"Punk is nothing more than Chuck Berry with a different hairdo. It's just really fast rock n roll."

Welcome to Alabama Shakes. A band that doesn't fit in anywhere, and doesn't want to. Founded in 2009 from a local community of musicians from Athens, Alabama, USA, in the last year they have everyone from Conan O'Brien, the BBC, and Jack White singing their praises. With the most eclectic of influences, the one thing they have in common is a soulful collaberation of sound. 2012 is set to be a big year for them, and The 405 looks forward to watching their evolution.

This year the band have risen and become more popular - almost overnight - is that how you see it? How have you found the last year?

Well we've been a band for the last three years now and the last year - probably since last summer - it's definitely been crazy, but it's not so overwhelming to the point that we're getting burned out or anything like that. We go on 2/3-week tours or for a week and then come home for a week and we get time off in between. It's definitely a little crazier when we're out on the road. The crowds are getting bigger and the crowds are magically selling out, so there's definitely some people that wanna come up and express their enthusiasm and it's great and everything, but when we come home, it's nice and quiet. You don't think about it at all, until you go back on the road. It's been comfortable. It's not too overwhelming right now.

What was it like growing up in Athens [Alabama]? How did it influence you?

Yeah, we were all born and raised here, for the most part. I've moved around a bunch, so I've lived here on and off, but things are definitely a little slower paced out of the city and what not. Bluegrass and Country are pretty popular around here. We've got a Fiddler's convention, which happens every year and those things are definitely in your environment, in your surroundings in the South. So it could be a potential influence, but it's nothing you'd hone in on and make it part of your music. But there are things you learn to appreciate as you get older and start playing more music. There are a lot of good musicians around here. It's not like 'This guy plays guitar. This guy plays the drums. This guy plays bass. Let's form a band.' You just come across these people on accident, almost. You might have a friend and you go to his house and there's a drum kit sitting there and then he starts playing drums and then you get opened up to a whole neighbourhood of people and everybody there plays music and you jam around with different people. That way you learn who's got your style and who's capable and who's good.

So the music scene is almost word-of-mouth?

Yeah. The way I learned about a lot of the people here, I worked at a music store and there's a lot of people who came in. [One time] Brittany invited me out to a party that was happening in her school district, because I didn't know anybody at their school. She invited me to a party out there and there was a band there and whenever this band was taking a break, everyone there that played an instrument wanted to have a go. So while they're having a half hour break, this guy's gonna play drums for a little bit, this guy's gonna play guitar, so I was introduced to so many musicians just in one night. That's just how things happen. Just get together with buddies and jam after school or on weekends or out at parties and that's how you meet everybody.

All of you have very different musical influences - you're a Punk Rock drummer, whereas Brittany has more of a Rock/Blues style to her, Heath, heavy rock, and Zac more R&B and Soul. That is a very eclectic mix, how do you think it all managed to moulded together to make the Alabama Shakes sound?

I think all of us have an appreciation for so many different kinds of music and there are so many different ingredients in those genres that complements what another person might have. Heath - I don't know how to describe his guitar playing. To me, he's got heavy rhythm. He's influenced a lot by AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, so he's got heavy rhythm guitar, and his tones are killers. I just like playing fast-paced Rock & Roll. Punk is nothing more than Chuck Berry with an different hairdo. It's just really fast rock n' roll. Add that with Heath and it's pretty similar to AC/DC. Heavy rhythm, fast, straight-forward drums. Like you said, Zac's got a lot of Soul influence and he kinda taught me about the sound of music. Not necessarily sound and the way you play it, but about how it could sound. Old Motown, Stax and older Rock & Roll from the '60s. There's a certain sound that was produced in those days on the record and he pushed me to strive for playing the drums more differently and more or less, searching for a tone that a drum could produce. So he introduced me to that and then Brittany's all that and then some. She's got a little bit of everything - everything I've just said about us all individually and put it all into one and you've got Brittany.

You are all very unlikely 'rock stars' which I love, you don't fit into any particular image or music genre, did you actively go out of your way not to fit into any bracket, or did it happen naturally?

I don't think anyone of us strived to fit into a group of people or a clique, really. We do what makes us happy. We wear what's comfortable. No gimmicks. No strings attached. What you see is what you get. We go out on the stage and we're not flashy, banging our heads, standing on top of monitors, spitting water on the crowds. To us, the theatrics aren't as important as making it sound good. Our main goal is to play good music and sound good to the crowd, rather than get up there and do a bunch of dumb stuff. If that does come out - like headbanging or doing the moonwalk or whatever - it's just because the music's making you do that.

You just played SXSX Festival. How was it?

