While Brittany Howard, frontwoman for the bluesy southern rock quartet Alabama Shakes, shares few physical similarities with Janis Joplin, music critics often compare her infectious raspy drawl to the legendary singer's vocals. But rather than Joplin, Howard cites artists like David Bowie and AC/DC’s Bon Scott as her main influences. "They were doing their thing, and that thing was uniquely theirs," she told InStyle.com. "I want to do my thing too."
And she definitely is: Howard's upbeat, soulful songs are leaving their marks on an increasingly wide audience (the Shakes received three Grammy nominations last year). That, plus a nine-city music tour ahead and a hotly-anticipated second album on the way, assures us that Howard and her bandmates aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We caught up with the 25-year-old musician at Terminal 5 in N.Y.C. as she was about to embark on the second leg of the Mercedes-Benz Evolution Tour, to fête the launch of the brand-new Mercedes-Benz GLA, and talked about everything from her unique sound to her tour must-haves and brand-new ’do (as she calls it, “her Grace Jones from the Conan era”). Here are the highlights from our conversation:
Your stage presence is off the charts. How do you get in the zone when you perform? You just have to get to that place where it’s like, “I’m having a really good time. I’m going to see how hard I can do this.” You play with the audience, and they play back with you. They get into it, and then everybody gets into it. I don’t want to be like a monkey on stage and just go through the motions, because then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. I just pay attention to the audience and appreciate the fact that somebody wants to see us. That gets me psyched.
This show kicks off a nine-city tour. What do you plan to take on the road?Always bring more pantyhose than you need, because you might rip them—you never know what’s going down onstage. Dresses, definitely. I probably bring four dresses on the road and rotate those. I always wear something light when I go onstage, because I move around a whole lot. It’s a sweaty business.
Does your onstage wardrobe differ a lot from what you wear day-to-day?I wear a lot of black, and it’s not because I’m depressed or anything. I like black jeans—they’re pretty much the only colored jeans I wear. James Jeans have the most comfortable fabric. I’d say in general, I dress pretty comfortably.
Is it difficult performing in glasses? Have you ever considered contacts?Contacts would bother me. I’m just not that used to them. I think glasses are a great accessory. I have, like, 40 pairs, but I like these [points to her Kaenon frames] the best because the lenses tint.
Tell us about this new ’do. You’ve got a high-top fade thing going on.Hair grows back—I thought I’d cut it all off and see what it feels like, and it feels wonderful. I’ve had long hair for a long time, I’ve had straight hair, curly hair, and I’ve never had short hair—not since the third grade—so I’m trying it out, and I absolutely love it.
We have to ask: When’s the new record coming out?Probably April of next year. It’s pretty much done, it’s just I want to do a little more and see where we can take it. I like to have options no matter what.
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