Before Brittany Howard was paid to make music, she bagged groceries at a Kroger, sold used cars, made pizzas at a Domino’s, fried eggs at a Cracker Barrel, built custom picture frames, sucked up trash for a commercial sanitation company, and delivered the U.S. mail along a rural route in northern Alabama, where she lived. She practiced with her rock band, Alabama Shakes, whenever she could. “I would work thirteen hours at the post office, get off, and rush to rehearsal,” she told me.
In 2012, Alabama Shakes released their début album, “Boys & Girls.” Howard was twenty-three, and had never travelled outside the South. Critics scrambled to praise the record; it briefly seemed as if Howard, whose voice is both burly and tender, a mixture of Robert Plant and Marvin Gaye, might be able to single-handedly resuscitate American rock and roll. “Boys & Girls,” which was loose, open, and craggy, felt momentous and aberrant. At the time, a good portion of the rock music played on the radio—Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park—was so densely and fastidiously produced, so airless and unrelenting, that listening to it felt like getting whopped in the face with a snowball. “Boys & Girls” suggested a different way forward: it was not without potency, but it drifted in like a salty breeze.
The album eventually sold more than a million copies in the United States. Howard spent several years on tour with the band, an experience that she described as joyful and disorienting. “Right place, right time, and now all of a sudden I’m in England—I’m eating haggis!” she told me. “All of a sudden, I’m in France—I’m eating a snail!” Howard is a proud Southerner, yet she was eager to see the rest of the world. “In the deepest core of me, when I go to my happy place, there are cicadas in the background, the air is humid, I smell barbecue, and there’s a train nearby,” she said. “But I’d never seen a mountain before. I remember seeing the desert for the first time, the West Coast, the ocean. I was so excited about everything.”
Soon, Howard had attracted some very famous fans, including Paul McCartney and Barack and Michelle Obama. “Hold On,” the album’s first single, was nominated for three Grammy Awards and named the best song of the year by . The track gestures to the band’s Southern lineage—there are echoes of Duane Allman and Wilson Pickett at FAME Studios, in Muscle Shoals, and a bit of Rufus and Carla Thomas singing “I Didn’t Believe” at Satellite Records, in Memphis. In the pre-chorus, Howard addresses herself: “Come on, Brittany / You got to get back up!” she bellows. It’s a small choice, using her name like that, but it disarms me every time I hear it. When Howard finally delivers the full chorus—“Yeah, you got to hold on!”—she’s singing with so much vigor and boldness that the lyric feels less like a plea than like a nonnegotiable demand.
Howard wrote “Hold On” while she was working for the sanitation company. “I was in this little fucking truck, going to my job cleaning commercial properties,” she said. “We made CDs of our practices, and I put a CD in, and just started singing the hook: ‘Hold on.’ ” The band had a gig booked at the Brick Deli & Tavern, a sports bar in Decatur, Alabama. Howard improvised the rest of the song onstage. When she arrived at the chorus, the crowd began singing along as if they had heard it before, as if it were a cover, as if they had known it all their lives.
Howard, who is now thirty-one, splits her time between Nashville, where she moved shortly after the success of “Boys & Girls,” and Taos, New Mexico. She’s considering yet another relocation, possibly to the West Coast. She requires a certain amount of agitation to feel inspired. “Once I start getting comfortable, I get too comfortable. I like things to change,” she said. “I like things to move.”
“Sound & Color,” Alabama Shakes’ second record, from 2015, débuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for six Grammys, including Album of the Year. That year, the British pop singer Adele told the Guardian that she was “obsessed” with Howard: “She’s so fucking full of soul, overflowing, dripping, that I almost can’t handle it.” Prince invited the Shakes to play at Paisley Park, and asked if he could join them onstage for a song. “It comes time to do ‘Give Me All Your Love,’ and I’m getting worried, because I don’t see this dude,” Howard recalled. “I step back from the mike, and then out of nowhere he just pops onstage, people lose their minds, and he starts shredding. Shred-ding2020欧洲杯体育投注网. So I was, like, ‘I’m gonna double-shred with you. When else am I gonna get to do this?’ Now we’re double-soloing, and it’s as sick as it sounds. It’s happening, it’s psychedelic, it’s amazing. And then he gives me a little kiss on the cheek, leaps like a baby fawn over all the amplifiers into the darkness, and I never saw him again.”
When it came time for Alabama Shakes to produce a third album, the songs weren’t coming. On a cross-country drive, Howard stared blankly out the window. “I was sitting there, silent, thinking to myself, What am I gonna do? What do I want?” she told me. The safe choice—sticking around Nashville and grinding it out with the band—didn’t feel right. “I’d rather make a few mistakes and still be myself than be rich and bored,” she said.
2020欧洲杯体育投注网In 2017, Howard left Alabama Shakes to make a solo album. “Everyone was, like, ‘No, don’t do that! You can do this on the side, but don’t cancel the Shakes!’ ” she said. She cancelled the Shakes. It requires a particular kind of bravura to untether oneself from a band that, to the outside world, still appeared to be on the come-up.
“Jaime,” her solo début, which came out last fall, does not resemble any album I can think of, though it does share some spiritual DNA with two of the boldest and most stylistically inscrutable releases of the past century: “Black Messiah,” the third album by the R. & B. singer D’Angelo, and Sly and the Family Stone’s “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” a psychedelic-rock masterpiece from 1977. “Jaime” is deep, freaky, and heartfelt. Nearly all its songs feature some sort of heavy groove, but Howard often complicates them by adding prickly guitar riffs at unusual intervals, folding in samples, or putting an effect on her voice that makes it sound tinny and distant, as if she’s singing into the receiver of a rotary phone. “Jaime” is familiar enough that it’s easy to like—it’s the sort of record people will immediately ask about if you put it on during a party—but it is also intensely idiosyncratic, and does not hew to any genre constraints. At first, Howard wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted “Jaime” to sound like. “I’d be, like, ‘I think I want it to be like this?’ ” she said. “And then I’d hear some song and be, like, ‘No, I definitely want it to be like that2020欧洲杯体育投注网.’ And then I’d hear another song, and it’d be: ‘Well, maybe more like this!’ ” She went into the studio anyway. “The songs showed up,” she said.