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Future looks bright for Alabama Shakes
By Gary Chun / email@example.com
Hang loose, hang loose / Let the ocean worry about being blue / Hang loose, hang loose / Roll with the tide and I’m gonna take care of you / Come with me, sweet darlin’ / I got us each a ticket for the plane / We’re gonna fly to Waikiki, it just be you and me / And we’ll let the sun melt our cares away
— “Hang Loose,” Alabama Shakes
If the song “Hang Loose” is any indication, it was fated that the band Alabama Shakes would play a concert in Hawaii.
The tune from the notable debut album “Boys & Girls” — including the hit single, the testifyin’ “Hold On,” Rolling Stone magazine’s song of 2012 — will surely be performed with a touch more gusto when one of the country’s most exciting new bands begins its monthlong Australia/Japan tour with a leadoff concert in Hawaii tonight.
A true overnight sensation, the quartet — vocalist Brittany Howard, bassist Zac Cockrell, drummer Steve Johnson and guitarist Heath Fogg — who all hail from the small town of Athens, Ala., recorded their first tracks in 2011. The band spent much of a whirlwind 2012 on the road, converting audiences to its warm and soulful rock.
With local openers Tavana and Mana
Where: The Republik, 1349 Kapiolani Blvd.
When: 8 p.m. today
Info: 855-235-2867 or flavorus.com
Much has been made of the band’s revivalist sound that sometimes harks back to say, the ecstatic approach of a giant like Otis Redding, whom Howard absolutely channels on the album track “You Ain’t Alone.”
But Alabama Shakes rocks out as well, and here’s hoping the band will add its gutsy cover of Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” to the set list.
Before the band starts another mainland tour in March, there’s a little thing next month called the Grammys, where the band is up for three awards including best new artist and best rock performance for “Hold On.”
During a short hiatus when the band was unavailable by phone, Howard answered a few emailed questions last week before the band flew west to “hang loose” in the islands for a bit.
Star-Advertiser: The buzz surrounding the band was absolutely crazy last year, culminating in three Grammy nominations. Even though you all have known each other since high school, the band has not been together all that long. Fill me in on your collective backgrounds.
Brittany Howard: The band’s first show was in 2009, so we have been a band for 3 1/2 years or so. Zac and I met in high school and started playing music and writing songs together. We met Steve at a local music store he was working at and started jamming with us. Heath was the guitar player in another band in town.
Heath asked us to open for his band, and we needed another guitar player, so he sat in with us, and the rest is history.
I don’t think any of us have had a lot of musical training. We come from a pretty small town in Alabama, and most of our training came from jamming with friends or other bands we were in.
Q: According to Alabama Shakes’ bio, the massive word-of-mouth began with the band sending “You Ain’t Alone” to Justin Gage, who does the Aquarium Drunkard music blog in Los Angeles. When was that specifically? And was it that incident in particular that made you think that the band might get bigger national exposure?
A: It seems like such a long time ago, but I think it was in July of 2011. At the time we were just like, “Yeah, that’s cool, go ahead and post the song on your site.” We really had no idea what it would lead to. All sorts of music industry types started getting my number and calling and leaving messages.
Our friend Patterson Hood from the Drive-By Truckers was also so instrumental in helping us get off the ground. The Truckers hooked us up with a bunch of opening gigs, and he really helped spread the word about our band.
Q: What was it like putting together the “Boys & Girls” album? Since you had earlier material from some sessions in Nashville, did you have new songs ready to record to flesh out the album, or did you redo songs from those sessions?
A: “Boys & Girls,” in fact, are those recordings from the Nashville session. The vast majority of the record was done by the end of the summer of 2011. We did go back a few more times to tweak a few things and record “Heartbreaker.” (Note: That newer track is a soulful shouter from Howard, set to a waltz tempo. — G.C.)
Q: After all that happened to the band last year, you must be enjoying some downtime before flying out here. Is this time being spent apart from each other, or do you guys still hang as a band? Any time to reflect at all on 2012?
A: We definitely all spent a lot of time with our families and friends, as we have been away from them for most of the year. It was great to recharge. But we did spend some time together rehearsing for the upcoming shows. The holidays were definitely a good time for reflecting on the adventures we’ve had this past year. We were able to do so many things we never dreamed would be possible. We are excited for the future.
Q: What did it feel like when you were able to quit your day job as a USPS mail carrier to do music on a full-time basis?
A: It was great. Honestly, it was a bit nerve wracking initially. We had no idea what to expect. But, I’m getting to tour around the world in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I think I made the right decision.