11 Songs, 35 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

After years fronting the Grammy-winning rock band Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard hit the road. In the summer of 2017, she and her partner road-tripped around America, stopping at “national parks, diners, truck stops, everywhere,” she tells Apple Music. “It was one of the best times in my life.” The trip wasn’t without its ugly moments. “Someone threw fireworks at us in Wyoming; we saw truck after truck with Confederate flags,” she recalls—but those encounters brought on their own moments of self-discovery. Howard, who grew up in Athens, Alabama, with a white mother and a black father, insists these moments didn’t change the way she feels about her country. “I'm American as a motherfucker,” she said. “These people think they're American, but they're doing some pretty un-American shit.” When she returned home, she finally got to work recording her own full-length album with Alabama Shakes producer and engineer Shawn Everett and named it after her sister, who passed away at age 13 from cancer. “This record isn’t necessarily about her, because it’s about me,” she says. “But so much of who I am is because of her. I made this record for her.” Here Howard goes through her solo debut track by track.

History Repeats
“This is the oldest song on the album. I wrote it two or three years ago, finished it in a day, and totally forgot about it. I didn’t write it on purpose. I’d been showing my friend how I use my recording software, just piecing things together in a demo, and as I was doing that, I wrote ‘History Repeats.’ I found it a couple years later.”

He Loves Me
“I’d just gotten a new compressor called a Distressor—it’s like a piece of rack gear—and put in drums, guitar, bass. But every time I’d write a verse, the song would just stop and I’d be like, ‘What am I going to put there? What do I want to say?’ Eventually I decided to follow the bassline and improvise. The first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘I don't go to church anymore. I know he still loves me.' That was it. I went on the internet to find a preacher talking about why I should go to church, and wound up watching a two-hour sermon by this guy Terry Anderson. I loved the timbre of his voice so much that I pulled out parts of the sermon and stuck them in the song.”

Georgia
“People say songs on this record have a double meaning. To me, a lot of them have a triple meaning: There's the world, then there's me in the world, and then there's the little me inside me. It's like a Russian doll. I wrote ‘Georgia’ from the perspective of myself as a child. It's a love song to an older girl when you're a little girl and you don't understand what it means to be gay. It's just an innocent infatuation, the way crushes become your whole world when you’re young.”

Stay High
“I went to Topanga, California, to write after my road trip—to be inspired, I guess. It wasn’t working. I was miserable. It was so beautiful, all gardens and mountains, but I was just sitting there like, ‘Fuck, I hate this.’ I was there with my partner, who’s a writer and working on a book, and every night we’d get together and be like, ‘So, how’d you’d do?’ One day I finally showed up with something, but I wasn’t proud of it. I was like, ‘I think this is a step in the wrong direction, but here goes.’ When I hit play, she just looked at me and said, ‘Actually, I think this is going to be the hit.’”

Tomorrow
“I consider this the advanced listeners’ track. It's the one people usually don't talk about, but man, I love it. To me, it feels like three songs in one. In the beginning it's kind of like, ‘I’m not feeling great about things, but I’ll deal with them eventually, not today.’ The second part is like, ‘Now it's tomorrow, what do I want?’ This is where the political, global edge comes in, asking things like, ‘How are we going to make this better and when are we going to do it?’ Then, the third part is where it gets all, ‘Let's hold hands and go to Disney World. Life is short.’ The idea is that I feel anxious but also hopeful about tomorrow, so let's make it as good as we can.”

Short and Sweet
“This is about the beginning of a relationship when you’re kind of assuming it's not going to work out. You're saying, 'All right, let me just enjoy this and be present without putting too much pressure on anything.'”

13th Century Metal
“This title is very literal: This song sounds like metal music but it also sounds like a Gregorian chant. Robert Glasper plays on this record, and the funny thing about that is that he was just trying to figure out how to use this weird keyboard. [Drummer] Nate Smith and I had said, ‘Rob, go play these keys and see if you can get a good sound out of them.’ So he goes into the booth and messes around, playing and playing, and finally I’m like, ‘Wait, this is good. Are you hitting record?’ Rob plays through the whole song. It’s all improvised. One take. At the end, I added in this poetry I had written one day when I really needed inspiration. President Trump had gotten elected and Prince had died—there was just a lot of bad shit happening. I was like, ‘Wow, I don't know about this world…’ So I started writing.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

