There’s a lot to be said for starting new traditions. Sure, the calendar is already crammed with loads of generally held annual occasions but the ones we choose for ourselves often have greater meaning. These closely held dates signify what’s important to us, what we consider worthy of elevation, where our hearts truly reside. For the California tribe primo party rockers ALO have gathered around them the annual Tour D’Amour is a thing of love, both in how it’s loved by fans and how it boldly & broadly celebrates love in a larger sense. It’s a chance for these super-pro musicians to reconnect with their home state faithful with a roaming musical Valentine that many consider some of the group’s best each year. The kinetic, symbiotic energies between the band and the crowd is reliably delightful at these shows, and the overall effect is good times, dancing, and some of the best pop-rock going today.
DI snagged ALO bassist Steve Adams for a few questions about the band as they soon embark on Tour D’Amour VIII beginning February 13 in Santa Barbara. Find the full itinerary here.
1. The title of the latest studio album reads like a sentence, and to these ears, comes across like a succinct mission statement when taken together. So, dance a little about architecture and tell us about what ALO sounds like.
The title Sounds Like This came mainly from Zach’s lyrics in “Blew Out the Walls”, which became a pivotal track for us throughout the making of the record. As a band, we turned inward a bit on this one. Our three-record label deal was at its end and we didn’t really even know if we’d be putting out our next record on Brushfire. That alone made us ask ourselves. “Ok, well, if it was just us again, back in the basement, working on tunes just for ourselves, what would that be?” Zach’s lyrics in “Blew” captured that feeling well, reflecting on that early time of discovery and making music with no attachments or expectations In a way, I think the band was returning to that place again, with the feeling of, “Let’s just do this for us and see what happens”. And when we put our name and the title together – “ALO Sounds Like This” – it just clicked as a great title to describe this moment of finding ourselves again. It also seemed to answer the question asked so often by people who don’t know your music: “So what do you guys sound like?” Maybe it was even a call to attention, like if you didn’t know who we were or what we sounded like yet, here ya go, check this out!
2. Pop has become a dirty word to a lot of people in the 21st century, perhaps because of what largely populates the airwaves now. ALO has always seemed to embrace pop in the classic sense (The Beatles, 80s radio fare). What do you dig about this single-minded form of music making?
Pop isn’t such a dirty word for us. Yes, there’s some bad Pop music out there, stuff that feels very contrived and just made to sell. But there’s also some good stuff. With those big Pop record budgets, sometimes interesting new things can emerge. And of course, if you include the Beatles, Esquivel, Motown and all the many great bands and artists in between, those are big influences on us. The art of crafting a song, arranging it and recording it the best you can, those are things we try to do too.
3. You four have played together pretty much the whole of your adult lives. What’s it like to play with these three guys? What do you think lies at the core of your chemistry as a quartet?
Maybe like some kind of family band, I think ALO has the ability to be really in-tune with each other, like a sixth sense type of thing. I think we can anticipate moves, finish sentences, understand glances. It can get us in trouble sometimes too though, because sometimes you don’t need to know so much – too much information! Sometimes a streamlined simplicity can get you through the gig a little easier, with a few less waves of emotion to process. But that special connection we share can really allow some amazing magical musical moments to happen, too. So interesting sometimes that when you listen back, you’re not even sure how you did what you did. I think our long-time friendship and trust and love for each other is the core of this chemistry. As long as we continue to nurture and care for that, I think we’ll be able to keep taking fun musical leaps and connect even deeper as a band.
4. A big part of this band’s reputation is as a live band. Talk a bit about the difference between delivering these songs live versus what you do in the studio.
Live and studio are two different contexts for sure. We try to serve each for what they are. In the studio, you can get really detailed with sound choices and arrangements. Live, it’s a bit more of a creative mess. For some reason in ALO, we’ve always allowed each other to be very free. So as opposed to just recreating what we did in the studio, there is this freedom that anyone can start a song a little different, or even play a song a little different. It keeps us on our toes, and connected to each other, and the moment. We always write a good little road map for a set, and usually mix up the song selections pretty good, but I think the real magic is what happens off the page – the banter that gets filled in, the left turns people take, the extended solo that someone was feeling, someone in the audience yelling something out. I think it’s those moments that make our shows feel alive, and I would imagine it’s what keeps people coming back to see us, as much as hearing the tunes they love.
5. A favorite song to play live? Why?
It’s funny, we hardly play the song live, maybe because it’s a little bit slower. And maybe even because we don’t play it much, it always excites me when I see it on a setlist, but “States of Friction” from Man Of The World is one of my favorites [Editor’s Note: One of the Impound’s favorite ALO tunes, too]. It’s different than most of our songs, the groove of it, and we pulled in some of the cool soundscapes we created in the studio into a sampler we use live. The texture and ambiance always sounds really neat to me. I like Zach’s lyrics to the song too, which I get to sing on a few harmony parts. It’s just a cool tune and one that speaks to me.
6. Best part of touring life? Most challenging/negative part of touring life?
The best part of touring for me is getting to see so many different places. I love meeting new people and experiencing the different cultural styles. I love hitting up recommended food spots and discovering cool little record stores.
The most challenging part is no doubt staying healthy. The long drives, the lack of consistent sleep, the eventual bad food stops, the temptation of having a few drinks each night (our office is a bar after all) are all challenges in staying bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Adrenaline can sometimes get you through tough little spurts, but on marathon tours you really have to think sustainably. Mental preparation sometimes helps me, keeping your head up so you’re aware of what kind of storm you’re headed into and where and when you’ll get a chance to rest and recoup.
7. With more than 20 years in ALO’s history – countless tours, special shows like the recent Fly Like An Eagle late night, seven studio albums – what do you think the future of ALO holds? Rock operas? More elaborate costuming? Chorus girls and helper monkeys onstage? What’s next?
Well, I could certainly imagine developing our live show so it’s an even more elaborate experience. We keep discovering new ways to stitch our material together and use different songs to tell certain stories each night. I could see incorporating more visual stage stunts. I could see possibly even expanding the band a bit with percussion, horns and more vocals. I could also see this move affecting our studio work, as far as creating music that may support a bigger stage show approach. Rock operas, chorus girls, helper monkeys? Exactly!