The California-based band ALO, which just played the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, knows how to groove. Their most recent album, Man of the World, features a bubbly rock sound reminiscent of bands from a few decades back. American Songwriter had a chance to sit down with the band’s guitarist, Lebo, and ask him a few questions, ranging all the way from what it’s like to record with Jack Johnson to how acting in a musical led to the band’s first gig.
Most of your new album, Man of the World, was recorded live. What led you to decide to do that and what were the benefits and the drawbacks of the process?
This is something we’ve been moving towards for some time now in that most of our time together is spent playing live. Although we’re proud of all of our albums, the previous ones lacked the spontaneity of our live shows. Finally, with Man of the World, we have an album that captures some of that.
Jack Johnson produced the album. How did that come about? What was he like as a producer?
We’ve known Jack for years. Back in the day, we used to have a blast making four-track recordings together. When it came time to make this album and the producer discussion got started. It seemed like the perfect fit. He really functioned like another member of the band. We wrote, arranged, and played together. It was very natural.
You recorded it at his home studio in Oahu, Hawaii. How did that influence the album’s sound?
The studio has a really relaxed environment, which, in turn, helped us to capture some stress-free performances. Often the studio can be a stressful place where everybody’s watching the clock. Not that case here! Even the high-energy stuff still has a relaxed vibe to it.
Your band has a wide variety of musical backgrounds, including a degree in Ethnomusicology. How has that influenced your songwriting and sound?
You can’t escape your influences. Anything that you’ve been around/listened to a lot is going to find its way into your music. While studying ethnomusicology, I was exposed to so many different kinds of music. We don’t intentionally try to incorporate things like this. They just find their way into the music.
What’s your songwriting process like? Is it collaborative amongst the band members or is there a primary songwriter?
We write in all sorts of ways. There are times when somebody will bring in a complete song and show it to the rest of the band. There are times when a couple people will break off and work on a song. Then there are times when we’ll be jamming and the song will just present itself. A lot of the songs on Man of the World were written like this.
I noticed you’re giving away an .mp3 of a song off your new album. How has technology influenced how you operate as a band?
That’s a hard one. As a music listener, I make full use of new technologies. It’s made it so easy to get music. With iTunes, the impulse buy has been taken to the stratosphere! It’s true it’s harder to sell albums in these times, but people still buy them. In the end of the day, without recorded music, there’s nothing to even give away. Times will change, and the record industry will change with it. There was a time when the sheet music publishers were the kings. Then the record was invented and everything changed. In my mind, as soon as something stops changing, it’s dead.
I read that ALO has been playing together since you were all 13. Can you remember the first song you guys wrote together?
Zach [Gill] brought in a song called “Save Me This Dance”—a classic power ballad love song. Our first show was at the junior high school musical. We showed up for the audition thinking it was a talent show. They liked the band and were short on guys for the play. So they said that if we would act in the play, we could do a set at intermission. What a deal!
When did you know that you wanted to play music for a living? Was there a moment where you realized your band was good enough to do so?
At some point in high school I figured out that I wanted to be a musician. My parents always told me that I should pick a career that I loved. My dad said, “If you love your job, you’ll never have to ‘work’ a day in your life.”
Regarding the Hangout Music Festival, what are the major differences between playing a festival and playing a normal show?
I love playing festivals because we get to play for a lot of people who we otherwise wouldn’t get to hear us. I’ve discovered a lot of bands at festivals, and I know a lot of people have discovered us at festivals. It’s a pretty special thing—the first time you see a band and they become one of your favorites.