UC Santa Barbara Alumni is proud to present UCSB alumnus Zach Gill, of the popular Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO) and Jack Johnson bands (whose members are all fellow UCSB alumni), onstage during the All Gaucho Reunion’s Keynote event, Wasting Time: The Music at the Heart of Isla Vista on Friday, April 28th, 8:00-10:00 p.m. at UC Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall.
Zach Gill’s first concert was Kenny Rogers. “I fell in love with the song The Gambler,” he remembers. “It told a story.” It’s stories told in lyrics and sound that define Gill’s musical resume starting out with the Animal Liberation Orchestra he formed in 1998 with a group of long-time friends and college classmates at UCSB, and later playing piano in the Jack Johnson band.
Childhood friends Dan Lebowitz, Zach Gill and Steve Adams formed their first band in junior high with drummer Matt West, but Gill’s musical roots run deep. He comes from a musical family. “My dad and grandma and mom played music,” says Gill. His dad played guitar, his mom sang and played piano and his grandmother was a church organist for 50 years. Gill started taking piano lessons as a kid and also started singing at the same time. It’s exactly this upbringing that helped shaped Gill’s role in ALO (he still tours with the group) as well as on other musical projects. When asked what instruments he plays, Gill quips, “I basically play anything with a keyboard.” He’s dabbled in guitar and some percussion instruments as well as ukulele. “If it’s in front of me I’ll try to make some noise out of it.”
His major musical influences besides Kenny Rogers are run the gamut. He enjoys Billy Joel and the Grateful Dead. He even went to see Huey Lewis growing up. But while in college, Gill fell in love with jazz. Before the ALO was just the ALO, it was called the Animal Liberation Orchestra & The Free Range Horns featuring a nine-piece horn section led by then UCSB Jazz Band director, Jon Nathan, on drums. The group even performed with UCSB’s Gospel Choir. After college, the band moved to the Bay Area, but now they all live in separate cities around the U.S. “We all have a version of a home recording studio,” says Gill. They sometimes send tracks back and forth if they all can’t get together physically to record. Right now, Gill is working on an album that’s incorporating a lot of different musicians so he’s been sending tracks back and forth to musicians in other cities as part of the recording process.
Originally from Saratoga, CA, Gill now calls Santa Barbara home. When asked why he chose to go to UCSB, he says deadpan, “Well, I got in.” In all seriousness, he visited the school with his childhood pals Lebowitz and Adams and they all decided to apply. By some miracle they were all accepted. Lebowitz and Adams eventually majored in music and Gill studied history.
In the 1990s, when Gill and crew were attending UCSB, the music scene in Isla Vista was vibrant if not a bit chaotic. There were jazz bands and punk bands setting up in garages and playing impromptu concerts. “It was amazing to be able to just set up in the garage or on the deck and people would just show up,” says Gill. He credits these flash concerts with sharpening the band’s teeth and helping them learn what audiences liked. “When you’re first starting out, it’s hard to get people to listen to you.”
“Isla Vista has been and always will be a special place for musicians. Where else do you have live music being played in multiple houses on each block? It provides the opportunity for total strangers to bond over a shared experience and builds a strong community one concert at a time.” —Zach Gill
There were ample opportunities to play house parties then. At the time, there weren’t a lot of DJs spinning records. If someone threw a house party in Isla Vista in the 90s they most likely had a live band. When Gill and friends first moved onto campus, they lived in the dorms and quickly figured out which places were the best houses to play parties. Del Playa was their favorite, but they soon started moving around to other houses on campus and playing to bigger and bigger audiences.
Gill’s music has been featured in several films including “An Arctic Tale,” “Curious George,” and “Baby Mama,” and he has performed on Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman. Gill performed at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2008. He has collaborated with fellow musicians Aimee Mann and Jerry Harrison (of the Talking Heads).
Right now, Gill is enjoying some much-needed time off from touring. He’ll be gearing up for the Jack Johnson tour this summer and some ALO dates coming up.