“For us, ALO is more than just a band and we’re more than just a group of great friends making music together… ALO is our lifestyle.”
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 is making their presence known worldwide with their new album Fly Between Falls, out on Brushfire Records, and extensive touring through the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe.
Zach, Dan and Steve have been playing together through 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.
ALO was able to bring those good vibes to huge audiences this summer thanks to chart-topper Jack Johnson, an old college buddy and longtime ALO supporter, who brought them along on his North American tour. Johnson often joined the band onstage for “Girl, I Wanna Lay You Down,” a track off Fly Between Falls and shortly after the tour, he asked the band to sign to his own Brushfire Records. They immediately expanded the release of the album, which includes road-tested songs that have become fan favorites, as well as brand new material.
For David, the newest addition to the ALO collective, this is particularly significant. “The thing that is special about Fly Between Falls is that it is kind of an exercise in reinventing the band, using both old and new material as the building blocks. It’s a very forward-looking album – it’s both a history of where ALO has been, as well as a launching pad to where the band is going from here.” Steve echoes this sentiment: “ALO is an ever-evolving group.”
From the opening feel-good summer swagger of “Barbeque” on into the Becker & Fagen-style funky guitar-vocal interplay of “Possibly Drown,” from the rootsy world beat of “Spectrum” and the haunting “Shapeshifter” through the deeply personal “Waiting for Jaden” and the irresistibly-catchy album closer, “Wasting Time (Isla Vista Song),” Fly Between Falls is a complete musical journey that combines the finest elements of this talented group’s myriad of influences and fuses them into the unique blend that defines ALO.
All four members agree that Fly Between Falls is a new beginning – an album about “hopes and dreams.” David is quick to note: “Each song improves every time we play it as a result of the input all four of us bring to the musical table. Even though we all have our own music tastes, we are truly in synch with each other and support each other’s creative ideas.”
Perhaps Dan sums up the collective’s credo best: “We care about each other as much as about what we are creating. If we weren’t making music together, I’m sure we’d all be doing something else together.” Fortunately for the world, the four members of the Animal Liberation Orchestra are making music together… and it continually promises to be like nothing you’ve ever heard before.