Interview: The Alabama Shakes

photo by David A. Smith

A year ago, The Alabama Shakes were called, simply, The Shakes. They didn’t have a website or any songs uploaded onto the Internet, and were playing where they could around their home state. A few performances caught the ears of the right people, and as the year progressed the band found themselves recording an EP, touring with the Drive-By Truckers, and giving a coming-out performance at the CMJ Festival in New York. It’s been a meteoric rise to say the least, and their success isn’t the result of anything but the soul-piercing power of their music alone. Led by the scorching wail of frontwoman Brittany Howard, their down-home brand of soulful rock and roll has drawn comparisons to pioneers like Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, while still exhibiting a modern, grating garage quality. They will be releasing their debut full-length, Boys & Girls, on ATO on April 10, and are currently on a headlining tour that includes a (sold-out) stop at The Crocodile in Seattle tomorrow! Though humble about their success, I was able to catch up with them via e-mail to ask a few questions about the past year, some of their influences, and Scandinavian black metal.

If I was sitting you down for a job interview one year ago from today and asked where do you see yourselves in five years, what would you have said?

In a van chilling with my friends listening to Norwegian death metal.

Just like every kid in Alabama, right?

Actually not really. We like to listen to all kinds of stuff when we are on tour.

What has the experience been like since playing in a record store’s back yard on Record Store Day last year – with no website and no songs on the Internet – to opening for the Drive-By Truckers a few months later, to now having an EP out, a full-length album due in April, appearing on MTV and in NME, playing sold-out shows around the country, and even selling out three consecutive dates in London next month.

We are just excited to be doing what we love. Playing music for people. And of course, finishing the album and being able to put it out to the world.

I couldn’t imagine a better band to get your touring chops down with than the Drive-By Truckers. What did you learn from Patterson Hood and company about what it takes to make it on the road?

They are great folks and we appreciate all the support they’ve given us.

What kind of music do you guys listen to? Do you mostly look to older soul and classic rock for inspiration? Are there any modern-day bands you consider influences?

We love all types of music. There are a lot of modern bands we love and listen to. Drive-by Truckers, My Morning Jacket, Daft Punk, Fly Golden Eagle and our new favs Silencer.

Silencer, eh? You weren’t kidding about the Scandinavian death metal. You guys do have a history of thrashing in some punk bands, though, right?

We all have different backgrounds but a few of us definitely played in punk bands when we were younger.

Soul music has been huge in Seattle lately. Your show at The Crocodile on January 31 has been sold out for weeks. You do realize how much this city is going to love you, right?

We are very excited to make our first visit to Seattle.

Any chance of us hearing a black metal cover?

Always a chance. Maybe we’ll write one.

The Alabama Shakes will be playing at The Crocodile in Seattle on Tuesday, January 31, although like several other dates on their current tour, it is sold out. Fortunately they do have music uploaded to the Internet now – you can listen to their four-song EP right here.

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