With this simple aphorism, keyboardist/vocalist Zach Gill sums up the unique dynamic that defines ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra). Born from a friendship nurtured during their days at the University of California Santa Barbara, the four-piece collective includes Steve Adams (bass/vocals), Dan Lebowitz (guitars/percussion/vocals) and David Brogan (drums/vocals). Part musical explorers, part pop songsmiths, all around dynamic performers, ALO has been taking the West Coast by storm and now, with their new album Fly Between Falls and a supporting slot on Jack Johnson's summer tour, is prepared to make their presence known worldwide.
Zach, Dan and Steve have been playing together in various incarnations of different musical groups for years, forming the "Animal Liberation Orchestra and the Free Range Horns" with their college jazz band director on drums. Originally a nine-piece outfit, the band began drawing enormous attention in the Santa Barbara area with their rousing stage shows. When Zach, Dan and Steve returned to their hometown San Francisco, they stripped back down to a quartet, playing with a wide variety of different drummers. Finally, in 2002, the trio reunited with drummer David Brogan (with whom they had previously played in college) and the ultimate version of ALO was solidified.
ALO was quickly labeled the golden child of the West Coast's buzzing underground scene, never losing the garage band energy that makes every one of their shows an event rather than just a performance, laying soulful melodies and swirling improvisation over precision funk grooves night after night. The band skillfully weaves quirky California soul with shape-shifting explorations, introspective lyrics with sun-soaked funk, all infused with the uplifting vibe that ALO's ever growing legion of fans live for. Many genres have been thrown around to capture what the San Francisco Chronicle ultimately dubbed "sex-music boogaloo."
But in the end, ALO's sound is always changing. One thing that never changes, however, is the fact that this is a band composed of four top-notch musicians at the top of their game. Trained equally in the classics, jazz, pop and funk craftsmanship, ALO's music is a hybrid of the best of all worlds - songs composed, refined and performed by multi-talented artists with a passion for quality musicianship and creativity in all they do. Dan concurs, "All four of us share a real interest in continually learning about music - new styles, new ways of playing, new ways of engaging an audience - and that's something that we never want to stop."
And, indeed, engaging the audience is what ALO is all about. Each of the band members can list many favorite "live" moments in which the group and their fans have bonded in concert. There have been numerous times when the band would bring out an "applause meter" for their encore, then play ten-second snippets of songs and allow the audience to "vote" on which song the band would ultimately play.
Their recent California Tour d'Amour culminated in Santa Barbara with an event extravaganza dubbed the Silky Sensuous Ball that ended up resembling a psychedelic high school prom. Or their show at San Francisco's famed Independent club, where they broke the venue's all-time sales record and then proceeded to whip the crowd into a climactic disco frenzy with their own unique take on ABBA's "Dancing Queen."
"At an ALO show, we want to create a happy, uplifting environment - a safe place for the audience to feel free to be themselves," says Zach.
From band's website
10 Questions for David Brogan of ALO
By Bruce Warren
Our listeners are already asking... how did the band come up with the name of the band?
Three out of the four of us were music majors at UC Santa Barbara. At the time the music department was very conservative, with little room for jazz or rock music - our main passions. The name of the band is kind of an idea against that. As if, in the middle of a classical orchestra concert, everyone turned into animals and started dancing around in a wild frenzy. At the time the band was a nine piece with a horn section - so it was a little closer to an orchestra than it is now.
Does the band mind being lumped in to the "jam band" genre?
We certainly don't mind being a part of the "jam band" scene; we've worked hard to get our music out to that audience, and part of what we do naturally appeals to them. I'm not sure I'd call "jam band" a genre, though. For any band in that scene, I can think of a better genre description than "jam band." I'd call ALO "eclectic groove-rock." That sounds more like a genre to me.
If you can speak for some of your bandmates, what are some of your all-time favorite records you personally like to listen to.
Everyone in the band is into different things. Zach's into piano-based singer-songwriters (Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Ben Folds). Dan's into soul jazz (Grant Green, Wes Montgomery). Steve and I are really into roots rock (Neil Young, The Band, Donna The Buffalo), but if you're talking collectively I'd list three albums that we all probably dig equally: Back To The Grotto by The Mother Hips, The Royal Scam by Steely Dan, and It's A Jungle In Here by Medeski, Martin and Wood.
I read that the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed what ALO do as "sex-music boogaloo." What the heck does that mean? Do you think people have sex to your music or do the boogaloo to your music?
If someone ended up having sex to our music it's only because they started off with Bebel Gilberto, and we were the next disc in the changer. Actually, I'd be honored to be in the same CD changer with Bebel. To me, that's sexy. Actually, make it Bebel, Jill Scott and Kylie Minogue.
How'd you connect with Jack Johnson's label?
We met Jack in college. He was in the dorms with Steve, Dan, and Zach. Whenever our paths would cross, on the road, he'd sit in on "Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down." Then we got him to record it with us on the album. We opened for him on his national tour this year, and it all just naturally led to signing with his label. Jack is the most responsible for making it all happen.
Here are some drummer questions... Do you have any favorite drummers?
Well, all the usual Gods of the Drum pantheon of course. We know who they are. Two I'd like to mention though are John Wright from No Means No and Levon Helm from The Band. I love John Wright because he rocks with a punk energy, but he plays intricate Neil Peart-type licks. He's a perfect hybrid of punk and jazz drumming. That's just something I identify with on a deep level. And I love Levon because he played and sang with such soul, simultaneously! As a singing drummer, I have to admire that.
There must be a drum fill or drum break that you've heard on a record and gone, "wow, I wish I invented that one." Are there one or two of those that you can share with us?
"The Funky Drummer" - James Brown, drums by Clyde Stubblefield. Everybody that hears this break wishes they played it, but it's enough to just be thankful that it exists. Sampled and used in every other rap track from 1990 to 1995, for good reason. It grooves on the deepest level. I could practice that beat for 100 years and never get it right. Clyde Stubblefield should win a MacArthur "Genius" award or maybe a Nobel Prize.
Any Ringo Starr fill. I'll never have that much character in my playing. Talk about an unmistakable sound, talk about a calling card - those drum fills are iconic. Ringo's playing is often sampled and imitated as well. I think he was a very powerful sonic force in The Beatles.
The Seventies or the Eighties? And Why?
The Seventies. And not just the seventies but 1971. Why? Blue by Joni Mitchell, Hunky Dory by David Bowie, Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison.
Who are some great local bands in the Bay Area that our listeners should know about?
Hot Buttered Rum String Band - kick ass bluegrass songs with twists and a youthful, anything-goes rock aesthetic. Tea Leaf Green - West Coast swamp rock with pastoral lyrics in the lineage of The Mother Hips. I'd call it California soul. Hella rockin'... The Court and Spark - dreamy, atmospheric, cinematic country-folk-rock. They make luscious recordings with lots of pedal steel guitar. Neil Young on opium. General Elektriks. Masterminded in Oakland by Herve Salters, they rock mainly in France, but they're about to be released in the US by Quannum Records. Driven by funky vintage keyboards and creative drum loops. Money Mark meets Radiohead meets Remy Chand meets The Headhunters. The East Bay always has been the funk capitol of the West Coast. Still is.
Finally, a question all drummers think about. Do you ever worry about spontaneously combusting while performing?
This joke is more appropriate than you might think. ALO has had at least seven drummers over the years. I already spontaneously combusted, in '96. It wasn't that bad, really. You should try it!
ALO's CD Fly Between Falls was released this year, and is distributed by Brushfire Records.