All bands are anxious for the world to hear their latest record. But for Alabama Shakes, April 10, the release date for their much-anticipated debut, Boys & Girls, couldn't have come fast enough.
FOR THE SHAKES, POPULARITY A SURPRISE
"Finally," says a somewhat exasperated Brittany Howard, the band's front-woman and guitarist. "We've been wanting this record out since last year."
The band's star has been on a steady incline since influential music blog Aquarium Drunkard posted their track "You Ain't Alone" last July, back when they were still operating as just the Shakes.
"I didn't have any inkling as to how popular it was," admits Howard. "I don't read blogs."
NOTE: See Alabama Shakes at the KINK At The Waterfront concert on Sunday, May 27th. Details.
EARLY CONVERTS HELP LAND THE BAND A DEAL
A tour with the Drive-By Truckers, whose singer and guitarist Patterson Hood was an early convert, helped ignite a label bidding war that eventually landed the Athens, Alabama quartet deals with ATO and Rough Trade. But even feted performances at CMJ and SXSW haven't fazed the group in the same way the music press's pigeonholing of their sound has.
"There's a lot of reviews and everything and we didn't even have the album out," say drummer Steve Johnson. "We were pinpointed as retro-soul and everybody was categorizing us and we didn't have but a four-song EP."
Their frustration is understandable. Even that original post, written by Aquarium Drunkard head Justin Gage, referred to the band as a "blues-based soul group," and featured a picture from a "Halloween in spring" gig where Howard was dressed up as Aunt Jemima.
"There's no telling what kind of band this guy thought we were," says Howard, laughing.
MORE GOING ON THAN OTIS AND ARETHA
There's no doubt there's a distinctly '70s vibe to their music, and soul is certainly a strong influence, particularly on Howard's voice and often dark, confessional lyrics.
"Its got some darkness in it. We are people," she says matter-of-factly. "That's where you can get it all out and leave it."
But there's far more going on in tracks like "Hold On" and "Hang Loose" than just Otis and Aretha.
"Now that the albums' out I think they're getting a bigger picture," Johnson says. "We're not just influenced by soul music. There's a lot of other influences when you listen to the album."
The group's members already had a pretty rich musical background with Howard and Johnson doing time in Alabama punk bands prior to forming three years ago. And just last year they were still playing marathon four-hour long gigs. Each original tune they managed to slip in cost them about a dozen cover songs, from AC/DC's "Let there Be Rock" to "Express Yourself" by the Charles Wright Band. The money from those gigs was funneled into the self-produced recording sessions that yielded Boys & Girls.
So perhaps its no wonder that in lieu of an album, it's the band's live reputation that carried them this far.
"We were playing over and over again," says Howard. "We played to the worst crowds, we played to the best crowds. We've done all of that. All the bad things and good things, we've done and been there."
"Everything we're doing now, its nothing different that what we've done in the past," says Johnson. "It's just on a bit bigger scale and it's a lot more frequent."
Where they used to have a month to practice for a show, he says, these days they're playing four or five a week.