An Interview With ALO

The West Coast's ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) cap off a year of extensive touring with the release of their fourth LP, Fly Between Falls in the Fall of 2004. Over the course of this ten-song set, Steve Adams, David Brogan, Zach Gill and Dan Lebowitz apply the full force of the band's collective consciousness to weave quirky California soul with shapeshifting jams, introspective lyrics with sun-soaked funk, all infused with the uplifting vibe that ALO's ever-growing legions of fans live for.
Interview by: Chris Robie

This interview took place inside the band's RV right before their gig at The Music Farm in Charleston, SC, 11/26/05

Dan Lebowitz- Acoustic Guitar
David Brogan- Drums
Steve Adams- Bass
Zach Gill- Wurlitzer, Accordion, Vocals

HGMN: If ALO were a class at a major university, what would be the required reading?

Steve: The Real Book, I think, maybe.
Dan: Hmmm, really? That may be supplemental reading. If I could just list all the books that I would make everybody read...
Steve: We like to have fun. We like the little quirky stuff. It would be a book that kind of goes with that.
Dave: Maybe Cat In The Hat.
Zach: Breakfast of Champions.
Steve: The Little Prince.
Dave: The liner notes to Steely Dan's AJA.

HGMN: You guys have a couple of shows coming up in Japan. Anything you look forward to doing once you get there?

Dan: We're not going to have a lot of time there.
Dave: I know. I want to do a lot of things but I don't think we're going to have the time to do them.
Dan: I look forward to playing "Haji Memashite".
Zach: Yeah. We wrote this song for the trip that's in Japanese.
Steve: It's basically saying, "It's nice to meet you." It's the greeting song.
Dan: I really look forward to seeing the country.
Steve: I'm also looking forward to meeting the Beautiful Girls. That's who we're co-billing with.
Dan: They're from Australia.

HGMN: Which band member do you feel is the most eccentric and why?

Dave: I think Zach Gill, because of his sticks and sweaters.

HGMN: What's the deal with the sweaters?

(Laughs) There's no deal!

HGMN: Do you wear them in the summertime?

Zach: Occasionally.
Steve: They're always the big sweaters, kind of like the "Dude".
Dave: I think maybe I'll switch and say Steve.
Steve: Why, because of the mustache?
Dave: (Laughs) No, because of like...
Zach: Because of all the subtle things that he does. For one, he doesn't sleep much. He stays up online.
Dave: He's the band's archivist.
Steve: You have to be a little crazy to do the things I do.
Dave: When you walk into his room, he has a pretty small room, it's like you're stepping inside an archive. You're just surrounded by archival material. It's from the floor to the ceiling. He's always filing and making lists. He's an archival character. He's very eccentric.
Zach: Yeah. It's not the guy with the sticks and sweaters.

HGMN: What's the deal with the sticks?

Steve: He just has a thing with sticks. He's always, like, finding sticks on tour. He'll have this certain stick for a week. He'll find them & then sometimes lose them. One time he had a broom stick for a couple days.
Dave: The other night when we sat in with Galactic, we're singing with them and then Zach walks over with this stick, dancing with it on stage.
Zach: It's like an old man thing. I kind of picked it up in high school. It makes me feel comfortable, with old sweaters & holding a cane. I have a daughter so I'm kind of like in the "father" role. I think the more you get to know someone the more eccentric they become.

HGMN: The new CD, Fly Between falls, has been nominated for album of the year by the HGMN. Did you know going in to the studio that this was going to be something special or did everything kind of just fall in to place as it happened? Were there any unexpected surprises?

Zach: There were lots of surprises...
Steve: It did feel special making the new record. It felt special to me because it's the first record we've done with Dave. We first started playing with Dave back in 1996, almost 10 years ago. We recorded a demo and then he moved up the coast. We kind of parted ways after that. I always felt that we had a really good chemistry with him. In that way it's something we've been waiting for a long time.
Zach: In this scene, especially this "Jam" scene, you hope to make an album that you're proud of and that the fans will be in to it. There's so much good music out there. As you might know there's not that many ways to get your music out so it's good to have something like the HGMN out there.

HGMN: If you wanted to turn someone on to your music, someone who had never heard your music before, which song would you pick and why?

Dan: For me it's tough because it would depend on who the person was.
Steve: For some people it would be 'Wasting Time'. It has both Zach and Dave singing on it. It has a nice little catchy hook to it. It has a nice little jam at the end too.
Dan: It covers a lot of territory that we do in that one song.
Dave: It's sort of funky, it's sort of rootsy...yeah.
Steve: I sometimes like 'Possibly Drown'. I know that it's not everyone's choice. It's also kind of rootsy and it's also kind of bluesy. It's one that often times we'll play earlier in our sets as kind of a warm up. For me it's always a good introduction song.

HGMN: What's the last CD you really enjoyed listening to?

Zach: Dave Brogan's soft rock mix. (Laughs)

HGMN: What's on it?

Dave: Ambrosia, Kenny Loggins...
Steve: We all just kind of got turned on to The Flaming Lips album, Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots.
Dan: That first song is just so good!

HGMN: Did you guys see them in Vegas?

Yeah, I did. It blew my mind. I'm definitely into them right now.

