Interview: Alabama Shakes Get a New Rumble


Simplicity for Alabama Shakes would’ve been putting out an identical twin to the band’s acclaimed alabama-shakes-band2012 debut album, Boys & Girls. After all, it did land the quartet of Brittany Howard (vocals, guitar) Heath Fogg (guitar), Zac Cockrell (bass) and Steve Johnson (drums) three Grammy Nominations, plus performance slots on Saturday Night Live and many hyped festivals across the land.

Instead, more than 1,095 days later, Alabama Shakes has re-emerged with Sound & Color, a tour de force that showcases a pack of friends still appreciating their Southern rock and soul roots, all the while heavily upgrading it with added funk, as well as elements of punk, surf rock and progressive soundscapes. It sounds big and honest. It sounds of a band that really went for it. It sounds like something Neil Young would appreciate.

“No, there wasn’t,” responds Cockrell in an interview with when asked if Alabama Shakes had any desire to play it safe on Sound & Color. “But, there also wasn’t a big concern about trying to make it really different. Some of the songs came out that way, but we approached the album on a song, by song basis and tried to make something we’re happy with. We definitely didn’t want to go in and do something really quick and be done with it.

“There a couple of songs here that could’ve fit on the last record,” he adds, “but our main focus was to show ourselves that we could do whatever we wanted. Okay, there are limits, because we’re not exactly top-notch musicians or anything {laughs} but if we find something that’s interesting, we can make it happen…and teach ourselves.”

What comes up frequently with Cockrell was the desire for Alabama Shakes had to make something “interesting,” adding that the band recognized the importance of challenging itself for round two.

The only downside that can come from a band willing and ready to make big leaps is the challenge that may pose to a fan base that, for Alabama Shakes, is still relatively new.

The one constant that absolutely remains with the Alabama Shakes sound of today is the powerful and abundantly confident vocal work presented by Brittany Howard – good luck finding that voice anywhere else.

“It’s going to happen,” offers Cockrell when discussing the possibility of Sound & Color alienating some fans. “You don’t want to disappoint people, but you also don’t want to disappoint yourself by putting out something that is the same as your last album. In order to make this fun for ourselves, we have to be happy with what we’re putting out.

He continues: “There are people who are going to say, ‘well, this didn’t do it for me,’ but I also think that we’ll gain some people that are looking for something interesting and not the same.”

If that wave of new fans continues to help propel Alabama Shakes forward, Cockrell gives the impression that his band can handle the ride.

He explains that for a band that went from recording its debut album intermittently around work schedules to having actual studio time and money to make Sound & Color, getting in front of and playing for more and more people only provides Alabama Shakes with more comfort and confidence.

“I find it interesting that people want to know a lot about us. But for the most part, I think we are pretty boring people,” says Cockrell, with a laugh, before admitting that a big hobby for Alabama Shakes is drawing together while travelling show-to-show.

“However, you can’t complain about [the attention] too much, because you get to go out and take these songs you love, play them for people and have them respond in a really positive way. I can’t complain too much.”

He concludes: “I try not to be too serious about too many things.”

-Adam Grant

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