“I’m kind of like a sponge,” Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz says, watching the Miami skyline fade away on Jam Cruise 2020. “I just love absorbing all the different influences. All the different styles. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to meet all these folks and I can call them up and put bands together.”
Indeed, if you scan the guitarist’s recent touring schedule you will find onstage antics with legends like Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and George Porter Jr., as well as all-star networks like the Doobie Decibel System and Leftover Salmon.
And yet, Lebo still maintains a steady spot as one-fourth of ALO, who are in the midst of releasing an EP series and return to the stage on Saturday night at the Warfield, with additional dates to follow over the weeks to follow, including some rare East Coast shows.
Finding a brief moment of rest, Lebo sat down for a quick Q&A to take stock of his current place in the live music ecosystem.
You guys released the Creatures Vol. 2 EP in January. Tell me a little bit about this project and why you guys chose an EP route over the standard album cycle?
With ALO especially, we’ve been playing together since we were 12 years old. So we’ve been doing this thing a long time. When we were talking to our label, Brushfire, about ideas and ways to do things differently, they had some other artists who were doing EPs. They asked us “Oh is that something you would be interested in?” And we were like, “Yeah that actually sounds fun.” We’ve been just popping into the studio a couple days at a time and we will go knock it out. It’s been a fun compact way to do it.
We like a lot of different aspects of music. We’re not like a cookie-cutter clear genre. So this has been fun because we have just been picking a group of four songs that go together. We have plenty of stuff, and we like it all, so it’s like “Oh what four would sit well together as a little thing?”
A lot of artists find that taking time away from the stage to go into the studio kind of kills what makes live music great.
It so often does! That also happens when you’re like “Oh we’ll finish the tour we’ll take some downtime” That’s often the time when you’re most ready. The most in the flow.
Do you find that you’re trying to capture the ALO live experience in the studio?
Yeah, definitely, we always are. ALO has two sides to it, though, because we’ve always been a band that worked a lot on songwriting. That’s always been a big part of the band. Which is interesting because people don’t see that because that’s like our private side. So people see the show but there is this whole other thing that is pretty equal for us in terms of how we operate.
As you said earlier, you and Steve [Adams] and Zach [Gill] have known each other for decades. Can you put your finger on what makes you so musically compatible?
Those were the first friends I got into music with, you know? We were 12 years old so you can’t really replace that experience. Maybe if I distilled it down to the smallest thing it’s this: We’ve experienced so many key moments of life together. Outside of music and with music, a lot of our milestone moments have been together. Like, those guys came to my Bar Mitzvah. [Laughs.]
Changing gears, you have been playing with Phil Lesh quite a bit as he recovers from back surgery…
To me it’s always an awesome thing when I can play with him. The Bay Area music scene, I would say right now Terrapin Crossroads is really ground zero for it. Like an incubator. That and Sweetwater Music Hall. Those two places incubate a lot of music.
Both of which are closely tied to members of the Dead.
Exactly. The thing is Phil has been such a big “on the ground” part of Terrapin because he plays there all the time. I’ve played a bunch with him over the years. But since his injury, he’s been out of the fold for a number of months. When they called [and said he was ready to play] I was already really psyched.
Originally they were like, “Since it’s his first comeback show it’s just gonna be a single 90-minute set.” Of course, it ended up turning into two shows over two days. Two set nights with good meaty sets. Phil loves to play so I think he needs to be careful and take it easy as he is easing in. But on the other side of it, he was just fine.
I feel like he’s turning into the bionic man or something.
It’s kind of crazy right? He is like a machine. Some of these musicians who are in their later years, they do it just ‘cause it’s how they make a living. With Phil, that’s just not the case. He loves music. He is always psyched to explore. He’s always ready to go a little deeper.
You also jam with Bob Weir on a fairly regular basis. Talk to me a little about the difference between playing with Phil and playing with Bob. Are there different leadership styles there?
They are definitely different. I don’t know how I can describe it in short words because it’s like describing how you interact with someone.
I will say this, the same goes for Bob in terms of music. He’s just all about playing music too. The spirit is alive, and it’s definitely with both those guys. There is no phoning it in. There is no “Okay, I’m gonna show up and clock in.” They both are lifelong committed to music and exploring music not just being performers.