Sweet Home Alabama
Three Grammy nominations and a sophomore album that debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, Alabama Shakes is coming home.
The rock band, which was formed in Athens, AL in 2009, and is comprised of lead singer Brittany Howard, keyboard player Ben Tanner, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson, will be playing at The Amphitheater at The Wharf in Orange Beach Aug. 22. After being on tour all summer promoting their new album, “Sound & Color,” Howard is looking forward to being back in Alabama.
“We are beyond excited,” Howard said. “Not only will it be the end of a long run, but it has been a while since we have played in Alabama and we can’t wait. A lot of our families and friends are coming down for the show, and I know it will be an unforgettable one.”
Since the single ‘Hold On’ took off from their first album, “Boys & Girls,” Alabama Shakes have played around the world and become known for their power-house live performances and rich and varied sound. However, before they were world-famous, the Shakes got their start playing all over the South.
“The South is definitely home and always will be. We all still live in Alabama and try to spend as much time as possible there,” Howard said. The band’s inspirations aren’t pinned down to just one region—or even one country. “There is definitely music from the South that has influenced us, but there is also music from the North, the West, Europe and many other places that has influenced us as well. I can say that the Drive-By Truckers, who are playing with us, have been a big influence on us in many ways.”
Howard herself is a vivacious and soulful performer, who is powerful and quirky. She is a representation of the band as a whole—authentic and grounded, yet undeniably revelatory. Vocally, Howard has the kind of range that artists dream about and the presence to carry it, which audiences never fail to connect with.
“When the fans are giving us the right energy, we like to give it back and everything goes to the next level,” she said. “I remember a few years ago when we played in South America and the crowds were absolutely incredible. It was a lot of fun to feed off of their energy.”
The Shakes are also notorious for resisting definition in terms of genre.
Their sound is diverse, encompassing everything from Southern and classic rock to punk, funk and soul. Their enigmatic reputation is something that Howard suggests they enjoy and even promote.
“We try not to overthink it and usually just say we are rock ’n’ roll band,” she said. “I think we all like not being able to be classified. The bands we all love have evolved and grown and ventured into new territories.”
“Sound & Color” is definitely new territory for the Shakes, especially since this is the first album they have produced with a label’s backing.
“We have all grown a lot as artists, musicians and writers. I think the biggest difference (between “Boys & Girls” and “Sound & Color”) was time and resources. We finally had the opportunity to really get into the small things this time and work out different ideas until they were exactly how we envisioned them. With “Boys & Girls,” we recorded over a handful of one-day sessions in the studio as we couldn’t afford much more. With “Sound & Color,” we were able to go in for a few more weeks at a time and really get into it. We had the time to look at things differently and push ourselves to try new things. It was a dream situation.”
While they weren’t producing this album on their own dime this time around, they didn’t let up in terms of dedication.
“We really pushed ourselves to get the record exactly how we wanted it and didn’t settle for OK,” Howard said. “We had high expectations for ourselves and at times it was tough, but everyone really pushed each other to be their best. There were a few different songs that when we were done, we looked at each other and said, ‘We have something special here.’”
Special, to say the least. From the insane falsetto of ‘Future People,’ to alternative tracks like ‘Shoegaze,’ to love songs like ‘Miss You,’ “Sound & Color” is a testament to the Shakes ability to create music that truly rocks the listener, both physically and emotionally.
Although it’s hard to say exactly what they are (and they like it that way) Alabama Shakes undeniably knows how to groove.
WHAT: Alabama Shakes with Drive-By Truckers
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 22
WHERE: The Amphitheater at The Wharf, Orange Beach, Ala.
COST: $29.50-$50 (plus fees)
DETAILS: amphitheateratthewharf.com; ticketmaster.com or alabamashakes.com