All successful bands face the same dilemma: How do you expand your fanbase and survive the music biz without alienating the people who’ve supported you all along?
For the former Isla Vista jam-rock-party-band known as ALO (an acronym that’s superceded its “Animal Liberation Orchestra” roots), that question centered on how to make a tight album of catchy tunes without losing the spontaneity and improvisation that their legions of fans adore. Their answer is last May’s release Roses & Clover, which features tunes that are tighter, brighter, and more like, well, actual songs than the marathon sessions that define the jam-rock genre.
As expected, it’s both roped in new fans and slightly disappointed some old ones. But love it or just like it, no one’s denying the album’s 10-song display of songwriting chops and impeccable instrumentation by vocalist/pianist Zach Gill (see an earlier interview with Gill here), guitarist Dan Lebowitz, bassist Steve Adams, and drummer Dave Brogan. It’s yet another step on the trail, explains Brogan, who I caught up with over the phone from his home in Seattle. What follows is the full version of that interview.
How’s everything going?
Things are going great. We’ve been real busy.
Is the new album selling well?
It’s selling better than the last one.
I saw some of your music videos online.
Yea, we did a bunch of videos on our own with our friend Matt Powers. We just went out around Zach’s house, and filmed some, with one camera, you know. It was really fun.
I thought some of those scenes look like they were filmed in Goleta [where Zach lives].
They are. All of those shots in the video are from within a quarter mile of Zach’s house out in Ellwood, except for “Maria,” which was done in L.A. It was cool to do it that way. There was plenty of time to have our own ideas and fool around with things. That’s why there’s a playful vibe to them:.For “Try” [which comes out soon], we also did that thing when you lay upside down, cover up your necks, put two eyes on your chin so your chin looks like a head, and sing. We didn’t end up using it-it looked pretty funny, almost too bizarre, and grotesque with all our nasty beards.
Does it feel like you’ve reached a higher status as a band with this album and tour?
Like going up another rung on the ladder?
No, it’s not really a ladder. It’s more like a trail. You’ve got little parts where sometimes you go up, sometimes you go down, and sometimes you go level. A lot of times it’s hard to know exactly where you’re at on the trail. Overall, the trail is ascending, we’re going uphill. There’s a lot of switchbacks though, and we’ve turned a couple switchbacks, I’d say that. But it’s not anywhere near as direct as a ladder. A ladder just takes you straight up. It’s more like a four-mile trail on a 4,000-foot incline.
I’m a fan of the new album, and I’ve thought for years that you guys needed to do something a little tighter and more poppy to appeal to more than the longtime jam fans. But I’ve also heard some of those fans say critically that Roses & Clover is your “radio album.” Do you have a response to that?
I think it’s an album album. I don’t think it’s a radio album. We didn’t really make it with the prime intention of getting it played on the radio. I think that when we go into the studio, we have a desire to really take what we’ve got and craft it and edit it, because we’ve always been about songs, always been about writing songs. When we go to record that and make an official album of songs, we want to make them as concise and as tight and as crafted as possible. That’s just what we want to do when we go make an album, and in general, that makes for a better album. Instead of just trying to capture what we do live on the album, we decided to spend more effort making this album for an album, making an album for a listening experience, so you can sit down and listen to it. I don’t think we were thinking too much of radio.
And there were a couple of songs that actually were written in a very specific process. We were jamming in rehearsal, and we recorded those jams, and then Zach took the sweet spot of these two jams and he set it as background music and put lyrics and melody over it. It was using jamming as a way of songwriting, which to me almost represents a new level of fusing jamming with songwriting. It’s a new level in the process. It’s not just jamming like we jam live, and it’s not just having someone sit down and write a song by itself. It’s a whole other style of jamming that no one’s really heard before. “Shine” and “Roses & Clover” are the two songs that both came out of jams. We recorded it in rehearsal in a style we don’t jam in live, but we do jam in private. In that sense, it gives people another window into something else we do.
Is Roses & Clover finding a new audience that you haven’t reached before?
Yea, I think so. I think we are finding different people due to a combination of just putting out another album and having been out there on the road touring. Our name gets out, people get to know it, it gets in the weekly where you’re playing locally. Like I said, it’s a slow incline that people are gradually finding their way to the band. As long as were just active, that’s going to happen. We’re gigging, we’re putting out albums, we’re making videos. It’s a steady stream of content we’re putting out that’s there for when people wanna dive into it or when they get drawn into by someone else.
You’ve been touring all over the country and are heading to both Europe and Brazil this year. But Japan is next. How is playing there?
It’s a good crowd out there. The Japanese are fun to play for. It feels kinda special, like we made this journey and we’re on some sort of spice trade route or something. We go to this far-off distant land, bringing over our horses and crossbows and trading them for spices and tea. It’s a little more adventure. It’ll be our third or fourth time over there. I’m just really glad we’ve been able to go over and do it.
Just massive touring until the end of the year, culminating with a rounds of shows at The Independent in San Francisco leading up to New Year’s Eve.