Once the band started receiving critical acclaim, reviewers speculated about its influences. Some assumed that because they grew up in Athens, only 40 miles east of Muscle Shoals, the Shakes — especially Howard — must have been trying to emulate the classic soul music of Muscle Shoals’s glory days. But Howard, whose tastes ran more to David Bowie and Led Zeppelin, says she didn’t even know about the Muscle Shoals sound until Cockrell (whom she calls a “music encyclopedia”) told her about it. Fogg worried that the success of “Hold On” in particular — with its no-frills production and Howard’s soul-shouter delivery — might lead people to assume the Shakes were trying to pass themselves off as revivalists, something they never aspired to be.
The band’s new material is markedly trippier and more sophisticated than their bluesy, foot-stomping debut. There are psychedelic slow-jam dreamscapes, with names like “Gemini” and “Dunes” and “Future People” that call to mind Prince or D’Angelo. There are layered falsetto vocals, some of them borderline operatic, distorted guitars and high-frequency feedback. There are vibraphones.
If changing musical directions or taking three years between albums costs the Shakes some fans, they’re fine with that. “We didn’t want to put something out just because somebody else might approve of it or to follow a pattern because the first album was successful,” Howard said. “I don’t think we’re really interested in being that kind of a band.”
Howard was emphatic that being rich and famous was never the point. “I just wanted to be in a group, to be a part of something that’s bigger than me,” she said. “That’s what I always wanted. And now we’ve got it, this precious little thing that is ours. And we’ve got to be careful with it. We have to cherish it. It’s our passion. It’s our baby. It matters more to me than maybe the guys even know. Why would we give that away just for money?” she asked me. For Howard, the band offered an escape from solitude, but never from her hometown. “I live in Athens, Ala., and I’m 26 years old,” she said. “What do I need with five million dollars?”
On a warm spring night last year, Howard and I drove out to the Brick. She still stops by every now and then, often enough that she knows most of the bartenders by name. No one seems surprised when they see her walk through the door.
We were sitting at the bar, the beginning of a long night for the two of us pretty much “drinking the menu.” There would be many local I.P.A.s, some shots of Irish whiskey and Baileys dropped into pints of Guinness and something called a Belletini.
We went out to the patio so she could smoke a few Camels. She talked
about what she saw for herself in the future. “By the time I’m 35, I’ll
probably want to have a family. I’d be happy doing that, teaching my
kids to do the right things, to do good things.” I asked if she thought
she’d live to a very old age. “No,” she said, surprisingly sure. “I have
a terrible lifestyle. And I don’t really see it changing. Maybe in 10
years I’ll see it differently — I’ll want to see my great-grandchildren
and live forever. But right now, young Brittany is not setting things up
for old Brittany. And young Brittany does not care.” [Read More]