The past 18 months have seen Alabama Shakes go from unknowns to some of the fastest rising stars in indie rock—though their sound leans towards the genre, it can be debated that the Athens, Ala. natives are really a fusion of the aforementioned, along with some Southern rock, soul, rockabilly and punk. Known for their effusive live shows, the band is looking forward to converting new fans at Lollapalooza this upcoming weekend, proving why they’ve been one of the biggest success stories of 2012. We recently caught up with guitarist Heath Fogg to chat about the band’s first EP, their live show and if the band has any new songs ready to go.
What made you decide on the four songs from the EP as opposed to some of the others you had ready?
Those were four songs we were really proud of and hit four corners of what we do. We didn’t want to put out four soul songs or four rock songs. So we figured we’d put out a little of everything and see what happens. I was shocked people liked “Hold On” because we liked it and it was catchy and you could sing-along to it, but the fuzz-out part at the end and things like that showed that we didn’t want to be some retro soul band like Sharon Jones or something like that. But I know people really latched onto that quick and called it retro soul, which we didn’t feel like it was at all.
What did you see it as?
It was soulful for sure. I can’t deny that. To me, I don’t like genres, which I know is a bit cliché, but I always feel cheesy when I try to label something. But it’s an indie rock song or something like that. It’s not really trying to be some retro soul thing or a pop song. It’s just a song with a groove. People enjoy when we play it live and we enjoyed recording it.
The band is known for its explosive live shows. What is it about Brittney (singer Brittney Howard) that makes her so relatable for fans?
Brittney is an entertainer. Whatever she does, she’s going to pour everything into it. That’s what she does at the shows and people respond to that. People see her and she’s a normal girl. She’s not trying to be some sort of fashionista or diva or whatever you want to call it. She’s not trying to be what American Idol makes a pop singer to be or on US Weekly. Girls see that and they relate and she’s a hero to girls and women because she’s normal and doing what a lot of people aspire to do.
Why do you think the crowd feeds off her?
What she does live is a really important dynamic. We like to build up our set so Brittney can knock it down. Our sets are dynamic only because we like to build it up and drop it down for the slow songs and each time that climax is getting bigger and we keep building it up. There’s a tension there for the whole set. The way she can push a song or a part over the edge with her presence can really captivate a crowd and that’s really important for our live show.
I know Alabama Shakes just released your debut, but does the band have any new material?
There are three new ones we’ve been playing live. After we finish up the tour next year, we’re planning on heading back into the studio to write and record some more. That’s what keeps this band going. We have an idea of those and then there’s four that didn’t make it on the record that we play live as well. I’m really excited about the new ones, which are starting to see the light of day.
Having busted out of nowhere to where you are now in such a short period, would you have expected that to happen when the band started getting going?
We couldn’t have predicted or imagined this. We had goals for sure, but they were on a lot smaller of a scale. For us, to open for Jack White was a dream that was almost unreachable. When we finished recording, we were hoping to get Third Man Records a demo somehow to see if they’d be interested in putting out a seven-inch or something. But that happened and we exceeded that. A lot of goals we had, I guess we didn’t expect to reach since it’s really rare. I think it’s because so much happened so fast that it didn’t feel like it.
Since the release of his Bright Lights EP, Gary Clark Jr. has established himself as one of the best talents to emerge from his native Austin. With a fuzzy guitar sound that oozes with emotion and a smooth voice, his mix of rock, psychedelic, blues and soul has won him legions of fans. Performing alongside musicians like Eric Clapton shows how much respect and acclaim the singer/guitarist has received in a short period of time. Ahead of his upcoming set at Lollapalooza, we caught up with Clark Jr., who is putting the finishing touches on his eagerly anticipated album.
What’s going on with the new album? Everyone was singing your praises on the EP, are things slated to be similar or are you mixing things up on the full-length?
It’s going to have a little something on it for everyone. There may be a little overlap with some of the tracks, but definitely more variety coming out.
What was the recording process like? Are there any kinks still to be ironed out?
It was a new experience working with Mike Elizondo at Can Am Recorders. We’re still working out some of the mixing for the album. Just taking a little time to get things right.
It’s tough to just pinpoint things specifically because it’s been non-stop. Every stop along the way has been a learning experience and evolution for me as a musician and person. Gotta keep growing.
As a festival veteran at this point, what’s been some of the highlights from playing these events?
A veteran, huh? I don’t know about that, but I feel like we’re just getting started. Overall, I’d say the crowd reaction and love we keep receiving at each stop along the way. It’s a give and take experience and we’ve just appreciated each moment as it comes along the way.
What’s been the coolest thing to happen on-stage so far? Is it the crowd spilling out of the tent at Coachella or performing with one of your heroes on-stage?
Again, very tough to pick just one because each moment has its own unique qualities to it. Coachella was definitely crazy with people spilling out of the tent. Nothing really tops seeing the genuine appreciation in people’s eyes and letting us know how grateful they are to be with us on a given night. Whether it’s in Sioux City, Iowa or San Sebastian, Spain, we’re equally grateful just to be present with folks.
What’s been you favorite festival, at least so far?
I can’t pick just one. They’ve all been and so have the folks there with us. The two that stand out at this moment are Jazzaldia in Spain and Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Ala. Both festivals were right on the beach, next to the ocean.
Check out our full Lollapalooza archive:
- Q&A: Heath Fogg of Alabama Shakes on Success, Explosive Live Shows and That “Retro Soul” Label
- Q&A: Little Dragon’s Erik Bodin Talks Ping Pong With Damon Albarn and PLUR
- Q&A: Gary Clark Jr. Feels Like He’s Just Getting Started
- Lollapalooza Live Webcast Info
- Five Most Outrageous Moments in Lollapalooza History
- Five Tips on How to Survive Lollapalooza Weekend