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Interview: ALO’s Zach Gill

Dean Budnick | October 05, 2017

It's been nine years since the release of Zach Gill’s previous full-length solo record, Zach Gill’s Stuff, but the lag between albums was not for want of original material. The keyboard player—who balances his touring and recording life with ALO and his commitments to Jack Johnson’s band—explains, “I’m always writing. And, as soon as I made that first solo album, I said to myself: ‘This is a whole different thing than working on band records, and I want to keep doing this’ but life kind of gets in the way or has other plans for you, and it always seemed like it wasn’t the right time. Every once in a while, people would ask me, ‘Hey, when are you going to do another one?’ and I wouldn’t have a good answer. Last year, I suddenly got that feeling that if I didn’t start it, it wasn’t going to happen. But just when I thought I didn’t have any time, I realized that there was some right there on my calendar.

"I had all these songs that were of a personal nature. A lot of them had been around for a while. When ALO makes a record, sometimes the first step is to send each other our songs and talk about which ones feel good. Sometimes the more personal ones end up not being selected because they’re not as indicative of the group mindset, so I had a few of these that had been sitting around and it was like, ‘What happened to that song?’”

On Life in the Multiverse, Gill is joined by two of his steady collaborators: ALO bassist Steve Adams and Jack Johnson drummer Adam Topol, along with a few guests, including Johnson, Nicki Bluhm, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros’ Stewart Cole and Gill’s daughter Jaden.

Did you select the album title to reflect some of its changing moods?

I’ve come to realize that the first half of the album is pretty extroverted. The tempos are relatively up—there are drum machines, electric guitars, special guests and it’s very much in the world. It’s about people, places and things. Then the second half of the album is more about cerebral feelings that appear in your life and you’re not sure what to do with them, and you just sort of carry on. There are times when I’m writing a song and I know what prompted it—and it’s got lyrics—but I’m not necessarily sure what they mean or where it’s going. For me, a lot of times, the process of writing the song, recording it and listening back to it helped me to transfer a lot of the energy that inspired the song in the first place.

There are songs that come to me conceptually and there are songs that just write themselves, like in a dream. With “Up From Down Below,” my wife came back from this retreat—for a friend’s 40th birthday party, she went to this retreat center near Big Sur on the coast and there was no cellphone reception so we couldn’t contact her. I had both my daughters for the week, and it was the first time I had them for a full week without my wife. She was going to dance this thing called the five rhythms, and she didn’t know anything about it. She doesn’t do stuff like this normally, but she was a tap dancer when she was a little girl, so she knows dance. Anyway, for eight hours a day, they danced the five rhythms of life, and she came back so full of excitement and joy that she wrote each one of us a letter that was really sweet and meaningful. It was a transformative experience. So as she was telling me about this retreat, I wrote that song, but I don’t know if anyone would otherwise understand what [the song] was talking about.

Can you point to a song on the album that’s more conceptual in its origins?

“Joy” definitely began with a concept. I kept hearing the term “guilty pleasures” and I began working backward from that concept. People will sometimes ask me, “What are your guilty pleasures?” in the way that Dave Grohl talks about how he loves ABBA or something and then, other people will realize, “Well, I love ABBA too.” It’s funny, the way we dress—the way we present ourselves—sends out all these signals and then, all of the sudden, people can’t believe Dave Grohl would like ABBA but everybody likes ABBA.