life and I have no doubt that you will achieve greatness sooner than you know.
Aside from a few scattered shows throughout December, ALO will be laying low preparing for what will be their biggest New Year's yet alongside Tea Leaf Green at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Tickets are on sale now and are $30.00 pre-sale. This event will sell out, so make sure to get your tickets soon, as you do not want to miss out on what just might be the most happening new year's show in San Francisco. For more information, log onto www.alomusic.com.
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