By Scott Kara Mar 3, 2012

Larry Love has to go. The elderly father of one of his mates has just had a stroke and can I ring him back in 10 minutes. "It's a long story, I'll tell you in a minute," he says in his grizzled and raw Welsh accent. And with that he's off. It's Larry to the rescue.

It turns out the old fella is doing okay and Love (real name Rob Spragg) - the singer-cum-crooner of Alabama 3, the genre-mashing British band most famous for the Sopranos theme tune, Woke Up This Morning - just had to help his mate briefly before taking TimeOut's call.

"Hit me, brother," he says when he gets back on the line from London ahead of the band's Womad performances in New Plymouth and Auckland this month. "We're looking forward to seeing you lot. The whites of the eyes. Up close and impersonal," he drawls.

"How are the sheep? Are they all right?" he continues with a hoot. "You know, the only other people a Welshman can trust in the world are you Kiwis, because we all shag sheep. There is immediate empathy. Immediate empathy."

Love is a hilarious mix of cheeky (not only do the sheep jokes keep coming but the Gallagher brothers get it in the neck too), heartfelt, and brash.

They are doing the band's acoustic and unplugged version of their show when they come here. But Love is quick to point out it will be just as raw, swinging, and arse-kicking as their full live concerts.

"There's nothing worse than a band doing acoustic versions of their songs," he barks. "What we've done is kind of taken the template from Robert Johnson, juke joints from the 20s and 30s, which is basically a legal warehouse party, it's four to the floor. What Alabama 3 are capable of doing is deconstructing that kind of rock 'n' roll, full nine-piece band down to a very simplistic Delta blues style," he says.

"And we are arrogant enough that we can take [Delta blues] up to some in-bred techno, you know what I'm saying?"

While the swaggering Woke Up This Morning, off 1997 debut album Exile on Coldharbour Lane, is traditional enough, when they started out Alabama 3 were seen almost as a novelty act as they went about mixing country and western and blues with techno.

"A lot of our arrogance is based on our long-held outsider status in the sense that we came out at the height of Brit pop and everyone was waving Union Jacks."

But Love and his mate Jake Black (aka the Very Reverend Dr. D Wayne Love) rejected that sort of carry-on and decided to pretend they were American ("based on a lot of cultural issues we have with the English imperialists"). And they have continued on that restless musical course ever since. "Yeah, and have you heard Noel Gallagher's last record? And Liam Gallagher's? They're not restless enough.

"So what you do is embrace this restlessness, which is basically iPod shuffle culture. If you are a teenager now you don't have anything like my generation where you were either a punk rocker, a soul boy, or a reggae freak. And music is in a permanent state of restlessness now and I think that's really good and the boundaries have very much broken down in terms of what constitutes legitimate authentic music."

Alabama 3's latest album, Shoplifting 4 Jesus, is all over the place - in a good way - as it morphs from hip-hop and tongue-in-cheek dub-step on Facebook.con through to the jaunty gospel techno soul of We Stole the Moon and sleazy electronic stealth of Summer In the City.

Since Love is the son of a preacher man - "So I never had the devil's music growing up." - and his mum played piano in the chapel, his first musical memories are mostly of gospel music and folk songs. This led to a healthy obsession with Americana a little later on in life.

Sopranos creator David Chase sure thought Love and his band were American when he chose Woke Up This Morning as the theme to the series. "He thought we were a blues band from Alabama. Then he finds out it's a Welshman and a Scotsman with Irish management living in Brixton," laughs Love.

However, Love says they were careful not to exploit the song off the back of the popularity it gained from the TV series - and the main reason why they have refused to be pinned down to one sound.

"We were quite shy about exploiting it. But at the same time we're very grateful because it did wonders for us in the sense that we were an unknown, obscure cult band doing country-western techno from Brixton. But it enabled us, without having to sell out, to have some financial bedrock upon which we can cast stones upon the Earth."


Who: Larry Love from Alabama 3
Where & when: Womad, Brooklands March 16-18; Powerstation, March 22
Latest album: Shoplifting 4 Jesus, available now

Also listen to: Exile on Coldharbour Lane (1997); Hits and Exit Wounds (compilation, 2008); Revolver Soul (2010)