Before attending the scheduled ALO show at the Blockley Saturday, April 27th, I had the very cool opportunity to interview the band’s pleasant co-founding bassist, Steve Adams. ALO, Animal Liberation Orchestra headlined the Some Kind of Jam 8 Festival in Schuylkill Haven before coming out to Philadelphia Saturday night and finishing their spring tour with the energetically interactive Ryan Montbleau Band. The show was so fun I had a permanent grin glued on my face the entire night without even realizing it.
All excited and prepared for the phoner interview, I collectedly call Steve Adams. I hear his voice on the other end, we introduce ourselves, and then he politely asks me if he can call me back in 20 minutes, as his order of French toast was just delivered. (It’s around 4 in the afternoon). I laugh and say ‘of course’…obviously.
And here he is calling me back:
TSI: So how were the French toast?
Adams: They were okay; they were kind of soft. I like them kind of crispy.
TSI: (Laughing) Breakfast in the afternoon, that’s always nice.
Adams: (Laughs) Yeah, just getting our breakfast together. I got that—some bacon, coffee…
Are you in Pennsylvania?
They want to know how to pronounce Schuylkill Haven. He calls it ‘shoo-kill’
We begin to delve into the beginning of the Orchestra:
Adams: ALO dates back to 1989 when we first started playing together. I met Zach (Gill—vocalist, ukulele and keys) in elementary school and I met Dan (“Lebo”—guitars, vox) in junior high. In 8th grade we started a band together and we’ve been playing ever since. We had a drummer that we played with in high school and into college and then he left and we met our current drummer (Dave Brogan) in college. We started playing with him in 96’ but then he left and we had some other guys and he came back in 02’.
TSI: Wow, that’s really impressive that you’ve all stuck together this long.
Adams: I know it’s crazy. Sometimes I’ll look over at Zach and Dan and I’ll just remember I’ve known them for 30 years…a good portion of my life. (Laughs)
TSI: Since you’ve been touring out here, how does east coast compare to the west coast?
Adams: Well, the east coast is still somewhat new to us. I mean, the west coast we know pretty well because we all grew up in California, and we’ve been touring a lot in CA for many years so it’s all very familiar. We even take our own cars—we’ll have our crew take a truck of all our gear and then we’ll drive our own cars. Out here on the east coast, we don’t have that same proximity to our home. We get a tour bus and we’re all in the bus and going from town to town. You don’t actually see the in between so much because we’re usually driving at night and sleeping. So, it’s still pretty new to me.
TSI: So, fans-wise, do people still love your music the same and react the same to it?
Adams: Yeah, I mean west coast fans know all the old songs. It’s funny because the fans out here kind of know us more based on our albums and maybe some of the live archive stuff but it’s cool because you can tell how excited they are to see us because they have never even seen us, a lot of them, you know? It’s new to us; it’s new to them. We’ve been coming to the east coast for seven years or so but it’s been sort of sporadic. It’s really cool. East coast|west coast vibes are a little different, but I feel like we’re attracting a good type of crowd of people.
TSI: I definitely think you are. Your latest album, Sounds Like This, is so different—you bringing in that live album feel. Lebo said in your bio that there’s always been some sort of dividing line between fans that have seen you live versus fans like out here, as you said, that have only heard your studio work. So, how would you say that this latest release is going to/has already “bridged that gap”, as Lebo said?
Adams: We wanted to make a record that would actually be a collection of songs that would work really well in a live show, and maybe a reaction to the album before that, which was a little more low key and little mellower. That one (Man of the World) we did out in Hawaii and had Jack Johnson in on the mix. When we were on tour, we realized a lot of the songs were good but they weren’t really making our live show more energetic. We like it when people come out and have a good time and party a little bit and dance and sing. We wanted this new record to be a collection of songs that would work really well live, and we made sure to write the speeds and tempos that would work well with dancing and jamming and stuff. We concerned ourselves less with trying to make little radio style songs and put longer songs on it. The record is still a studio album with lots of over dubs and studio song crafting on it, but I think it is a good bridge between our studio work and the live stuff because the music is coming from a live placing.
TSI: And you said you wanted to go into the studio and start recording without even rehearsing. Do you think that helped/worked?
