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.

MAKING SONGS ON MY OWN AS A YOUNGSTER

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.

THE ALBUM THAT UNLOCKED MY LOVE OF 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 ONE THAT TOOK ME INTO DAVID BOWIE'S WORLD

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.

THE RECORD THAT MAKES ME GEEK OUT

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.

THE ONE THAT MAKES ME JEALOUS OF THEIR GUITAR PLAY

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.

THE ONE THAT REMINDS ME OF ALABAMA

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

Contributor

Interview by Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Debbie Harry: soundtrack of my life

The Blondie singer on the outrageous example of Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the folk happenings of the hippy era and unwinding with a bit of Bizet. Interview by Jude Rogers

Interview by Jude Rogers

30, Mar, 2014 @12:00 AM

Article image
St Vincent: soundtrack of my life

Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, tells Tim Lewis about a Texas childhood of road trips and sunny days sharing music with friends

Interview by Tim Lewis

26, Feb, 2012 @12:01 AM

Article image
Roy Harper: soundtrack of my life

The singer, songwriter and guitarist on how Miles Davis and skiffle shaped his sound – and the first time he met Jimmy Page. Interview by Leah Harper

Interview by Leah Harper

26, Oct, 2013 @11:04 PM

Article image
Boy George: soundtrack of my life

The former Culture Club frontman on using Joni Mitchell as a marker of excellence and listening to Nico during his first sexual experience. Interview by Corinne Jones

Interview by Corinne Jones

26, Jan, 2014 @9:04 AM

Article image
Norman Jay: Soundtrack of my life

The veteran soul, funk and house DJ tells Gareth Grundy about his first purchases, music's link with football and his impact on Notting Hill carnival

Gareth Grundy

03, Sep, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Roberta Flack: soundtrack of my life
The award-winning jazz singer on wanting to be Chopin, the purity of the Beatles, and why she loves the Fugees’ take on her signature tune

Killian Fox

29, Jun, 2015 @6:00 AM

Article image
Brittany Howard review – a funk-rooted tour de force
Brittany Howard thrills on a deeply personal solo detour from Alabama Shakes

Kitty Empire

07, Sep, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Brittany Howard: ‘I think back and I can’t even recognise that kid now’
Continuing our series where stars recall their teenage obsessions, the Alabama Shakes frontwoman remembers fishing, home recording and leftfield spirituality

As told to Stephanie Phillips

01, Jul, 2021 @1:56 PM

Article image
Ghostpoet: soundtrack of my life
The Mercury-nominated rapper on dancing to UB40 as a child and his Muddy Waters obsession

Interview by Killian Fox

29, Mar, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Yukimi Nagano: soundtrack of my life

The Little Dragon singer tells Killian Fox why D'Angelo's Voodoo made her cry, Joni Mitchell reminds her of her mum – and Brian Eno helps her nod off

Interview by Killian Fox

26, Apr, 2014 @11:05 PM