Take it from Dave Brogan: It’s never too late to hit your stride. At 40, the drummer for jam band ALO and a solo artist with a penchant for funky rhythms, is confident he’s taking steps in the right direction: backward. “We were trying to get back to the days when we were just a band in Isla Vista, California, playing music in a garage,” Brogan says about recording ALO’s latest album. “It’s a return to simpler days.” Those were the days when ALO (formerly Animal Liberation Orchestra — “Sort of a redheaded stepchild that we’re not always proud of” — Brogan says of the name) were a ragtag collective of “jam first, fix later” SoCal musicians. But when ALO started getting serious, and Brogan joined the band permanently in 2002, their clean-cut studio work left something to be desired. Not so anymore. And anybody who thinks 40 is over the hill clearly isn’t listening to ALO.
Where on their previous two records the band focused heavily on arrangements, structure, and editing, on Man Of The World they channeled a more natural, easy-going vibe. They recorded the album in Hawaii with long-time friend — the king of all things laid-back—Jack Johnson. Johnson, whose Brushfire Records signed ALO for this album, contributed not only his production savvy, but also served as a lyricist and instrumentalist. “Jack was there every day, all day long,” Brogan says, adding that most producers are more invested financially than creatively in a band’s album. “He’s a really good drummer, a really good backbeat player, and probably the best tambourine player I’ve ever seen. If a tambourine track came up, I’d be like, ‘Dude, you play it.’” Brogan credits Johnson’s rhythmic chops to his background as a guitarist. “He plays the backbeat with that guitar hand, and there’s not much change from guitar to tambourine,” he says. “Jack was a really big rhythmic influence on this album.” And that’s easy to hear on tracks like “Put Away The Past,” a Brogan original, framed by a bouncy, piano-driven 4/4 beat reminiscent of Johnson’s “If I Had Eyes.”
But it wasn’t just Santa Barbara’s sweetheart and his studio in Oahu that coaxed the mellow out of ALO. In fact, Hawaii had little to do with it — if anything at all. The band scrapped plans to record the album on tape when they realized the island humidity had ruined the tapes’ magnetic strips. And anyway, there wasn’t much time for Mai Tais and long walks on the beach.
“We were such studio rats,” Brogan says. “We were locked up for 12 hours a day. We weren’t really gazing down at the surf while we tracked.” Instead, the quartet was in the same room recording as a unit. Brogan says this gave the band a more honest and emotional sound, part of what ALO has been working toward since their 2004 release, Fly Between Falls. The best example of the band’s cohesion is on the opener, “Suspended,” recorded in just one take. “It was very natural,” Brogan says. “We didn’t do a lot of prearranging, we were all in the same room together, and it’s a very honest recording. What we got from that was something really powerful.”
After the album was recorded, ALO tested the new material on live audiences as they hit the road for a three-month tour, which is when Brogan says he was truly in the zone. “When I’m 10 or 15 shows into a tour, that’s when I feel unstoppable,” he says. “Your comfort level is at 100 percent.” Plus, the band spent the last third of their tour with Stanton Moore and Galactic. “It was fun to observe and report on Stanton,” Brogan says. “It was like a free clinic every night. During soundcheck one night, he had the snare drum turned over and was playing on top of the snares and then doing a backbeat on ... I don’t even know! It was something completely off the wall, but I’m gonna steal a bunch of stuff from him!”