Originating in Athens, Alabama in 2009, Alabama Shakes was initially conceived by high school classmates singer-guitarist Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell. Soon the two joined forces with drummer Steve Johnson, guitarist Heath Fogg and keyboardist Ben Tanner, and earnestly began crafting their unique brand of gospel and blues-tinged garage rock.
“I don’t pay attention to what is popular at the moment, but I do think there is a yearning for something real after years of more processed music,” says Howard. “Our sound is influenced by so many different artists as we all listen to such a wide array of music it would probably shock you. I think that is what I like best about our band. But there is a common ground of bands with real energy and soul that have helped us sculpt our sound. You know, bands [and] artists like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Otis Redding, Drive-By Truckers, Charles Bradley, Tina Turner, and many, many others.”
Hurtling from relative obscurity to being nominated for three Grammy Awards for their 2013 debut full-length release Boys & Girls has been both rewarding and disruptive for the tight-knit quintet. Not surprisingly the comfort and support they receive from their hometown crowd still grounds Alabama Shakes and keeps them connected to their roots.
“My favourite venue is a place called Egans in Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” says Howard. “It’s a hole in the wall bar, but it’s the best because everyone there just wants to have a good time. It’s tiny, sweaty, and dark, and one of the first places we ever played. Unfortunately, we don’t get to play places like that anymore, but last November we did a secret show at Egans under a different name! It was so fun... we may have to do that again.”
For Howard and company, wistful memories of days gone by are counter-balanced by the anticipation of adventures yet to come. Acutely aware of the dangers inherent in acquiring fame and fortune in rapid succession, Alabama Shakes is in no rush when it comes to pushing out their next album. Instead, the band that merges Janis Joplin’s crashing urgency with Otis Redding’s easy wisdom is prepared to shake up this summer’s festival circuit and give folk music fans a reason to hang loose.
“We just try and have fun, we give it our all, and when the audience gives it back to us then things really get going and can create this whole circular energy vibe. “We are a rock ’n’ roll band, but are honoured to be embraced in any scene that appreciates what we are doing. We tend to bring a lot emotion and electricity to the live show. If you give us some love we will return it and we promise a good time where you can forget about your worries for a short while.”
by Christine Leonard
Originally published July 25, 2013 in Fast Forward Magazine