Brittany Howard: soundtrack of my life

The Alabama Shakes singer-guitarist mixes some classic pop and soul albums with newer releases that root her in time and place

Brittany Howard, lead singer of blues-rock stompers Alabama Shakes, has been making music since she was 13. Aged 15, she trusted good friend (and bassist) Zac Cockrell enough to listen to it and from there the band grew. The four-piece have since released a live single through Jack White's Third Man label and a much-heralded debut album, Boys & Girls, that went top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.


Children by Famous L Renfroe (2008)

I feel a kind of kinship to Renfroe just because he was trying to find a band and he couldn't so he recorded this entire album basically himself. When I was younger, I, too, couldn't find anyone to play my songs with so I feel kind of proud of him. The guy had a bunch of songs and he wasn't going to let not having a band keep him from writing. He was trying to cheer himself up by writing these gospel songs and you don't really get more personal than that. Singing to your creator. For me, that's real music.


Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)

I think I was 13 when I first heard this and it got me into music. "The Great Gig in the Sky" was playing with this lady screaming on it. I was like, 'What is this?' and then there's a wave and the music crashes in. I'd never heard anything like that before. It got me really interested in what other types of music might be out there. Before that, I didn't really dig for music: music found me. After hearing it, I got into classic rock and found bands such as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Black Sabbath.


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars by David Bowie (1972)

This was my introduction to David Bowie. I was in the car with Zac [Cockrell, Alabama Shakes' bassist]and he puts on "Five Years" and I just couldn't believe the things that Bowie was singing about. Like, the world ending and him thinking about all the things he's seen and all the memories that would be gone in five years. It was really heavy to hear. It takes me back to a time where it was just me and Zac and we were learning about music together.


I'm Still in Love With You by Al Green (1972)

I was really obsessed with the production on these songs – how the engineer recorded the organs and how Al was singing into the microphone. On "For the Good Times", this organ comes in and I've never heard an organ recorded more perfectly in my life. It's almost as if you have your ear against it. I was around 18 when I first heard it on the radio. I was driving home and it was so beautiful that instead of going to my house I just kept driving.


I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love by My Chemical Romance (2002)

I got this record when I was 14. I was a weird teenager. The guitar interplay on this album knocked my socks off. It turned everything upside down because I realised I could never play anything like that. I'm not interested in what they're doing now but that first record for the time and place I was in was perfect. I still know all the guitar parts.


Swagger by Fly Golden Eagle (2011)

This album reminds me a lot of where I'm from. We're not bumpkins, but we're not city kids and this album is kind of like that in-between phase where your idea of a good time is going to a hotel and drinking cheap whiskey by the pool that you're not supposed to be in. It's very free and each song is different. I like anybody who does things their own way.

Listen to this playlist on Spotify


Interview by Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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