News Column

Popularity, Alabama Shakes finds, has no offseason

June 16, 2013

YellowBrix

June 16--Since their soulful Southern garage rock caught fire online, then captured the ears of label executives, music critics and new fans, Alabama Shakes have risen from weekend warriors to bona fide rock stars.

With the climb comes a brutal schedule: festivals spanning the United Kingdom to Chile; performance invitations from South by Southwest and the White House; and, in February, the musical-guest spot on Saturday Night Live.

The summer ahead is busy with festival and outdoor shows, including a Tuesday stop at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion.

"I always thought there'd be an offseason, like in sports," guitarist Heath Fogg said from the quartet's hometown of Athens, Ala., during a rare break from the road. "It's not really like that. You can play shows every day year-round if your body would let you."

Endurance has paid off for the musicians who met in high school and ascended via the gold-certified Boys & Girls debut -- which scored three Grammy nominations and contains Hold On, the single that Rolling Stone rated the No. 1 song of 2012.

Still, the new lifestyle remains strange. Fogg seemed modest about even being on television.

"I just didn't think it was necessary, you know?" the 28-year-old said of the Saturday Night Live spot. "It was nine months after the record came out; why are we doing this? But when SNL invites you, you do it."

A follow-up is taking shape between commitments.

"We're still writing songs slowly," Fogg said. "Every time, they change and take shape and morph. We're not trying to think about goals for the next record. We'll put out another record when we've got a bunch of songs we love."

That pacing parallels their origins -- when Alabama Shakes struggled to carve out space from their day jobs to write and record Boys & Girls.

"It was hard to get the four of us together twice a week for rehearsal," said Fogg, whose last job was painting houses, "or that one Saturday a month in the studio."

Frontwoman Brittany Howard -- whose gritty, growling vocals resemble those of Janis Joplin -- was a postal worker by day. "For some reason, that's become a legend," Fogg joked.

More legendary, perhaps, is the band's ticket to fame: An influential Los Angeles music blogger touted the unsigned band, with his 2011 posting of the tune You Ain't Alone that led to an almost-overnight flood of interest and offers.

"We got really lucky," Fogg said. "There's so much good music out there; it's inspiring. It's pretty shocking. We've got a long way to go."

Their success story mirrors the artistic landscape of Alabama, Fogg noted: Talents there aren't front and center; treasures lie off the beaten path.

"It's not the type of music scene of somewhere like Nashville, where everybody comes through," he said. "There aren't that many great opportunities to get your music out there. It takes digging and a yearning for it."

kjoy@dispatch.com

@kevjoy

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