Want to talk longevity? Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) members Zach Gill, Steve Adams and Dan Lebowitz have been playing music together since they were childhood friends. Nearly three decades on — and a lot of ups and downs along the way — their core remains, along with longtime drummer Dave Brogan. Even for a lukewarm ALO fan, it’s clear these guys found chemistry and a certain something a long time ago, and never let it go.
In a recent interview with Gill, we touched on ALO’s new album, Tangle of Time, which drops October 2 with 11 new tracks (including “Not Old Yet,” which premiered on JamBase last week). The title is thematic, and says a lot about how ALO managed to keep it together. Not surprisingly, the unforced way the band performs is also the way the quartet operates: ALO remains a priority, yes, but not one that keeps the four bandmates from other pursuits, including Gill’s longtime association with Jack Johnson, Lebowitz’s recent turns in Phil Lesh & Friends and other Dead-related projects, and countless others among the four of them.
JAMBASE: ALO has never exactly been on hiatus or been gone for an extended period, though you guys make time to focus on other things. Still, why was now the time to make the album?
ZACK GILL: I think the key component is that everyone was ready at the same time. Everyone’s got a lot going on, and we always make time for ALO, but when we get together and have a conference call and ask, is it time to make another album, this time it was yeah, sounds great and everyone was ready. We found a small window of time — we never get a big window to make one. And then all of a sudden it’s like, OK, the wheels are turning, time to move!
JAMBASE: It seems like you and the band members have a comfortable balance between ALO and your individual pursuits — it happens when it happens and there’s no visible strain.
ZG: There was a time, like so many bands that have been doing this for a long time, where every choice in life was the band, the band, the band. Later on I had kids and other guys did too, and that of course throws a monkey wrench into the band being the top priority. But I think ALO has always been juggling a lot of dynamics that other bands might not have.
We also started off so early as a band — some of us were playing together when we were 12 years old. So I think as we’ve played with other people and done other projects musically, it’s brought enrichment to ALO. It makes the timing of ALO tougher than it used to be, but it also means musical growth. Sometimes that can be frustrating — shit I can remember a long time ago when it was the summer and we were young and Steve wanted to go to this camp, and we were like, you can’t go to camp, we have to gig! [laughs] But I think we’re all on the same page about why this is special. We keep the fire burning and that makes it easier to want to come back to it.
JAMBASE: Talk about the new album. How would you compare this to previous ALO albums, especially for fans that know your catalog really well?
ZG: It definitely sounds like ALO. But I think there are more voices, and what I mean by that is that in early days of the band, I was the primary singer. It just worked that way. These days everyone is kind of contributing more vocally to the band. This album is the furthest evolution of the vocal element of the band — everyone sings at least two songs and everyone is almost singing on every song. There’s a lot of singing going on.
I think we moved faster too. There was this two-week period in January where we were like, this is the only big chunk of time we have as a group, so let’s go for it. Everyone brought in songs, similar to how we did Roses & Clover, and we were all listening to everything and we knew right away that some songs would be perfect and others might not fit in. I think we all found stuff we were excited about in other peoples’ songs — we heard great things in each other’s songs. If the last album was more about songs coming out of jams that we’d had together, I think this one is songs first — the jams will come out of the songs.
JAMBASE: Is there a particular song here that to you most sounds like ALO as it is now?
ZG: It’s hard to say — we’re all over the map, stylistically. But I’ll point to Steve’s song “Not Old Yet” [which premiered on JamBase earlier this month]. We all turned 40 this year, and when that happens, it’s a natural thing to take stock. You hear a lot of songs on this album about time — it’s almost a concept album in that regard — and there are many songs about looking back, including songs about literal time travel and songs about growing old.
JAMBASE: How do you think so much time spent together has changed you as a live band? You’ve been playing together, some of you, since you were teenagers and know each other’s good and bad habits.
ZG: We’re getting looser — in a good way. There’s a time when you’re a kid and you’re playing music…well, I remember this moment in the basement of the house we were in, our high school drummer had bailed and left his drum kit, and Steve and I were there and we just took turns playing drums and bass and guitar and switched instruments and just kept it going. I’m sure it sounded horrible but there’s something in that moment when you’re a kid where it’s just so much fun and the music just comes and you flow and you tune into each other.
That’s hard to get back when you’re older, but I think somewhere in the last few years we just started not worrying again and brought back some of that free flow. This week we had a gig and Steve actually didn’t make it — something happened with his plane. But we said, well, we’ve got this gig and people are going to be there so let’s do it. We’ve done other gigs where people have been subbed out before, and on this one I covered a lot with my left hand. That’s a moment, and what I’m trying to say is that it’s not like we would ever replace Steve, but that I could cover bass for a minute or something and Steve could play guitar and do something else and then there’s new and interesting growth there. That’s what I mean by looser.
I’m glad I’m in a band like this where something magical can happen. I’d say 10 years ago, we were a lot more concerned, like, guys, if we take these chances, will we fail? Will we lose our fans? Five years ago, the music industry took a bit of a dive- bomb, so we were like, OK, whatever, we’re never going to be a band selling a million album copies, but we’re in a new paradigm and everyone’s feeling pretty good, so let’s do it.
JAMBASE: That must be a liberating feeling, especially when you can sustain it for a whole tour. Speaking of which, is there more coming for ALO over the next few months and into the new year?
ZG: There’s definitely more on the table for ALO in the new year — more touring. I also keep wondering about making another solo album. I’ve got so many songs right now, and sometimes when I have this many I feel kind of stifled because it’s this big catalog and I can’t get new ones to come. I don’t know what it will be, maybe some will be part of the next ALO release. We’ll have to see how it pans out.