Adams: For sure, yeah definitely. We’ve done that in the past too. We’ll do like two weeks of jamming and improvising and making stuff up together and that usually generates a lot of material for songs that have everyone’s stamp on them. They’re real collaborative…the last few records have been real collaborations and that comes from natural jamming. Just getting together and jamming, so that’s definitely representative of the new record too.
TSI: How did you all and your producer, David Simon Baker become connected?
Adams: It’s funny, so, we all went to college in Santa Barbara. Me, Zach and Dan were high school buddies and went to college together. For some reason, a lot of our connections that have continued beyond college have come from that time. Jack Johnson was one of the guys we met our freshman year—we were all in the dorms together; we were all class of 93’. David Simon Baker was more like our drummer Dave; he was maybe two to three years above us in school. He had a band that we used to go see all the time. Our manager Jenna, whom our guitar player Dan ended up marrying after she’d been managing us a number of years, was a class below us and would put up all these events for us. I feel like all these people that we work with still today kind of come from that college time. It’s weird, that probably happens to some people, but maybe not many. Anyway, we’ve known Dave since college. When Jack signed us to his label (Brushfire Records) in 2005, we re-released Fly Between Falls and we had Simon Baker come in and help us re-engineer it and re-master it a little bit and we even added a couple extra songs. So that was our first call back with Dave. It just went over great. We met his personality; we connected. And then when we went on to make the next record for Brushfire, Roses and Clover, it was just an obvious choice to work with him again. So he’s been a part of all our records since 05’. He’s a great engineer. We trust him to give us ideas; he’s very encouraging.
We discuss more history of the band that always seemed to lack the imperative drummer:
Adams: Part of our history was us trying to find drummer after drummer trying to get a band back together, and it always kind of boiled back down to just me, Zach and Dan. Right before we formed ALO, we were like, ‘you know what, if a drummer comes our way, cool, but if not, we’ll just embrace this trio that we have’ and so we started playing acoustic—like accordion, upright bass and guitar, and we’d roam the streets and even did a tour across the country and back in a mini van.
TSI: How do you like the upright bass versus the electric bass? Do you have a preference?
Adams: The upright is just physically more demanding. You have to be a little more in shape; it’s more work. The thing I love about it is you can bust it out in acoustic. Some of my favorite bass players are upright bass players.
TSI: How about Stanley Clarke? I saw him at Penn State and was blown away. Was he an influence on the bass for you?
Adams: When I was younger I would buy tons of records for $1 each—tons of Clarke and other musicians. He’s so good—he’s a superstar, Stanley Clarke. My style is a little more low-key. For electric bass, I listened to Booker T. & the M.G.’s, all the Motown stuff…James Jamerson. I was pretty deep into jazz at one point and Stanley Clarke was an influence, and not even his music so much, but more of what he does as a band leader and what he has accomplished as a musician, and how fast he can play. Like, I can’t play that fast. (Laughs) I like Chris Wood, Medeski, Martin & Wood, etc. And as far as old jazz goes, I liked Charles Mingus a lot.
Discussing news on upcoming tours and events, Adams admits they are a bit scattered this year. Zach Gill also plays in Jack Johnson’s band and Adams also plays bass in the band, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, and each band has been touring a lot.
“Between those two bands I’m never home,” Adams laughs.
As for summer fun this year, ALO does still have a few festivals planned:
Bonnaroo, Bottle Rock, Mountain Jam and Horning’s Hideout Festival in Portland, OR
I had a lovely conversation while getting to know the talented past of the extremely down-to-earth Steve Adams. He’s been playing music since before I was born, and amazingly with the same two guys from his childhood past. Steve, Zach and Dan have noticeably been through a lot together. They grew up together, went to the same college, initiated their first band together, and even performed the first Everyone Orchestra together. Being close friends with the conductor, Matt Butler, the trio agreed to play the first EO on the Millennium into 2000. Apparently Butler actually ended up missing the gig due to food poisoning so the three musicians, among others, had to truly wing it without their leader. Adams was obviously fine with it all. He is totally cool with Butler’s idea, claiming, “I think it’s a great idea. The nice thing about it is there are no mistakes; there are no expectations. It’s just all in the moment, all in the leader and there’s no pressure. No wrongdoing…its super open and free.”
And this is the exact persona Adams emanates in speech and through his music. Do yourself a favor and grab some tickets to the next performance of the delightfully moving group: Animal Liberation Orchestra.