Alabama Shakes were one of 2012's biggest rookie sensations in the world of rock music. On the strength of their full-length debut, Boys & Girls
, they established themselves as confident purveyors of stripped-down rock 'n' roll that embraced soul and blues. Led by lead singer Brittany Howard's powerful, impassioned vocals, Alabama Shakes draw comparisons to groups like the White Stripes
and the Black Keys
who pledge allegiance to old-school rock.
The band formed in Athens, Alabama, initially as a trio consisting of Howard, bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson. Howard and Cockrell went to high school together, while Johnson was an employee at a local music store. Later, guitarist Heath Fogg (who was older but had also attended the same high school as Howard and Cockrell) joined the group after hearing a demo that the band had put together. The group originally called themselves the Shakes, but because there were other bands at the time with that name, they switched it to Alabama Shakes. In 2011, they recorded an EP, simply called Alabama Shakes
, which contained only four songs, but it brought them to the attention of ATO (the label formed by Dave Matthews
), resulting in a record deal.
'Boys & Girls':
The four tracks on that 2011 EP formed the backbone of what would be Boys & Girls
, their full-length debut. One of those songs, "Hold On," became a hit on rock radio, its perfect distillation of no-fuss soul and garage-rock immediately signaling that this was a quartet enamored with the grimy roadhouse spirit of yesteryear. And the exclamation mark was Howard's singing, full of grit and feeling, which was even more impressive considering she was only in her early 20s. But despite her youth, she delivered one heartfelt, gut-wrenching performance after another, detailing her romantic woes with a candor that never slipped into whininess or martyrdom. The album as a whole sometimes felt a little too derivative, but that didn't keep the band from receiving two Grammy nominations
: Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance (for "Hold On"). And in early 2013, they made their first appearance on Saturday Night Live
, capping an impressive year for this promising new group.
Zac Cockrell – bass
Heath Fogg – guitar
Brittany Howard – vocals, guitar
Steve Johnson – drums
Boys & Girls
Alabama Shakes Quotes:
Steve Johnson on the band's early days, when they made a living playing cover songs.
"[We played] a bunch of Led Zeppelin, some Creedence, some Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, AC/DC. If they didn't recognize what it was you were playing, they didn't have much use for you." (Austin360.com, February 8, 2012)
Brittany Howard on her need to sing songs about sad things.
"I think what's wrong with too many people is they're too reserved. ... They're miserable but they don't want to talk about it. The biggest lie in the world is in answer to the question, 'How are you?' People usually say, 'I'm fine,' but that's mostly bull." (Chicago Tribune, March 7, 2012)
Steve Johnson on how the band members' divergent musical tastes formed Alabama Shakes.
"It was kind of unique that we could all find a common ground together, given that we all had different tastes in music. There was a lot of similarities, but differences, as well. So there was a lot of compromise when it came to songwriting or choosing covers. That's how you get, you know, the variety from Black Sabbath to Sam & Dave." (NPR, April 11, 2012)