For its new studio album Roses & Clover, ALO decided to shake things up. For most bands, that might mean a lineup change, a new genre direction, or even a complete songwriting overhaul.
For ALO, it meant changing none of those internal workings, but instead focusing on the powers of the studio album–and surprise.
The California-bred Animal Liberation Orchestra is a concert force, with a live show to match the suggestion of its name. Songs stretch, contort, and reinvent in such a way only made possible by a group of guys entirely confident in their musical rapport and their ability to provide a feel-good, relentlessly upbeat concert experience.
Up until 2007, however, the transmuting of live energy into the studio setting was something that had eluded ALO, according to keyboardist/vocalist Zach Gill. So instead of workshopping new songs within an inch of their lives on the road, the band entered a century-old barn near colonial Santa Barbara, CA, with 40 songs in tow. Eighty percent of those songs had never been played live, meaning ravenous ALO fans hadn’t yet been able to record and analyze the hell out of them.
Roses & Clover is a top-marks accomplishment, and may especially turn fans who’ve never found their studio output entirely satisfying. Among the highs are "Plastic Bubble," which has serious dance-rock mojo, "Monday," which is one of several tracks to employ voice distortion, and the triumphant "Maria," a song that gets an "A" by virtue of the fact that it walks the sappy love song line without actually giving in.
The ALO lads–Gill, guitarist/vocalist Dan Lebowitz, bassist/vocalist Steve Adams, and drummer/vocalist David Brogan–have another packed touring year ahead, not before Glide had a chance to touch base with Gill and Brogan.
You guys had great notices for Fly Between Falls and then toured the hell out of it. Are there any new impressions of that material now that it’s been in rotation for more than a year?
Zach Gill: It did really start to lock in, and we reworked a lot of it. Dave’s song "Fly," in particular–we just started a new version of that.
Dave Brogan: I think all those songs are good candidates for reinvention.
The first difference with Roses & Clover is that many of the songs hadn’t been heard before. What drove you to do it this way?
ZG: We wanted to do something that could surprise people a bit. We’re a band that gets recorded a lot, and because of that, fans start to build up expectations.
DB: Yeah, it’s a little more mysterious to do it that way. With older material, like many artists, you have things that people like hearing a certain way. We’ve changed a lot of our [older stuff] around, and some people got disappointed because it’s different. They didn’t want the New Coke–they were happy with Coke Classic! [laughs]
ZG: I always like it when bands reinterpret new songs, but only if I like the version. Really, the idea with "Roses and Clover" was to reset everything, and see how the songs evolve from there.
Many bands use unorthodox recording spaces as sanctuaries, and you guys exited a traditional studio in favor of that Santa Barbara barn for the new album.
ZG: We definitely wanted it that way, and to get out of a sterile studio environment. A lot of studios have a very clinical vibe.
DB: They also don’t have windows–no openings to the outside world! Like a NORAD compound.
Or a casino.
ZG: But it was definitely a good way to do it; a tucked-in, Shangri-La type space.
You guys produced much of the album yourselves, but you also brought in Robert Carranza (Beck, Los Lobos, Ozomatli). What did he bring to the table?
DB: A lot of history, experience, and background, and he definitely gave us a lot of confidence to experiment. We keep talking about vibes, but yeah, his was good.
ZG: I think he had a real desire to help us capture the spirit of our live shows in [the studio], which is something we’ve had trouble doing in the past. The raw energy is there, but it still feels and sounds like the studio.
DB: He said at the beginning that he wanted us to make the album that we wanted to make, and didn’t play the "do it like this" role.
Do a lot of your songs come from group improvisation?
ZG: Some of these, like "Shine Like the Sun," were a result of group improv that turned into a song. It does sound very collective.
DB: Yeah, and other songs did come about like that on "Roses & Clover." When we started working on them, the improv just lent itself to the parts people would naturally play.
ZG: When you write a song, there’s a certain process that goes on, and with a songwriter, you’re creating parts instead of creating a song together. It’s not always that literal, and it’s fine, but it’s more fun to work it out as a group. There’s always a lot of back-and-forth.
You guys have all known each other since you were kids, and it can get tough to spend a long time in close quarters with anybody, let alone band-mates. Yet, instead of threatening to kill each other, your songs and efforts are more than ever about the collective than individuals. How does that work?
DB: It’s not that we don’t have arguments, it’s more than there’s a willingness to recover and move on. You either want to stay with it or not.
ZG: You can definitely get caught up. But through making "Roses & Clover," I feel I rediscovered the group process. "Fly Between Falls" was more individual, and I think as you get older, you turn off the collaboration sometimes. With a group of people, you always have to re-figure out how you’re going to fit in, and how you’re going to deal with new elements. And I think we’re good at that.