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Shaking All Over
As they prep for an Electric Picnic headline slot Alabama Shakes talk life, death and being the year's biggest buzz band.
Ed Power, 28 Aug 2012
“We come from a small town where you have to find things to do ‘cos there’s not a lot going on,” explains Howard. “That’s how people get into music. It’s a hobby. The only hobby.”
Hometown is Athens, Alabama (not to be confused with R.E.M.’s stomping ground, across the state line in Georgia). With a population of 22,000 and a church on every block, it’s a place for which the handle ‘god fearing’ could have been minted.
“I guess it’s a nice place,” says Brittany. “Everyone there is certainly pretty decent. The question, I suppose is, are they good ‘cos they want to be good or because God told ‘em to act that way? I’ve never been able to work it out.”
“Everything that’s happened since, it’s kind of wild,” chips in Cockrell, a smiling, bearded chap who, though absolutely sober this afternoon, emits an air of stoned insouciance. “You get used to it. Then you stand back and think ‘Wow, this is actually kinda crazy!’”
On its release in May, their debut album Boys & Girls – the one they took forever finishing – roared to the top of the international charts (it hit number five here, number three in America and number two in Britain). Slap it on and you’ll understand immediately why audiences have found the group’s soulful brew so enchanting: Howard & Co. are rough-hewn at the edges but with a sound custom crafted for dinner parties and coffee table chillaxing. If you’re still puzzled why Norah Jones had to go all kooky and edgy and are awaiting Duffy’s return, you’ll go wobbly at the knees for Howard’s bluesy ululations and slick key-changes.
Their big break arrived eight months before the LP saw daylight. In September, having only lately changed their name from ‘The Shakes’, the quartet were invited to perform at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon. The event has previously ushered into the spotlight such glittering prospects as Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells. Alabama Shakes, however, were largely unaware of its vaulted history. So far as they were concerned, it was just some New York festival they’d been booked to play.