What is your most memorable moment on stage? Most embarrassing?

Dave: Like ever?
Steve: The first thing that popped into my head just now was when, sometimes during the song 'Plastic Bubble', Zach kind of eggs me on to, like, stand up on the amp and jump off or whatever. One time it was like that moment and I tried to get up on the monitor and I just slid off. It was pretty embarrassing. I don't think that many people saw it, although it was a full room. I kind of crawled back around, sheepishly.
Dave: One moment that popped into my head was about 2 or 3 years ago, we were playing at the Sundance film festival. We were playing at this bar, a little bar gig, so there really wasn't much of a stage, just a little platform. The people were dancing right in front of us really up close, and this drunk, tool guy, keeps sticking his hands around the keyboards while Zach was playing, almost right on top of his hands. He was really invading his space, messing with Zach and everything. So he kept doing it and kept doing it and finally he turns his back to Zach to, like, talk to some girl. Zach then just reaches over and sticks his hand right on his ass. The guys is like, "what the?!"
Zach: (laughs) Oh, yeah. That's right.
Dan: This summer I was doing this accordion solo and one of those beach balls landed on the stage. Sometimes everyone's watching just to see what you'll do. I kind of felt like I was under all this pressure, like I was up to bat. I remember kicking it back in to the crowd as I continued the solo. (Laughs) It was a triumphed moment.

HGMN: What's your favorite movie?

Steve: Ever?

HGMN: Have you seen Kung Fu Hustle?

Everyone: Yes!
Dave: That's right up there for me.
Dan: Spinal Tap.
Zach: Yeah! Sometimes we'll be in some type of argument and someone will say a line from Spinal Tap. It's like we've become a parody of ourselves.
Dave: It's like this summer when we've been playing those big places with Jack, they have those underground cavernous back stage areas and time after time we found ourselves trying to get back to the stage and not being able to find the door. We get lost.
Steve: You can hear the people cheering in the background.
Zach: that movie really hits a lot of stuff dead on. We used to watch it all the time.
Steve: That Johnny Depp movie, Finding Neverland.
Dan: Crash. That was a great movie! It's so heavy.
Steve: Batman Begins.
Zach: I really liked Life Aquatic. I like all his movies. The Royal Tenenbaums & Bottle Rocket...

HGMN: Any pre-show rituals? Superstitions?

Dave: The making of the set list is kind of our pre show ritual.
Steve: We all work on it together. We usually work on it right after sound check. Sometimes we do it on the drive to the show.

HGMN: How are the set lists chosen?

Zach: Now we're having to like, and this has been a whole new thing now that 'Fly Between Falls' has been doing pretty well, a lot of people kind of expect to hear songs from that album and we have like 40-50 songs that we pull from and there's only 10 on 'Fly Between Falls' and a lot of those aren't even tunes that you feel like playing live like you do other songs. But now we get people wanting to hear some of their favorites from that album and now we've been catering more to that.
Dan: And that's been fun because you can tell when you play something that people know. It kind of communicates with them in a whole other way. I feel you kind of connect with people. We kind of do different versions of them and we improvise a little bit and that's kind of been the saving grace for me that it's not going to sound the same as it does on the album. Its fun to play a song that people know but it's more fun to be able to do something different with it.
Zach: I think with songs it really does help to be kind of familiar with their music. You get that feeling when everybody's singing along. We just did a bunch of shows with Galactic. That was really cool and I was kind of realizing that you can not be familiar with Galactic's music at all, kind of just go cold, and you can get into the way that they perform with each other, just get into that whole thing. But I feel with a more song oriented band it's nice to know the words, to participate in that kind of way.
Dan: This gig in NY with Galactic the other day, to me, this was like the coolest thing of the whole tour. There was this kid, he looked to be about 8 years old, he was on his dad's shoulders wearing an ALO shirt and he was singing along to a bunch of our tunes.
Steve: I like to imagine the journey of the set list, what kind of experience it's going to be for us and for the audience.
Zach: I think Steve and Dan have taken a lot of the reins, maybe, on set lists. I feel like that's happened.
Dan: I tend to think in keys sometimes.
Steve: I think in keys too.
Zach: Interesting. Everybody has a different perspective. Everyone has their role that they play in the songs. It's funny how each person picks the set list because it kind of comes from their prospective. A lot of our songs will start off with piano and voice and then builds that way. Sometimes I feel like I'm playing by myself like at the beginning of every song.
Steve: I think the set list is pretty important during a show and we sometimes deviate from it. We'll tune in to the audience because sometimes they'll be shouting stuff out for us to play...we ignore it but we definitely enjoy it.
Zach: We used to be on this trip when you shouldn't have a set list. You'll just be feeling it.
Steve: That can be hard, though.
Dan: We had a thing where we'll just go around in the order of our instruments. Zach would pick a song and then I knew that the next song was going to be my pick. The whole deal was that you had to be ready. It kind of evolved because after a song we would have to have these conversations sometimes about what we wanted to play. That kind of sucked because it would kill the energy.

HGMN: What song do you enjoy most playing live?

Dan: For me it changes every night.
Zach: Sometimes it's nice when you shelve a song for a while and then you bring it back out. It feels really nice.
Dan: Like an old friend.