ALO gets Zen about Venn for Valentine’s Day
Animal Liberation Orchestra guitarist/singer-songwriter Dan Lebowitz was thrilled to be interviewed by someone with the same last name, albeit spelled differently, for the first time in his two-decades long career. Perhaps even more than talking about the music itself – we learned that both of us can trace our roots through Ellis Island, pronounce our names the same and often need to spell it out more than once over the phone, but while he likes the two-syllable nickname Lebo, not so much for your intrepid columnist. But make no mistake: Lebowitz is still absolutely passionate about music and all of its possibilities, a value shared by all of his ALO bandmates, the core of which – Lebowitz, keyboardist-singer Zach Gill, and bassist-vocalist Steve Adams – met in grade school and coalesced into a professional band while attending UCSB in the 1990s. Which might explain why, 20 years after leaving Isla Vista, ALO still revere their time together and have never stopped growing and exploring.
That love – for each other, for the music, for growth – is on display in the self-described funk ‘n’ roll jam band’s new Creatures EP series, as Vol. 1: Spark, was released in the summer, while Vol. 2: Weave came out last month, just in time for ALO’s annual Tour D’Amour XIV; the 14th version arrives, appropriately at SOhO, ALO’s longtime stomping grounds since leaving town after college, on February 14, Valentine’s Day.
Lebo gave his namesake a glimpse into ALO’s inner world from the early days to the latest music over the phone earlier this week.
Q. I have a question about the band’s name, which seems to have morphed back and forth between Animal Liberation Orchestra and ALO. How does that work?
A. Zach and Steve and I have been playing together since we were in seventh grade, but we switched drummers a whole bunch of times. Whenever there was someone new, like every six months or so, we’d change our name. This one was the one that we had when we started doing well. We were in our junior year at UCSB, and we were all studying music and playing in various orchestras and ensembles as well as rehearsing with the band in a garage. They seemed pretty similar, except with the band it felt more like we were liberating our inner animal, getting your ya-ya’s out in a way you couldn’t in a class. We shortened it for the same reasons as my name – you really don’t like being called Libo? – because people were just abbreviating it anyway, and simultaneously we didn’t want to be confused with the animal liberation movement of hardcore rights advocates. I was vegetarian, but it wasn’t our mission. But I still love it when the full name comes up because I like to talk about the early days.
Speaking of that, very few bands that form in high school or earlier keep going far into adulthood. Case in point, Santa Barbara’s Toad the Wet Sprocket, although they just did a reunion show in town. What’s your secret?
The same thing that has allowed us to last so long is part of what maybe has held us back – that we love to do other outside projects… It’s like a Venn diagram. We all have various interests and they come together in ALO. When we just did ALO, everybody was trying to get all that into the place where we intersect. While it’s good to be pulled out of your comfort zone, you can’t stray too far from what you want to do because otherwise you get resentful. We realized that, and opened the possibility of doing outside things. So Steve and [new drummer] Ezra Lipp have a project. I play with Phil Lesh and The Dead, Zach of course has his solo stuff and tours with Jack Johnson. That helps keep ALO pure. Now when we get together it’s because we want to. And you get the best of what we like with each other.
Consequently we can’t always take all offers that come our way, because we’re too spread out, and it’s hard to coordinate our schedules. But it also makes ALO special when we do get together; it’s our lifelong project and we can be pure with it. ALO is musically much richer because of all of what we bring back to the band.
Speaking of Ezra, how has having a new drummer changed ALO’s sound or dynamic after 15 years with Dave Brogan?
When Dave just wasn’t able to tour anymore, the idea of auditions seemed like it would be draining. Steve and I had played with Ezra in other projects, so it was easy. It was obvious that he would be a good fit. Started as a single tour and it worked out great. The spirit is still the same although there’s a different feel that’s hard to put into words. It’s still right in line with what we’ve always been.
You’ve always been at SOhO for Valentine’s Day too. Why keep up that tradition?
It’s like it’s ALO season. It’s become the most steady gig in our band’s history, something we can count on. It’s fun for our families. It makes VD more of a season than just a single day holiday. Fans go on chunks of the tour with us and we play into the theme, maybe do covers of love songs, and we have great props like giant hearts that are covered in sequins and light up.
Will we hear new songs from the Creatures series?
Yeah, we love that format. Logistically we can just catch a moment, hop into the studio and bash it out, with a really clear concepts rather than an album that can be all over the map because we have multiple writers and styles. They’re all like little creatures just emerging, bringing it back to our original name. The new one was about having all the tunes that are fun to play live with a dance vibe rather than the ones that are introspective and reflective.
Is it different when you play in Santa Barbara?
Oh yeah. I have so many fond memories of jumping on our skateboards in IV, and when we’d see someone bringing a keg into a house, we’d ask them if they wanted to have a band play. We did that all the time. We practiced Monday-Thursday and then did parties in IV on the weekends. It was an irreplaceable education experience, where we learned the most. So when we’re back, there’s the memories and also, in a weird way, a smell – the beach air, the eucalyptus. So as soon as I arrive I have all those great feelings come up. It’s almost like a drug in the way it alters you. We have so many roots there. For all of us, it was such a positive experience and it’s great to have all that come back up.