Published Apr 09, 2012Although their debut album, Boys & Girls, doesn't officially drop until tomorrow (April 10), Alabama Shakes are already one of the most highly touted new bands of 2012. In part it's because the Athens, AL quartet play the kind of garage-rock soul that's been taking over the airwaves in the wake of the Black Keys' success, but mainly it's due to the undeniable talents of lead vocalist/guitarist Brittany Howard.
A bona fide belter in the classic Southern soul style, Howard's unbridled live performances have recently drawn wide praise from current stars like Adele and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon to legends such as Robert Plant, David Byrne and Booker T. Jones. It's all placed Alabama Shakes in a bit of a whirlwind, but as drummer Steve Johnson tells Exclaim!, the small-town bond they share is keeping them grounded.
"We have all adjusted well to the fast-paced lifestyle," Johnson says. "I try and treat it like any other job when were on the road; wake up early, get a good meal in, go play a show, then head to the hotel and get a good night's sleep. I think we all enjoy the opportunity to see new places and try new foods, but it's still nice to have a home to come home to."
Alabama Shakes only formed in 2009 when all of the members were in their late teens, playing mainly classic rock covers. However, Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood saw their potential when the Shakes opened for his band, and immediately invited them to serve as openers for the remaining tour dates. But the hype really kicked in following a self-titled indie EP released in September 2011, which quickly led Alabama Shakes to sign with ATO Records/MapleMusic in North America, and Rough Trade Records in the UK. Jack White's Third Man Records has also released a live seven-inch featuring the tracks "Be Mine" and "You Ain't Alone."
The band's performance on Conan in February cemented their national profile, although Johnson explains that they are trying to play down expectations, especially from those who view Alabama Shakes as the latest band to recharge the R&B genre.
"I don't think we concern ourselves with carrying a torch, so to speak," he says. "Our main goal has always been to write good songs, but with the vintage sound that one may have heard coming out of a studio like Fame in Muscle Shoals (Alabama), played by the guys in the Muscle Shoals rhythm section."
Boys & Girls indeed captures that timeless vibe, and there is nothing to suggest that music fans of all stripes won't fall completely in love with Howard's raw abilities, something that Johnson believes is just part of the culture in which they grew up.
"I can't speak for everyone but I was definitely raised in church," he says. "I think the strongest comparison between our music and gospel is the emotion felt behind the music and the uplifting sense you get from hearing it."