After years fronting the Grammy-winning rock band Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard hit the road. In the summer of 2017, she and her partner road-tripped around America, stopping at “national parks, diners, truck stops, everywhere,” she tells Apple Music. “It was one of the best times in my life.” The trip wasn’t without its ugly moments. “Someone threw fireworks at us in Wyoming; we saw truck after truck with Confederate flags,” she recalls—but those encounters brought on their own moments of self-discovery. Howard, who grew up in Athens, Alabama, with a white mother and a black father, insists these moments didn’t change the way she feels about her country. “I'm American as a motherfucker,” she said. “These people think they're American, but they're doing some pretty un-American shit.” When she returned home, she finally got to work recording her own full-length album with Alabama Shakes producer and engineer Shawn Everett and named it after her sister, who passed away at age 13 from cancer. “This record isn’t necessarily about her, because it’s about me,” she says. “But so much of who I am is because of her. I made this record for her.” Here Howard goes through her solo debut track by track.

History Repeats
“This is the oldest song on the album. I wrote it two or three years ago, finished it in a day, and totally forgot about it. I didn’t write it on purpose. I’d been showing my friend how I use my recording software, just piecing things together in a demo, and as I was doing that, I wrote ‘History Repeats.’ I found it a couple years later.”

He Loves Me
“I’d just gotten a new compressor called a Distressor—it’s like a piece of rack gear—and put in drums, guitar, bass. But every time I’d write a verse, the song would just stop and I’d be like, ‘What am I going to put there? What do I want to say?’ Eventually I decided to follow the bassline and improvise. The first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘I don't go to church anymore. I know he still loves me.' That was it. I went on the internet to find a preacher talking about why I should go to church, and wound up watching a two-hour sermon by this guy Terry Anderson. I loved the timbre of his voice so much that I pulled out parts of the sermon and stuck them in the song.”

Georgia
“People say songs on this record have a double meaning. To me, a lot of them have a triple meaning: There's the world, then there's me in the world, and then there's the little me inside me. It's like a Russian doll. I wrote ‘Georgia’ from the perspective of myself as a child. It's a love song to an older girl when you're a little girl and you don't understand what it means to be gay. It's just an innocent infatuation, the way crushes become your whole world when you’re young.”

Stay High
“I went to Topanga, California, to write after my road trip—to be inspired, I guess. It wasn’t working. I was miserable. It was so beautiful, all gardens and mountains, but I was just sitting there like, ‘Fuck, I hate this.’ I was there with my partner, who’s a writer and working on a book, and every night we’d get together and be like, ‘So, how’d you’d do?’ One day I finally showed up with something, but I wasn’t proud of it. I was like, ‘I think this is a step in the wrong direction, but here goes.’ When I hit play, she just looked at me and said, ‘Actually, I think this is going to be the hit.’”

Tomorrow
“I consider this the advanced listeners’ track. It's the one people usually don't talk about, but man, I love it. To me, it feels like three songs in one. In the beginning it's kind of like, ‘I’m not feeling great about things, but I’ll deal with them eventually, not today.’ The second part is like, ‘Now it's tomorrow, what do I want?’ This is where the political, global edge comes in, asking things like, ‘How are we going to make this better and when are we going to do it?’ Then, the third part is where it gets all, ‘Let's hold hands and go to Disney World. Life is short.’ The idea is that I feel anxious but also hopeful about tomorrow, so let's make it as good as we can.”

Short and Sweet
“This is about the beginning of a relationship when you’re kind of assuming it's not going to work out. You're saying, 'All right, let me just enjoy this and be present without putting too much pressure on anything.'”

13th Century Metal
“This title is very literal: This song sounds like metal music but it also sounds like a Gregorian chant. Robert Glasper plays on this record, and the funny thing about that is that he was just trying to figure out how to use this weird keyboard. [Drummer] Nate Smith and I had said, ‘Rob, go play these keys and see if you can get a good sound out of them.’ So he goes into the booth and messes around, playing and playing, and finally I’m like, ‘Wait, this is good. Are you hitting record?’ Rob plays through the whole song. It’s all improvised. One take. At the end, I added in this poetry I had written one day when I really needed inspiration. President Trump had gotten elected and Prince had died—there was just a lot of bad shit happening. I was like, ‘Wow, I don't know about this world…’ So I started writing.”

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