The Road To AURA: Zach Gill of ALO March 1, 2016 21:38

The 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner, taking place at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 5th.  As a part of our coverage of the festival, we are sitting down with a handful of this year's performers for a series of interviews called "The Road To AURA".  Next up is Zach Gill (keyboards, uke, vocals) of ALO.
Interview by Taylor Pack: Live & Listen

Tangle of Time is the first album release by ALO since 2012, with much of the time in between featuring you guys in separate bands.  You have toured with Jack Johnson.  Dan Lebowitz was playing shows with legendary Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.  Steve Adams recorded and toured with Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers, and Dave Brogan with Salt Lake City jam band, Mokie.  How did the time spent working with other musicians affect ALO’s approach on the new album and the final product?

Zach: I think that having an "open" musical relationship has really benefited ALO.    Bands become locked into their "thing" and this "thing" might be what makes the band great, but it can also lead to feelings of stagnation with in the band itself.  Once the individual roles within a band get established it can be hard to change them.  In all of the ALO "side"projects we get to explore new roles and develop new skills that otherwise may have always remained dormant in each of us.  Every band has different needs and I think musicians intuitively adapt and grow to meet these needs.  I think some of ALO's most beneficial musical growth over the last few years has been due to our involvements with other projects.   

For myself, playing in Jack Johnson's band gave me a chance to sing more back up harmonies and less lead vocals, which then allowed me to focus on my piano playing more than I typically would've in ALO.  It also forced me to get inside someone else's music besides my own, to learn how to support someone else's musical vision.  In terms of ALO, I think I've become a more supportive band mate.  It's become less about me singing lead and more about me backing up and supporting the other guys in ALO.  These were skills that I developed in Jack's band.  I see this same sort of thing happening to the rest of the guys in ALO.  Every time we get together to make new music, each guy brings with him all the wisdom and experience from his other endeavors, and it seems to reinvigorate ALO.  

Watch ALO's official music video for "Falling Dominoes" here:

Storytelling has always been a major factor of ALO’s lyrics and as the title suggests, time is a reoccurring theme throughout the new album. Tell us a little bit about the writing process for Tangle of Time, and why time is such a significant concept to explore at this point in ALO’s career. 

Zach: We've experimented with lots of varying songwriting and recording techniques over the years, but for Tangle of Time, we kept it pretty straightforward.   We each shared our demos of more or less finished songs that we were excited about.  Talked over email, about which ones seemed like they fit nicely into the ALO catalogue and then we met in the studio to record them.  At the time we had a very small window where everyone was available, about seven days total, so we decided to go right into the studio rather than working on the songs in a rehearsal room.  

We figured if the recordings weren't up to our standards we could always consider them demos, but things went really smoothly and after the seven days, we all felt really good about the music we'd made.  It wasn't till we started diving into recording the vocals, that we realized every song had some sort of relationship to time in it.  I suspect this had to do with the fact that three out of the four of us had just turned forty.  Time was certainly on the mind.  

ALO's catalog contains such an eclectic mix musical tastes, with a truly unique sound like no other.  Who do you look to as your biggest musical influences over the years? 

Zach: I don't think any of us could target any one thing as our biggest musical influence. There are too many to keep track of.  I do think that in a lot of ways our approach has stayed the same throughout the years.  We've never really consistently stuck with one style.  It's always been more about growing individually as musicians, learning new chords, riffs, styles, techniques.  Music as a means of personal growth.  Even back in junior high, when Dan and Steve and I first started playing together, it was the same thing: "Let's play a jazz standard, or "Let's learn a Van Halen song".  Nothing was off limits.  When we met Dave in college, and he had this same approach.  This could be an educational influence I guess, a result of piano lessons at a young age, high school jazz band and radio listening.  We all seemed to identify with the craft of music making rather than identifying with any one style.  

Going into Tangle of Time, you guys had so much material to record that only a small portion of the songs were able to make the album. Can fans expect to hear any of that extra material either as part of the live sets or do you guys plan on returning to the studio in 2016?

Zach: We have plans to release an EP on record store day in April, featuring two "bonus" studio tracks from Tangle Of Time, plus some live music from our last east coast tour.  And also plans to begin recording some new music in March.  As far as a new album, we shall see.  I know the material is there.  It's just a matter of working out the scheduling.  

Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is truly a magical site to hold a festival. You guys will be playing during sunset on the amphitheater stage nestled beneath beautiful ancient oak trees and Spanish moss. How big of a role can setting play in determining how and what ALO choses to play during a show?

Zach: For a band like ALO, setting is really important.  It can make or break the performance.  It's often the difference between the mundane and the magical.  We play to the space, the audience, and to each other.  Sunset nestled beneath ancient oaks and Spanish moss sounds like the makings of an epic night.

This year AURA will feature a notably diverse lineup of some of the festival scene’s most exciting groups. What do you think the lineup says about the depth of the music scene in 2016?

Zach: I think the diverse lineup points to the health of live music in America.  People love live music; all different kinds.  I like to think that the growth of music festival culture in general has opened up people to different styles of music, and that humans are learning how to appreciate all different types of music, not just what was given to them via radio when they were kids.

Watch ALO's official music video for "The Ticket" here: