Birmingham SlossFest profile: Alabama Shakes

Birmingham SlossFest profile: Alabama Shakes
Led by Brittany Howard, Alabama Shakes will be back in Alabama as headliners for this weekend's SlossFest. (Nik Layman/Alabama NewsCenter)

Performer: Alabama Shakes

Genre: Blues/rock and hard-hitting Southern soul

About: For Alabama Shakes, the Internet was the group’s ticket to stardom.

The lead singer, Brittany Howard, and two friends formed the band while in high school in Athens, Alabama. Howard joined with bassist Zac Cockrell and drummer Steve Johnson to write songs and jam in her great-grandfather’s basement. The group later added guitarist Heath Fogg, who invited them to open for his band at the time. Touring keyboard players Ben Tanner and Paul Horton are also part of the group.

The band mostly played at local bars and clubs until a Los Angeles songwriter and satellite radio host unveiled the group’s “You Ain’t Alone” on his blog. Calls from record labels began pouring in the next day. Since then, Alabama Shakes has exploded onto the music scene worldwide, receiving three Grammy Awards and eight nominations in five years.

“We’re a real band from a small town, and we got together for real reasons – we wanted to share music together, write music together. So it’s pretty cool to be a group that went to high school together. Now we get to go to the Grammys together,” said Howard on People Magazine’s website. “When I sit back and think about how miraculous that all is – I’d say it’s more than gratifying: It’s surreal.”

Released in 2012, the band’s first album, “Boys and Girls,” earned three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for the song “Hold On.”

Alabama Shakes’ follow-up album, “Sound and Color,” rocketed to No. 1 in the U.S. after it debuted in April 2015, and won a Grammy for best alternative album. With “Sound and Color,” Alabama Shakes went far beyond their bluesy roots, with a mix of styles ranging from the “dreamy, funky” title song to the “garage-rock freak-out” sound of “The Greatest.”

“We’ve grown a lot, learned a lot about music, listened and thought about a lot of things — about being minimal and tasteful, keeping it classy,” said Howard in the band’s SlossFest bio. “After that decision to start over, with a clean slate, it was easy. We could just do what we wanted to do.”

No longer a small-town bar band, the group has become one of the hottest acts on the music scene and has performed on “Saturday Night Live” as well as the main stages of world-famous festivals such as Bonnaroo and Glastonbury.

Although the band spent months touring last year, Howard said she “seeks comfort” in the simpler way of life in Athens.

“I really like cleaning the house and gardening and just doing a lot of normal stuff: I love washing my dishes, I love grocery shopping. I don’t take that for granted,” she said. “It makes me feel like I have a home; it’s great.”

Follow Alabama Shakes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify.

Sources:,, and

Discography: “Boys and Girls” (2012) and “Sound and Color” (2015).

You may have heard: “Don’t Wanna Fight,” “Hold On,” “Over my Head,” “Shoegaze” and “This Feeling.”

Playing at SlossFest: Alabama Shakes will be performing on the Blast Stage, Sunday, July 16, from 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Sloss Music and Arts Festival takes place at the historic Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham July 15-16 and features 40 performers on four stages. Tickets can be purchased here.

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