Critical Writings

Interviews: MUSIC

Alabama 3

Not every band gets to invent a new sub-genre, but that’s exactly what Alabama 3 did with 1997 debut Exile on Coldharbour Lane, the previously unheard mishmash of acid house beats coupled with blues, country and gospel spawning the term country-techno. Reminiscent the reaction of record company executives to hardcore country revivalists Uncle Tupelo in the early ’90s, who opined, “Punk and country, who’s gonna want to listen to that?”, A3 (as they are known in the States) similarly defeated nay-sayers with a string of critically-lauded albums, including 2005’s Outlaw, which included the single, ‘Hello…I’m Johnny Cash’.

The band formed when Glaswegian Jake Black (AKA The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love) met Welshman Rob Spragg (AKA Larry Love) at an acid house party in Peckham, South London, and the two decided that a fusion of country music with acid house was just what the country needed as an antidote to the cocky nationalism – epitomised by Union Jack Les Pauls – of Brit Pop (memorably described by Rob as “post-imperialist wank”). Starting their act under the alias "The First Presleyterian Church Of Elvis The Divine (UK)", they and the seven other like-minded musicians they recruited were dismissed by sections of the mainstream media as a novelty act during the Blur V Oasis wars, but they have remained creatively vital long after most who hitched their wagon to Cool Britannia have dried up or bitten the dust – at least in terms of devoted fanbase, if not tabloid celebrity.




It’s been all go for the boys recently, as they’ve just released their new album M.O.R. (One Little Indian), and undertake an Irish tour in support of it in October (Savoy, Cork, 10th; Tripod, Dublin, 11th; Forum, Waterford, 12th; Mandela Hall, Belfast, 14th; Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick, 15th; Radisson, Sligo, 26th). When I caught up with them before their fabulous live show at The Tripod last July they were in typically talkative mood, with pre-prepared spiels at the ready to field in the face of over obvious questions posed by those they anticipate might be idiot, ill-informed journalists. Questions like: aren’t those fake American personae and accents just another kind of imperialist wank, even more current than post-? I didn’t have to ask this, as motormouth Jake beats me to the punch:

“It’s not an American accent, it’s a Rock’n’Roll accent. What does it mean to say ‘it’s not authentic’ anyway? Nothing’s authentic anymore, everybody borrows from everywhere,” he proselytises in the band’s defence, with apparent postmodern glee. The funny thing is, given the joyous inventiveness of their output, this special pleading isn’t really necessary. Nevertheless, he continues:

“Writers get us. Irvine Welsh gets us. Will Self gets us,” and I wonder if that’s partly a consequence of the band’s penchant for parodies of classic rock titles, like that of their first album, or ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlife’. Discussing the genesis of their unique sound, Jake, who does most of the talking, is equally forthright:

“There isn’t that much difference between acid house and country, really. They’re both about gathering around a fire in a field, getting loaded, and singing about missing a girl or trying to meet a girl.” Maybe, but it was also probably just a simple desire to meld the new stuff they were listening to in the present with the classic roots they loved from the past. Dancing in the front room at the party, then sitting around the kitchen table with a guitar later.

Talk turns to the new album. Why the unrepresentative title?

“Because it fits with the trajectory of Alabama 3 throughout the years,” offers Rob, for a change. “We started out as white honkies trying to do blues and country music, so it's almost inevitable that we end up like all the other acts who attempted similar – The Eagles, Led Zeppelin – as washed-up cokeheads in their 40s, full of a slimy, mid-70s decadence. That's us, pretty much: living on the edge in the middle-of-the-road,” as a line from the title track has it.

Well, they have put their own spin on The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’, on 2000’s Le Peste. But how far are the tongues in the cheeks this time? They remain politically engage, with lead single ‘Lockdown and Loaded’ concerning the UK’s hapless prison system, a result of the band’s ongoing work with the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (MOJO to you).

All in all, this son of a Scottish Stalinist union organiser and this son of Welsh Jehovah’s Witnesses haven’t done too badly for themselves, while remaining true to their roots – even if the inclusion of ‘Woke Up this Morning’ on The Sopranos’ soundtrack hasn’t spelt the instant riches everyone suspects, but only enabled them to “pay a few debts”. As Rob puts it, depreciating himself behind a smokescreen of druggy insouciance:

“Look, I come from a two-bedroom council house in south Wales; I've come a long way. My job means that I can get up with a hangover every morning, lie on the sofa with a big spliff, then wander over to the studio and mumble into a microphone for half an hour before disappearing off down the pub. What's not to love?” Which attitude probably informs another standout track from the album, ‘Monday Don’t Mean Anything (To Me)’ (and yes, that can be shortened to yet another sly acronym, MDMA).

Based on this encounter, these are top blokes. They’ve a fine body of work behind them, and a great new album to promote, so don’t miss them on this tour.

First published in Magill, October/November 2007













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