Interview by Mark Bayross
Brixton’s Alabama 3 have been fusing country, blues, gospel and techno ever since 1996’s EXILE ON COLDHARBOUR LANE first ploughed its eclectic groove through the public consciousness. After releasing last year’s critically-acclaimed follow up, LA PESTE, and having their song WOKE UP THIS MORNING used on the opening credit of hit TV series THE SOPRANOS, the time is right for Alabama 3 to further spread their message of God, sex, love and drugs.
They have just begun a month-long Monday night residency at Camden’s Underworld, appearing as support act as well as headline act, each time in a different guise: as a country band alongside Eileen Rose and BJ Cole; as a gospel revue act alongside David McAlmont, Street Angels and Bobby Valentino; as a techno outfit Memphis 9 with DJ Arthur Baker; and finally in an all-star blow-out Alabama 3 reunion. Nothing if not ambitious…
I spoke to frontman Larry Love about the band, gangsters and the month of madness ahead.
You’ve now played the first date of your “Month Of Mondays” tour. How did it go?
Fucking rammed – it was sold out. We did our country-themed evening, supporting ourselves with an acoustic set, before coming back on as our bona fide selves. Yeah, it was great. This is our chance to show that we know our country, we know our gospel, we know our techno and we know our blues… It’s a chance for people to see us for the eclectic motherfuckers that we are. We can show the various elements of faith that make up our canon. I love being able to take a bluegrass loop or a rockabilly loop and turn it into a modern, computer-based concept…which is what Moby’s had such success with on “Play”…we’ve been doing that for years.
Do you mind then that your latest album LA PESTE did no way nearly as well as PLAY?
No cos we don’t have to sell every track on our album to some fucking car ad – mind you, we did get to do the music to THE SOPRANOS – but we’re not after world domination or anything.
How did that come about anyway?
David Chase, the producer, was driving along the freeway – I know this is a cliché – and heard the song and wanted to use it. Originally it was only going to be used for one episode – there was going to be a different theme tune every week – but he ended up using it for the whole series, which was perfect.
What do you think having your music used by a top-rated TV show has done for the band?
Well, nothing’s changed much financially, but it certainly raised our profile. We’re very proud to be associated with the series. It’s funny that he used that particular song, because it’s about a battered wife who takes revenge on her abusing husband; it has nothing to do with gangsters whatsoever. We always have to keep telling people now that we’re not trying to encourage gun culture.
Did you find that the US audience reacted differently to the UK?
Yeah, the American audience gets the music totally, but they don’t see the irony in the songs and the piss-taking. They appreciate our songs more on a musical level. In the UK, people get the irony and the piss-taking, but miss the music. Like when we played a concert in Belfast, the day before the Good Friday Agreement – we played MAO TSE TUNG SAID and PEACE IN THE VALLEY. I think people got the irony then…
How did the idea of the “Month Of Mondays” tour come about?
We wanted to attempt to give each night a theme. This way we can play a set of all our country songs, or all our gospel songs, and have a laugh too. I guess people can see us broken down into our component parts.
Was it easy roping in people like BJ Cole, Arthur Baker and David McAlmont for these shows?
It’s funny cos they’re all mates of mine, and I announced these line-ups to the press and forgot to tell them! [laughs] So they were ringing up and going, “I see I’m playing with you next month…” and I had to spend most of last week ringing our famous mates and apologising to them. It was ok, though; they know us – they know how daft we are.
You’ve played some fairly off-the-wall concerts. Which have been the most fun?
I don’t know…it’s like the sixties – if you were there, you can’t remember it… We did do a weird gig in a tent at Glastonbury. We were playing for three days – acoustic the first night, techno the second, and by the time we got to the third night, we’d been tripping for days so the whole thing was really odd. We also played in a disused fort in Rome, and in Brixton Prison to a group of Hell’s Angels…
You prefer the less conventional venue…?
Yeah…I get sick off seeing the same bands’ graffiti and all the usual fucking dressing rooms… [laughs] It’s a bit different seeing “16 more years inside” written on the walls.
For the uninitiated, what can people expect to see when they come and see you live?
A holy-roller revival full of shamens, loose women, drugs and cheesy quavers… No, just religion, sex and dirty rock n’ roll.
And what do you want to get from playing live?
You want the honest answer? Free drugs, free drink and free women. [laughs] Of course, I really mean critical acclaim from insightful journalists who’ll see through our performance to the musical majesty within…
Who do you see as the band’s kindred musical spirits?
Jim White, Steve Hill, Red Planet, Laura Cantrell…and Johnny Cash, I guess…we want him to cover one of our songs…
Do you think he would?
He might do. He’s up for offers… As for kindred spirits – they are a diverse bunch. We’re quite happy to go to a club like Funkt in Brixton where there’ll be Barry Ashworth or Paul Hartnoll.
Where does the heart of Alabama 3 lie, then – in Brixton or in Memphis?
Well, we haven’t got any soul – that was left at the crossroads years ago – but our heart? Probably Brixton. We wanted to live in a multicultural place and Americans visiting London often say that Brixton is like New Orleans, so that suits us. You have to have a sense of humour living in a place where gun-toting crack-heads wander round the streets and the clubs are full of ketamine…[laughs] Saturday night’s about survival, you know…?
Is “La Peste” some kind of Albert Camus reference?
Yes, “La Peste “ as in “The Plague”. If you look at the way things are now, with Foot & Mouth, Mad Cow Disease, HIV, Hepatitus B, Rwanda, Bosnia – we’re living in the age of the virus. Don’t fuck around with Mother Nature, you know…She doesn’t like it. I guess we’re used to contaminating people as well [laughs].
How did you get involved with Paddy Hill of the Birmingham 6?
We were at a party and I was introduced to this short geezer with a scar on his face and a big spliff in his mouth. His story, of course, is of interest to us, what with the origin of our band name [Alabama 3 is named after two innocent black men were hanged in the American Deep South in the 1930s and so is representative of miscarriages of justice like the case of the Birmingham 6] and we got talking about the charity he’s working for and it made sense for us to try and help him out.
What are the future plans for the band?
There’ll be a UK tour, a European tour and an American tour. After that, we are thinking about doing a triple concept album. We’re kind of in 70s mode at the moment – we’ve been listening to stuff like “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, “Pictures At An Exhibition” and “Tarkus”, which is a great Emerson Lake And Palmer record…
When do you think you’ll get around to doing that?
Oh, in about 12 years’ time! [Much laughter] No, it’s been written already, actually. We just need to refine it now.