Over the past 18 months, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group that’s exploded onto the music scene as fast as the Alabama Shakes. Hailing from Athens of their namesake state, the Brittney Howard-fronted outfit has gone from playing small bars to playing some of the biggest festivals in the world. How has this happened? How could a band that was toiling in anonymonity be one of the most buzzed about bands in such a short period of time.
Well, firstly, it’s all about the band’s catchy tunes. Combining elements of southern rock, punk, rockabilly, garage rock and the blues, the band’s brand of music has allowed them to cross over into the indie alt rock scene while retaining their credibility within the Nashville garage scene without losing their street cred. As hot as they are now, it wasn’t always easy for the band.
Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell met in a high school psychology, not exactly a hotbed for musical activity. “I just knew that he played bass and that he wore shirts with cool bands on them that nobody had heard of,” says Howard in the band’s bio.
They started to meet up after school and write songs sitting on Howard’s floor. “It had that rootsy feel, but there was some out-there stuff,” says Cockrell also in the band’s bio. “David Bowie-style things, prog-rock, lots of different stuff. We started to come across our own sound a little bit, though it’s evolved a lot since then.”
Armed with a guitar and bass, Howard and Cockrell sought out the next important thing for a budding rock band was to find a drummer. Steve Johnson fit the bill. Working in a local music store, Howard invited him to a party where, she says, “he met everybody from our side of the tracks.” The three young musicians began working together, further expanding their style and approach. “Steve is kind of a punk-metal drummer,” says Howard, “so we embraced that edge he brings to everything he does.”
The now trio headed into a studio in nearby Decatur to record some of the songs they were working up, and this proto-demo found its way into the hands of Heath Fogg, with whom Howard had been familiar because he had been the lead guitarist in what she describes as “the best band in our high school.” Fogg, who by now had graduated from college, asked them to open a show for his band, which they agreed to do—on the condition that he play with them.
What happened next was that Fogg was so blown away by their energy that he permanently joined the band, which was then known as The Shakes. Knowing that there was another band in the area that shared the name, the band soon became the Alabama Shakes.
After laying down another demo in Mississippi, the band toured throughout their area, gradually building a following before exploding into the psyche of music listeners after an endorsement by the Aquarian Drunkard blog. After this, the band’s profile grew, landed them on a tour with one of their biggest influences, Drive-By Truckers.
Shortly thereafter, the band caught the attention of music fans across the globe and the band was able to land slots on major tours, and the release of their debut album, Boys & Girls, which has been met with acclaim. Not too shabby for a quartet from Athens. Ala., which has only just began its march towards a successful career.
Photo 1 by Pieter M. Van Hattem
Photo 2 by Autumn De Wilde