Formerly known as “The Shakes”, Alabama Shakes added the name of their home state to their title to differentiate themselves from the various other bands sharing a similar name; however, their sound has always set them apart altogether. Featuring the ferocious crooning of leading lady Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes offer a blues-infused throwback to southern rock that has long been missing from the mainstream music scene.
LYFSTYL’s Editor (Mwinyi Topping) had a chance to sit down with the drummer of the group (Steve Johnson) for a quick interview at the Field Trip Music Festival.
Sound & Colour is full of genre-bending songs. How would you describe your music to someone that has not heard of Alabama Shakes?
Awe man. Kind of like a real chill dream maybe. With a few scary moments.
Did you feel a lot of pressure to deliver after your debut album ‘Boys & Girls’?
Not really. That can linger in the back of your mind; but, it wasn’t so much of a distraction that it affected us in the studio. We would get in there and get frustrated or discouraged sometimes because you might hear something in your head – like the way a beat should go – but you can’t do it. So you get frustrated, but then you go home, digest it; and come back the next day and hit it again. There was a lot of self pressure too. We wanted to impress our other band members; we wanted to do good ourselves; so it was more so putting pressure on yourself. That’s determination.
I read that Sound & Colour is the record that you guys actually wanted to make could you expand on this?
Definitely. It’s like we didn’t want to make something blatantly the same as Boys & Girls. We wanted familiarity; but we also wanted to take it a step further. There was tons of stuff that we didn’t get to try on Boys & Girls either a) we didn’t have the gear, b) we didn’t have the money. So with this album we invested in good gear, studio time, etc.; by having that luxury we were able to benefit in all those cases – especially with different sounds.
Where you all on the same page in terms of where you wanted to go with a more expansive sound or did it just come naturally?
For the most part it came naturally. I think everybody was heavily influenced at the time by whatever it was that they were into. When we all got together we would work on some songs and we sort of had a direction on where we wanted to go. Britney had some demos and ideas on where she wanted to go. So it would turn into a jam sesh – after that we would go into the control room and listen to it to find what worked and what didn’t and make tweaks. So we kind of just started building from there.
Blake Mills co-produced S&C, what did he bring to the group that wasn’t already there?
I would say he brought vibe, energy, moral and motivation. All those things are needed. When we got frustrated, he would be the voice that would come through and be like “NO you’re so close! Just one more time and I swear we will have it.” That kind of stuff. Other than been a great motivator, Blake has a good ear – he can play every instrument with good feel. There was another dude Shawn, who was our engineer, he also had great energy.
After touring so much for your last album, did you give yourself a grace period to just chill for a while and not stress out about the next thing?
Umm. We don’t really get those. We try to make time for it – we were home a couple weeks ago. I had a wedding and got married actually. I also got to go floating down the river, so that’s a way to decompress; but we only like had a week. This year we’ve already been to Australia, England, Germany, Europe twice actually. Already been to both sides of the states and we have to do it all over again.
Where were your favourite places?
I really like Ireland, Seattle, Texas, Japan everywhere really.
Tell us a little bit about how you joined the band?
Britney and Zach are both two or three years younger than I am; I was maybe a senior in high school or a freshmen in college and I worked at this instrument store. Heath came in one day and needed to rent a PA system for a house party. Later that day Britney came in and invited me to the party. So I went to the party, got a chance to meet everyone, and that was pretty much it.
Do you guys all still live in Alabama? And what’s life back in Alabama like now that you’re a major recording artist?
Zac and I still live in the same town. Britney’s house is a about 30 mins outside of town and Heath’s is in a bigger town. *laughs* Life’s a little bit different; but not drastically. I’ve got a beard and long hair now so they don’t recognize me. Most of the people who recognize me just let me do my thing. It’s a small town.
How often do you get to play back home in Alabama?
We actually have a show coming up at the end of this year. We get ragged by people their like “Why don’t you play in Alabama more? You’re called the Alabama Shakes!” *Laughs* I don’t know, I don’t do the bookings – I play the drums.
Are you guys already working on a new album?
There’s some material that didn’t go on this record which I think we will revisit. Because some are really good songs, they just didn’t have the energy or the life – they could have been more pumped up. Right now they’re really chill. Almost too chill. I’m sure Britney has ideas floating around. I don’t how much of the leftover material would be used when we’re ready to make a new album because usually we just start fresh from the ground up.
Is it hard to let go of a song?
It is. There was one that I put a lot of work into on the last session and I really wanted it to go on the record but they were like no. I was like, “but it has a place” (sad voice) – lol.
*See the band in action below: