Musicians at all stages in their careers tend to write what they know. Maybe in youth and early on, it’s blind creative energy and drive that powers some. Sooner or later, though, there’s a time for reflection; maybe on the journey, the trials and tribulations of life, or maybe just growing up. Animal Liberation Orchestra, better known as ALO, are in that reflective period with a new album and East Coast tour that will bring them to Greenfield Lake on Friday, Oct. 23.
The four men of ALO have (in a literal sense) grown up together. Founding members Zach Gill (keys/vocals), Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz (guitar/vocals) and Steve Adams (bass/vocals) met in high school. Lebowitz and Adams played together as early as seventh grade. It was only a couple of years after forming that they brought on a new drummer (and friend of Adams), Dave Brogan.
“It’s funny, even though we’ve played with Dave for 13 years, I think he still feels like the ‘new guy,’” Adams says with a laugh. “It really doesn’t matter too much to us at this point . . . and he’s a great writer and contributor.”
These last couple of years took the band members in various directions and side projects. Gill toured with their longtime friend Jack Johnson, and the rest of ALO followed suit. Lebowitz played with the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh. Brogan joined up with Utah band, Mokie. Adams toured and recorded with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers for last six years.
“I’ve always liked the side-band role; it’s fun to support other people’s music yet bring what you know to it,” Adams says. “I think those breaks actually let us come back together more stronger and confident each time.”
It was always their intention to gather again to produce another record. They did just that in 2015 with “Tangle Of Time” coming out on October 2. It’s the fifth album with Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records.
While Zach Gill penned most ALO songs, all four members have taken turns writing and jamming before recording. For this record they had a brief window to work with.
“We really didn’t have that much time to prepare for it like we have for other records,” he tells. “This record we just kind of all shot each other our songs, and everyone tried to realize their songs as far as they could, in terms of how the parts were going to be and how it would be arranged.”
By the time they started recording “Tangle Of Time,” the band essentially went down the list of their favorite songs and got through 11 pretty quick. “It was almost a round-robin of sorts,” Adams continues. “So this record’s cool. There’s a few more songs by each of the guys. I brought two in, and once we got in there we realized that most of the songs were about time and that’s how we came up with the title.”
The songs focus a lot on reflection and perspective, as they’ve all officially entered their 40s. “We’re all moving through the years and maybe feel a little older, and a lot of the songs address that a little bit,” Adams details. “I think that’s what makes this record stand out from the other ones as well, because it’s acknowledging where we are in our lives. Whereas in the past, a little more of our youth would fill in the inspiration and try to come up with clever ideas.”
One of Adams’ songs, “Not Old Yet,” was spawned from a realization that all adults face, even if begrudgingly: Things don’t run the same as they used to.
“I wrote it when my 2007 Subaru was always in the shop, and I was having one of those days where the ‘check engine’ light came on, and I was thinking it was a metaphor for getting old in general,” he details. “Wanting to keep it alive, not turning it yet because it’s still a good car. My ears would ring from a gig, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so my vision was a little blurry, and I was like, ‘Oh my , God, my check engine light’s on!’”
While writing for themselves and about their own experiences, “Tangle Of Time” is also acknowledging fans from the ‘90s who are going through similar changes of time: getting older, having families, etc. The ALO crew broke down their albums’ compositions for an article in Relix magazine recently. Adams’ also spoke of, “Keep On,” originally called “Keep On Groovin,” while Zach Gill dissected “A Fire I Kept.”
“It started with Captain [Robert] Ballard, who discovered this ship in the Black Sea,” Gill told Relix. “I started thinking about people and their lifelong pursuits of things and how that impacts other aspects of their lives. . . . Originally, it was really long. It had a lot of verses—the first verse was about the mast of a ship, and the second verse was about a friend hiding underneath the sink when he was listening to these adults talking about getting a divorce—people just throwing out the reasons they do things.”
Adams thinks “Tangle Of Time” can speak to everyone, and it’s common for their band’s shows to transcend generational gaps. They play the college circuit, frequently open for Dave Matthews Band, and hop from festival to festival.
“Younger fans are hungry for music and generally pretty open-eared and open-minded,” Adams says. “I’m always happy to see them because it makes you feel like you’re connecting with a younger generation and your music is still relevant.”
When the band started almost 20 years ago, Adams didn’t necessarily envision what it would be like to hit the milestones he muses over now—getting on the radio, touring, seeing his band’s CD in a store. Still, he knew he wanted it to happen.
“I always hoped that it would to manage to keep us going, and I wanted this band to get some sort of record deal, even though I really didn’t know what that meant; I thought that was an important step,” he says. “So when that happened 10 years ago I was really stoked, and at that point we just kinda say ‘OK, we got the record deal, now what?’”
The music industry can be like the Wild West: Anything goes and nothing is guaranteed. No amount of time or past success changes the fact that musicians can only play what they feel is right and hope audiences like it, too.
“You can chase the radio arrangements and pop formats, but ultimately you want to make music that you’re happy with,” Adams says. “When we signed with Brushfire, it was a real blessing because Jack ran the label and just gave us [free range] to keep making music that we liked. We never felt pressure to do anything that was outside of our comfort zone.”
See ALO with Yojimbo on Friday, Oct. 23, at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater. For tickets and details, visit greenfieldlakeamphitheater.com.