That was a lot of fun. It's kinda like a no-restrictions, no-limitations sort of music festival. Anybody who plays music is more than welcome to come and, by all means, play away. Whereas most festivals I've been to, there's a stage, they have a sound check, a band has a record out, they're on a label and SXSW wasn't like that. It's bands that are doing everything themselves and keep driving down there for maybe one show that's in the middle of the day and it's non-stop music - sun up to sun down. Everything's free - free food, free barbeque, it was amazing.

I heard you played to a crowd of 2,000 on one night. That must have been intense.

There was a couple of big crowds we played to out there and it's pretty unreal. You look out there and they shine the lights on the crowd and you see all these faces out there and you're like 'Woah' because I've got sunglasses on and I've got symbols in front of my face, so I can't really see past that, so it's cool.

A friend just came back there and they said SXSW's about the parties, probably even more of the music. So did you indulge in that side?

*Laughs* I did not, myself, but there's a couple of members of the band who indulged every night and did not return back home until 4/5 o'clock in the morning and then we've got to get up and turn around at 9/10. I can't do it. It physically drains me. It's hot, it's 90 degrees outside, I've just ate a big thing of brisket and pork - I've just had a gut bomb - now I've gotta go play the drums. I can't do that every single day and party on top of it. I can do it once or twice and I did, but not as much as the other guys.

I was gonna ask about playing live. I read an interview with Brittany and she said how it was through word-of-mouth, so was that how you broke into the business? Do you think it's still possible to break through the industry in the old fashioned way of playing live or do we live in a generation where you have to have to be on iTunes and have the hits to break into the industry?

I think both of those things are beneficial. As you said, in our day and age, we download music on iTunes or whatever and it's a good way to get your name out there, for sure. We're walking proof of that. I'm very thankful to Justin Gage for putting 'You Ain't Alone' out there and the rest of the songs coming out eventually. We had people in France and London wanting us to play there when we just had an EP out. If it wasn't for being able to download music or being on the Internet, we wouldn't be there that fast. Playing the live shows is just as much a part of that, because once people hear the music and have it in their possession, then there's the demand to wanna see it live. So you've gotta hold up your end of the bargain and go out there and put on a really good live show as well. Both are beneficial and good tools to have.

Also you're opening up for Jack White on his tour. Are there any expectations for the tour or are you just excited?

No expectations, just very excited. [We're] gonna go out there and I don't care if nobody comes and sees the opening band, just the fact that we're gonna be there and share the same stage as Jack White and the privilege of opening up for him. He's a giant in the music industry. He's been around since I was in high school. Playing in venues that he's playing in now - that's sick [laughs]. It's so awesome.

So how did it come about?

Well we played a show at his studio summer last year - that was when we first met him. All the shows that took place there. I guess they record all the shows that take place at his studio, so he had the recording and he started a new project of releasing live recordings from Third Man Studios and we were a part of that. I think we were the first one that he released like that. I guess maybe he expressed interest to open some shows for him and - I don't know all the details 100% or anything, I'm just excited it's happening, I don't care who did it or how it happened - but once it popped up, we were like "Yeah, we'll do that."

Is the tour coming to the UK at all?

I know that the dates we have with him are in the US, but we have some UK dates coming up in May, July and August.

Age old question…but what's the best thing about playing live?

I would say the freedom to play differently than an album. Because with an album, everything's so permanent, when you're live, there's no limitations, no restrictions, as long as it sounds good [laughs]. The freedom to do new things - play new songs, test them out on the audience, ability to play new songs, try them out. Things that you're thinking about writing or songs that you just wrote [can be played too]. You can play covers live.

You do a lot of Led Zeppelin live and a few Blues covers as well. Is there anyone that you really enjoy covering?

I enjoy playing '20th Century Boy' by T Rex. we've only had the privilege of playing it one time and it was awesome. It's like pulling teeth to get Zac, our bass player, to want to play that song live. It's not one of his favourite songs to play live, but it's one of my favourites. that and 'How Many More Times' by Led Zeppelin. I never get sick of covering that song.

And I know you're playing Latitude Festival, because I'm going. So will you try to play '20th Century Boy' at Latitude for me?

Oh yes, definitely.

So are there any more festivals you're playing soon.

In the US, we're playing Bonnaroo, Hallapalooza, Hangout Festival and Sasquatch. In the UK, we're playing Edinburgh and End of the Road Festival.

Also, if I was to talk to you in a year's time, where would you like to be?

Aside from the album coming out?

Yeah, what would you like to have achieved by in 12 months' time?

I would liked to have started work on our second album and maybe even have our second album finished - that'd be great.


Alabama Shakes' debut album Boys & Girls is out now via Rough Trade Records.