FOR TEN YEARS, NATIVE STEVE ADAMS HAS
been a stalwart anchor at the bottom of the San Francisco
Bay Area’s thriving jam scene. Adams’ main band, ALO,
sells out ballrooms near and far, and the understated,
fingerstyle P-Bass devotee with impeccable instincts is
always in demand for sideman and session dates. On
ALO’s fourth album for Jack Johnson’s Brushfire label,
Adams and his bandmates made a concerted effort to
craft solid songs bristling with the democratically creative
foursome’s feel-good forays of upbeat improvisation.
How does ALO usually start up and develop a jam?
One thing we do is take turns starting a jam, and then
just let ideas unravel in whatever order. Each of us has
the opportunity to change the harmony or the rhythm.
We try our best to support each other’s inspired moves
and give them time to develop. We may ditch everything,
but some ideas may lead to keeper parts. The ultimate
goal is to find parts we personally love, but which still fit
with the rest. Once we’ve got something collectively cool,
we go back, dissect, and pick out the core ideas. Sometimes
certain moments of the jams might even suggest
other avenues of pursuit.
We also experiment with styles and feels. The propulsive,
syncopated bass line I play on “Speed of Dreams” came
about while jamming on the changes in a ska feel during
pre-production. The song ended up having a more poprock
feel, but the ska-like bass line stuck.
What’s one song on the new album that started
from pure spontaneity?
“Falling Dominoes” was born in the studio when
we were having fun messing around with that groove.
Zach [Gill, keyboardist/singer] threw out some vocal
ideas, and we were unknowingly halfway there. Since it
wasn’t planned, we sort of forgot about it. But like a lot
of organized bass players, I also play the role of archivist.
I encouraged the band to revisit the jam and develop
it into a song. Musically, all it needed was a little bridge
modulation to reset the main groove and it was good.
Do you create charts to help with arrangements?
Sometimes. Creating a chart can help you zoom out
and see the bigger picture. We’re all traditionally schooled,
but any band can develop its own song language. Creating
a song arrangement is like designing a building. You
want it to be unique, but it also needs to function. You
need to be able to find the kitchen and the bathroom! A
song needs those familiar elements, but it also needs the
mystery and magic of something new.
ALO, Sounds Like This
[Brushfire, 2012]; Nicki
[Little Sur, 2011]
Basses ’74 Fender
Precision Bass with
Leo Quan Badass
II bridge, Squier
Vintage Modifi ed
Precicion Bass, Martin
BC-15E acoustic bass
Rig Mesa Engineering
M3 Carbine with
4x10 cabinet, Mesa
Strings D’Addario Half