The Athens, AL-based Alabama Shakes have become one of the bands to watch for 2012. Numerous performances have shaped their blossoming career such as a stint on Conan and a string of critically acclaimed shows at South by Southwest. Their debut album, Boys & Girls, dropped April 10th. Among their next big gigs: Bonaroo Music Festival in June, and the Birmingham Weekly will be giving a limited number of tickets away at www.bhamweekly.com Chris K. Davidson for Birmingham Weekly: From what I can tell from the bio, you got involved with the band after they started playing together. You had gotten a copy of their demo. What was your reaction to those first couple of songs and why did you decide you wanted to be a part of the band?
Heath Fogg: I knew they had some really good songs. They’re the type of music that I love, the type of music I wanted to see people playing. Only they weren’t really out playing anywhere. I was in a band that was playing a little bit. I figured that we had an opportunity to help them out. I didn’t really expect to join the band. I heard the demo and asked them to open for the band I was playing in at the time. That was just to try and
help out some guys playing some really good music that needed to get out there. They asked me to help out on guitar and I tried to talk them out of it. I thought that Brittany [Howard, lead vocalist and guitarist] was a good enough guitar player that they didn’t need a second guitar. For that first live show, I helped out on a few songs. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I went and practiced with them and we started writing songs together. It’s a blessing to be a part of that. This is the type of band I’ve wanted to be in for a long time. They just had good songs. It was just good rock ‘n’ roll music. They had only two songs on the demos and it was really heavily influenced by Chuck Berry and I was just drawn to that.
BW: I listened to Boys and Girls and I really liked it. There’s something instantly familiar about it, yet distinctly innovative at the same time. Was that the vibe you guys were going or did that just happen naturally?
HF: It’s definitely something we were going for. We’re all big fans of classic R & B music, not just the songs themselves, but the actual production of them. Sonically that’s the type of music that we really love. For us, it was a goal to search for those sounds and tones that we wanted. It took a while. We went through two other engineers before settled on the one that we recorded the album with. That’s the fun part of it. We don’t limit ourselves to that, but it’s searching for sounds that we love. We love Simon and Garfunkel as much as we love Otis Redding. It’s fun playing songs like that, but also doing the kind of songs that My Morning Jacket would do and Otis Redding would do and still have those tones. When people say that they think we’re retro-soul or soul revival, we try to avoid that because we’re not as true to that as some artists are. It is something we feel strongly about and love very much.
BW: How did the name come about? HF: We were the Shakes for the longest time before we got any sort of attention. That was just for the first show. We needed the most cliche rock ‘n’ roll name we could think of. And it just stuck. We always talked about changing the name. We had all kinds of names thrown out there. We decided just to call it Alabama Shakes. It didn’t have to mean anything. It was just fun and simple.
BW: How does the songwriting process look for the band? Is it very collaborative or does it focus on just one person’s writing?
HF: For the most part, it’s collaborative. It’s different from song to song. Brittany writes a lot of lyrics. Not all of the lyrics she wrote, but it helps to let her take over the majority of the lyrics. But melodies and things like that is a group effort. Everyone gets a say and everybody votes. I think, in some cases, the strongest part of the band is how we can be democratic like that. We work well like that and everybody’s good about getting out of the way of their own song that they wrote or their own riff. It’s always a group effort.
BW: What was it like being on Conan? Did you get to talk to him much?
HF: Not really. We played the first song and went straight into the second song for the online deal. We didn’t see him backstage or anything, but he seemed like a pretty cool guy. He’s a musician, so he talked to me and Zac about our guitars. But the whole thing was surreal. That’s the most nervous I’ve ever been for any sort of show or performance. It all happened so fast. Everybody’s probably experienced that at some point.
BW: What have been some of your favorite moments since you guys started gaining buzz? I read on the bio that the Aquarium Drunkard blog was the main thing that propelled you guys.
HF: That was the catalyst. That’s what got us attention on a national level that led to us getting management through that. Little things that were really rewarding on a personal level... one instance that will always stick in my mind was New Year’s, we played at the 9:30 Club with the Drive-By Truckers. We opened for them and Booker T. was there and he was going to play with the Truckers. He came out and played three songs with us during our set. Every aspect of that made it a very special night, one of the most special nights that we’ve ever had as a band.
To win or buy discounted tickets to the Bonaroo Music Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, go to www. bhamweekly.com.