Singer Brittany Howard is about to take the stage in front of a packed New York crowd, but she just wants to talk about her newfound passion: fishing. Seriously, the frontwoman and guitarist for indie-pop sensation the Alabama Shakes, who is famous for her gut-wrenching performances that go seamlessly from screeching to cajoling, has gotten so immersed in the sport that she even packs her Sage 7-weight rod when the band tours. “We don’t even drink no more,” she tells me. “I go fishing. That’s what I do. I go to a town, find a piece of water and I go fishing.”
It seems only right that we should be discussing tying flies, given that we’re floating in New York’s Hudson River. We’re inside the World War II-era aircraft carrier, the Intrepid, which has been docked along Manhattan’s west side for the last 35 years and has become an air and space museum. As we chat about the merits of catching and releasing, hundreds of sailors are coming aboard for the launch of Fleet Week and the annual Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum concert that the band is headlining.
While the crowd is loosening up with an assortment of rum-and-ginger beer cocktails, the band is taking it a bit slower. The four principals aren’t big drinkers but Howard and the group’s other singers warm up their vocal cords with a concoction of hot water, lemon juice, honey and some whiskey. In fact, she sips from a cup of it on stage, too. What kind of whiskey does she like to use? “Whatever don’t burn too bad,” she says. “I don’t want to get heartburn before I go up there.”
In fact, most of her bandmates actually skip eating heavy dishes, like pasta, before they perform. The exception is bassist Zac Cockrell. “I’ll eat a whole meal and go on stage,” he brags.
After the show is a completely different story. Most of the time the band will find a local restaurant and have a family meal on the bus as they head to the next town. Occasionally, they’ll go to a restaurant if there’s both time and enough interest. “Usually, I go to bed,” Howard admits. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. But if I have the energy, yeah, I’m going to go out.”
Tonight, they’re craving food from New York’s trendy Chinese restaurant Red Farm. In particular, the establishment’s tasty duck and unique take on the traditional eggroll, which it fills with pastrami from legendary Katz’s Delicatessen. “Two orders please,” Howard jokes.
In between stops, the band admits to stocking its tour bus with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Lunchables and LaCroix sparkling water. Although, Howard admits to still missing the steak-and-cheese torta from her beloved Sabor Latino Taqueria in their hometown of Athens, Alabama. The secret to its deliciousness: “They have their own bread recipe,” she reveals. “It’s the bread that makes it.”
But Howard is already looking forward to the trip to their next concert venue. “I’m excited to go to Connecticut,” she says. “I love Connecticut because there’s good fishing. We drove through it [before] and stopped at a Dairy Cream and I was like this is my homeland.”