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Published: 2013/04/19
by Dean Budnick

ALO Still Sounds Like This

Lebo closing out Tour d’Amour 2013 with ALO at the Fillmore- photo by Brian Spady

What are the dynamics of getting you all together to play, given your various other commitments?

One side of that is the Bay Area way, which is sort of “just let it happen,” but it doesn’t always work. With that one it’s interesting, because for about two years I started playing a little pedal steel guitar and I always loved that music and have some friends who loved it—who eventually ended up being in that band—but for about two years we would always talk about doing a set where we all learn this music and throw some originals in there and make it that vibe. We literally talked about it for two years, but it wasn’t until High Sierra when they do those playshops which are like workshops and our bands all happened to all be there and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be the time to do it.” So I talked to Dave Margulies, who does all the High Sierra stuff, and basically pitched him the idea. And Scott Law was going to be there too, and he didn’t even know Tim or Nicki or any of them, and I thought he’d be great for it. So I sort of pitched it and then was like, “Cool, let’s find a way to make it happen because we’re all going to be in one place.”

So we have fun doing it, and when we’re all in the same place and the timing works out right, we do it, but it doesn’t get to happen nearly enough as we’d all like it to because everyone’s so busy with their main projects.

I’ve also seen listings for when you perform as Lebo, but fewer of those as of late. Is that still a band?

Yes but over this past year ALO has been busier than it’s been in the last five or six years. So this last year has been really focused on that. Beyond that I do gigs with my own band. It’s sort of revolving cast members but I’m always writing tunes. With ALO we’re more album-based and as we tour, we have so many tunes from over the years mixed with whatever our album is.

For all of us, we’re all writing all the time, and for me the Lebo band is a chance to mess with all of those. We’ll do some of the tunes I’ve brought into ALO but a lot of them conform to stuff I’ve been working on. The band isn’t a consistent band. A lot of times it’s whatever music I’m working on at that moment that I’m not playing out, so I think who’d be good for that and I grab them. I do stuff with Reed Mathis, sometimes I use Steve on bass, sometimes Dave Brogan on drums. A good friend Ezra Lipp who lives a couple blocks from me, he’s a great drummer, so I just started doing some playing with him. This great Bay Area singer named Lesley Grant, we’ve been working on some stuff together too, which is a lot of fun.

Here’s a great example of our Bay Area scene: Tea Leaf Green just put out a video with Lesley Grant and that’s me playing the steel guitar on there. That’s a great example of Bay Area, “Okay, just head down to the studio, bring a pedal steel…Lesley come sing on this track.”

Their studio is a really cool scene in the Bay Area. It’s called Coyote Hearing and it’s owned by Cochrane and Jeremy Black. You know Cochrane is in Tea Leaf Green and Jeremy Black is east coast, but now he’s living out here full time. They’ve got a great thing going on with their studio now where a lot of people are recording there and there’s multiple projects there. So lots of people are passing through, popping in for a couple hours and suddenly they’re on a track. New little projects are developing.

Speaking of which, do you have plans in motion for the next ALO studio album?

We’ve actually been talking about it because next month it’ll be a year since this album came out. So we’re about eleven months into it, and at sound checks we’ve been starting to mess with some new tunes as a band. We’ll probably go into the studio some time in six months or so. We’re still supporting this album and having new tunes coming together. We’re not rushing to the studio right away, but I would say we’d head to the studio in about six months and an album would come out six months after that.

Beyond that, for me, there’s the Lebo band stuff and I’ve been doing stuff with Mark Karan, you probably know him from RatDog. We’ve got a little band we do called the Rock Collection. That’s pretty fun, but again it’s another band where we don’t get to do it that often because everyone has their schedules. I guess for me, when ALO has breaks there are a handful of projects to fill things in with. It’s been fun working with Mark and that’s led to some cool things, playing with Bob Weir for a couple of shows, and then I recently was out in Hawaii with Reed Mathis. We did a festival with Bill Kreutzmann out in Kauai and that was kind of neat, because Reed’s a Bay Area guy now too so it was kind of like a generations thing: me and Reed and Bill and Steve Kimock did that show too, so it was a lot of fun.

You mention that Reed is Bay Area based these days. When he first made the transition from Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey to Tea Leaf Green, some people were surprised by his decision but it seems as though he has fit in quite well.

Yeah, and he’s brought his fingerprint to that band. It’s not like he just went in to play the parts that Ben [Chambers] played. He’s come in there and put his own stamp on everything. I’m really stoked that he moved out to the Bay Area. He’s been a great guy to play with and he’s such a creative and enthusiastic guy. He fits in great around here.

In terms of musicians performing in new contexts, on New Year’s Eve, your longtime friend and bandmate Steve Adams didn’t play with you [instead he performed with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers].

Yes, that’s a new thing, because we haven’t done gigs without him before.

He’s been ramping things up with The Gramblers. Do you know if there will be more situations like that this coming year?

Yeah, we do actually have some gigs coming up that he won’t be on. It’s interesting, we all talked about it—the thing is, within ALO we all do a lot of other projects but in the past with the other projects, there’s been time to do it all. With Nicki, she started to get really busy probably about six months ago so for a while they were using different bass players here and there, but like any band, you don’t want to be having it in flux all the time.

So for him with them getting busier, it’s a good opportunity for work—he’s got a good, busy year with her—and for ALO, we’re doing a bunch of shows this year but we probably won’t be on the same schedule as we were last year when we were out the whole time. So for him I think jumping on that has been a lot of fun, it’s all friends, so he’s doing that gig and with ALO [on New Year’s] it was more of a one-off so we called on Ron Johnson, who’s an old friend—I’ve been playing music with him for seven, eight years on and off during ALO breaks, doing different things with him here and there. He was the first guy we thought to call and he jumped right in and did such a great job, so we actually have a few more shows this summer that he’s going to be on.

Steve will be on a bunch but there’s a handful he won’t be at. He’s on all the stuff for April, all the east coast stuff, but some of the festivals are kind of one-offs and Ron’s going to be jumping on for those. Ron fits in right at home and he and Steve have a similar approach to bass. It’s fun too, each person sort of adds their own flavor to it, which is really cool, so you get to hear something a little different in the music.

The neat thing with ALO is that with Zach, Steve and I have been playing together since we were in seventh grade. The history is long and deep, and Dave even, he’s the new guy and he’s been in the band for twelve years now. I think with this, it’s just a scheduling thing. Ron can jump in and pick up where Steve left and even adds his own flavor to it, which is really fun.

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