Packed to the Gill: Zach Talks ALO, Going Solo, and Lobero
Longtime Santa Barbara-based multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Zach Gill has led a multi-dimensional musical life even before meeting soon-to-be surf singer-songwriter superstar Jack Johnson in Isla Vista and then forming the Animal Liberation Orchestra (now ALO) with childhood friends. Over 20-plus years of moving between ALO’s annual “Tour D’Amours,” band recordings, sitting in and going on the road with Johnson, writing movie soundtracks, and putting out a handful of solo projects, Gill has barely had time to catch his breath.
The pandemic lockdown offered a welcomed opportunity to slow down, which Gill took advantage of, but he also used the time to shift gears just a bit into an unexpected, mostly instrumental foray that found him writing and recording a mostly instrumental album called Cocktail Yoga that came out last fall. The album featured what can most accurately be called sonic ecosystems that reflected the musical snippets created in his home studio near Ellwood Mesa merged with sounds recorded in nature.
This weekend, Gill emerges for his first live local gig since the lockdown in a free show at the Lobero Theatre offered by the venue as a welcome-back event featuring several other local musicians. He talked about his history and his intention for the four-hour show slated for July 31, that also features Spencer the Gardener, guitarist-composer (and arts scribe) Joe Woodard, and the local luminaries laden Tableaux Sonique, Brazilian New Bossa vocalist-guitarist Teka, and analog synth family trio Volt per Octaves.
Q. You’ve been playing with your ALO bandmates Steve Adams (who will be at the Lobero) and Dan Lebowitz since junior high. What keeps you guys working together?
A. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I really love those guys. They’re such great musicians and it’s such a joy to get to grow up with people and see them grow into themselves. I probably wouldn’t have always told you that at every point in our relationship, but now it’s just so cool. It’s so good whenever we get together that it doesn’t matter what that magic thing is. Maybe it is just love and longevity — things get better with time. It’s intoxicating.
Does your connection with Jack Johnson also feel that way?
We haven’t known each other quite as long, but my god we just always clicked. Just the other day we were recording together, adding some tracks and a video to something by Matt Costa. I was playing keyboards, and Jack had his ukulele, and he put his iPhone camera so it was facing the mirror so it would pick both of us up, and we both had to stand in these weird ways to be in the shot. It felt like we were back in college, and it was awesome. It was so sweet. We were laughing the whole time. I just fell in with such good company with Jack and with my wife and so many of my friends from Isla Vista. I know that doesn’t happen to everybody when they go to college, so I try not to take it for granted.
You don’t live too far from Isla Vista where things first clicked for you. How does your time in IV resonate for you when you look back? Is it more, “I can’t believe I did that” or is some part of you still there?
There’s a part of me that’s always there. I will probably bring that part with me to the Lobero. There was a spirit of openness, the kind of thing where if you were playing music on the street corner, all of a sudden people joined in like the way some music festivals are in Northern California. I was lucky to be there when IV was still small enough that it felt like a tight-knit community.
You ended up making some interesting music during the pandemic. How did that come about?
Whenever things are hard psychologically or spiritually or mentally, my go-to is generally to be creative and try to channel it into something. That’s just the beautiful thing about music and art in general, where you are so into it that hours go by and suddenly you look up and wow, it’s time to go to bed. Maybe it was escapism, but I wrote a lot of songs. It was definitely a grieving period for things lost, but then also there was a sense of things being born, and some back and forth.
We’re told you’re going to draw from your solo catalog, ALO, and covers for the concert at the Lobero. What can we expect?
I’ve got a list of 20 songs which is too many, but for sure I’ll be doing the ones that are group songs with the other musicians. There are some pretty fun covers that I picked out. The thing is I’m so used to playing in Santa Barbara at SOhO where there aren’t any seats. But this is a theater so I don’t know if people will dance or if they’re even allowed to. I’m imagining a moment like at the end of Dirty Dancing where all of a sudden everybody is feeling it and they just get up and dance.