Adapting with ALO: An Honest Tune Interview

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Animal Liberation Orchestra, better known by their acronym, ALO, makes work look like fun. Whether in front of 20,000 fans at one of their many stops with Jack Johnson, playing before a handful of folks who simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, or before one of their own crowds be it large or small, they make music that is impressive, joyful, and anything but demographically challenged. For them, the joy begins on the stage or in the studio. No matter where they may find themselves on their journey, they are as adaptive of a band as one will find. Aside from this, they are four swell guys.  

With a tour of the west coast that begins on 1/28/11, drummer Dave Brogan took a moment away from tour preparation to talk about topics ranging from charity to improvisation. Included below is also an exclusive to Honest Tune opportunity to eavesdrop on ALO as they rehearse from their cabin while aboard Jam Cruise 9, courtesy of Chad Smith, jambandsjam.com, and ALO.  

alo4.jpgHonest Tune: You guys spent a great deal of time on the road with Jack Johnson this past year and are currently signed to his label, Brushfire. Tell me, how has that relationship benefitted ALO and what you make of Jack as a person?

Dave Brogan: The relationship has benefitted us in lots of ways. Jack has been really good about bringing us along on the road with him.  This is the 2nd US Tour we did with him. We also did one on 2005. It really is a great way for the band to get in front of a completely different audience than we normally would. The fact that he has been willing to do that is a testament to the kind of person he is. Jack is a friend to many and friends help friends. Alongside with that, being on the label has done the same thing. It has allowed us to get out there and get our music available internationally.

HT: He obviously is an extremely charitable guy as are you guys. With Tour d’Amour you will be donating a significant portion of the proceeds to Music in Schools Today. Tell me a little bit about the charity and why you guys have chosen it from an endless list of worthy causes.

DB: Every year, we do the Tour d’Amour in February. We have always since the beginning donated part of the proceeds to Music in Schools Today. All four of us are definite products of school music programs. I started taking piano lessons privately before school music programs were available. Back then, you could join the band in fifth grade. When I got into the music program, it really just accelerated my musical development. That is how I learned about music. Of course not everyone learns about music that way, but that is how we learned about music.  So, we value that a lot. I guess values are changing on some levels because people spend money on what they value so for things like music to really struggle or become nonexistent in a public school is pretty pathetic especially with all of the studies that have been done  about the benefit of music on the development of kids and of the brain. The fact is that music makes people smarter. So I think it is important for society as a whole.

HT: With Roses and Clover, ALO shifted gears from experimental to a more deliberately pop sound, Man of The World took a step back and the experimental sound was reintegrated but kept the pop friendly touch of Roses. Was that simply a coincidence or a direction that was intentional as the record was crafted?

DB: A lot of it had to do with the different recording processes we chose to use on those two different albums. With Roses and Clover, we did really want to explore tighter songwriting as a craft and just the craft of songwriting a little bit more. So that is what we started to do with Roses and Clover which led us to do a lot of preproduction and preplanning so that when we went into the studio, we were ready to just sort of execute the songs. While there was still some experimentation in the studio, we more or less went in with a sort of checklist of things we wanted to do because we had done so much preproduction. So I think that just made for a more designed, streamlined, and crafted kind of album that came out in the songwriting and the parts played across the board.

alo1.jpgWith Man of the World, we wanted to do more stuff in the studio live. We wanted to be in the moment. We had a lot less preproduction going into it so we just had this process where each day was just sort of a fresh thing. We didn’t have a lot of finished songs going in so we would just start off in the morning seeing what people were interested in that day and we would just work up the tune as the day went on. So since there was less planning it yielded more experimentation.     

HT: ALO has shared the stage with many. What do you guys look forward to about shows that are yours and yours only as opposed to being on the bill as an opener for another act?

DB: Well with our own shows it just allows us to do everything that we do because we do a lot. We like to stretch out the songs. We like to improvise. We like to jam and stretch out the solos. We like to create a lot of space so that the unexpected or the unplanned can happen. Zach (Gill) is just really great at bringing the band down and we will give him the spotlight he needs to go off and tell a story or get the crowd involved in some way. So it allows us just time to do things like that. We have been together for years so we have got a lot of songs that the fans wat to hear that aren’t on albums so it gives us the time to scratch more of those surfaces. Whereas when we are opening, we have to stay really focused (and say things like) "What is the agenda?" "OK, well we really want to do stuff off of our new album so we will go with all album tunes." So it is real cut and dry because it is usually really short. With our own shows, we can play two sets, stretch out, and go deeper.

HT: One thing that is clear in your live performance is that it never seems to be a drag for you guys. The interplay both personally and musically is something that is fun to watch. There are no shortage of smiles on the stge and just a very evident natural chemistry between you four guys on stage. Is the stage where you feel most at home as a band? What is your take on the chemistry both on and off stage and how do you feel that this impacts the live performance. For example, is there a leader in the band that you look to, and what is your musical role for your band mates?

alo6.jpgDB: I think that we have gotten to a point now where we feel equally at home in the studio and on stage. A lot of times I think ALO is most at home playing a stripped down little acoustic set-kind of like busking-the busking version of ALO feels really natural and comfortable. We feel pretty much at home everywhere. We’re really a band that tries to adapt and not every band is like that. A lot of bands are like "this is what we do, this is how long it takes, and if you want us, fine and if you can’t handle that then we aren’t going to play." But we’ve always tried to adapt to different situations and I think that has allowed us to be around for as long as we have. So I guess we are at home adapting. 

HT: It is a lot of fun to watch and experience from a crowd perspective and in regards to adaptation, you guys can play a straight-run-through song just as well you can improv. In regards to improvisation, is there a leader in the improvisation with you guys or is more of a collective force in reference to changes. In other words, how does the improvisational process work for you guys?

DB: Our band’s politics have always been very egalitarian and consensus based. So there is no leader. We are four equal members and that is the way it is with our improvisation as well. Usually it is sort of like a talking stick. A lot of our improv stuff is in the form of solos and are basically designated. But what is going to happen during that solo is not necessarily a set number of bars, set length, or even a set shape. So whoever has got the solo is the leader and everyone else is listening to support and go along with that. That is my primary role, to be supportive and to perhaps make the solo more exciting. Being willing to just go for something and have it be successful or not is something that has just developed over the years.

HT: Lastly, in regards to your fan base, it’s pretty diverse. Everybody from teenage kids to dreadlocked heads to soccer moms can be seen out there. What do you attribute that diversity to?

DB: Well some of it has got to do with the fact that we came up through the jamband scene but then we also managed to put out albums and write songs. Our albums are out on Jack’s (Johnson) label, Brushfire, so that and playing for his audience as well. I think that it again is that adaptation that we do where we sort of like tailor our thing to reel people in. But you know it also just the style of the music. It is uplifting, it is positive, and it has got sort of a youthful playfulness and that connects well with many people maybe regardless of what their overall style might be.    

ALO is currently tour for their fifth consecutive Tour d’Amour that partially benefits San Francisco based Music in Schools Today (MuST).

For more on ALO, please log onto www.alomusic.com.

For more on MuST, log onto www.mustcreate.org.

honest Tune Exclusive: ALO Jam Cruise Cabin Rehearsal OF

"Try" & "Reelin’ in the years" w/ Extended Closing Jam 

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