By Benjamin Cooper April 9th, 2012

Larry Love has got some advice, and y’all better listen up. “Beware the hippy,” he warns. “Honestly, the hippy is more dangerous than the police, what with all their bullshit and delusion.” The frontman of England’s psych-country madmen Alabama 3 is currently touring New Zealand, prior to the band’s Australian jaunt, and is extolling the virtues of a switched-on crowd. “The crowds over here,” he broadly accentuates, “are very similar to the ones in Australia. Sure, they’re nice and laid-back, and they welcome what we do with an open mind. But there’s also a degree of intelligence in the reception that we rarely get back home in England. I don’t think we’ve had crowds this good since we first played Ireland, 15 years ago.”

Love (real name Rob Spragg) formed Alabama 3 with close friend The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne (known to his mother as Jake Black) in Peckham in 1995. The band sprang from a simple conversation at a house party in which they decided that the acid house movement dominating the Brixton scene could potentially be fused with their love of country music.

In spite of his earlier warning about hippies, Love acknowledges the importance of dance and electronic music to his band’s evolution. “I really don’t mind psych-trance, I mean, it’s very much where we’ve come from,” he admits. “The thing that gets me is the way that kind of music gets appropriated by all these people who take a fuckload of drugs, but are boring as shit. Then they hang about in Thailand and India calling it enlightened tourism – but it’s just ex-colonising, with a fucking vengeance. We wrote a song called ‘Never Going To Goa’ (from their debut Exile on Coldharbour Lane) which maybe goes some way to explaining how we feel about that scene. We’ve lived big lives…we’ve been those lunatics who party beyond the break of day, but I like to think that we’ve got a bit more energy and creativity than to just sit around on a filthy beach talking bullshit with other idiots about consciousness expansion.”

His reservations about hippies don’t extend to Byron Bay, however. “Oh man,” he exclaims, “the times we’ve had at Bluesfest! We’ve played there before jet-lagged out of our skulls and we got so much respect for putting in a big show, with all the characters that make up our performance, that they couldn’t get us off the stage!”

It’s taken time and work for Alabama 3 to find their audience abroad – something Love sees as a byproduct of their peculiar blend of genres. “When we first played America, no-one knew how to take us,” he recalls. “I think everyone saw us as some kind of a novelty act, but I think our hard work touring and releasing albums has shown us for who we really are.”

The band have released nine albums so far, including last year’s Shoplifting 4 Jesus, of which Love says, “There’s never going to be another record in history like ours. And that’s something that makes us very, very happy lads.” The album’s production through their label Hostage Music was painful, but certainly not because of any bad blood with the company. “We’ve always been fortunate in having our labels allow us a good amount of artistic control,” he says. “We have had to employ our own framework, pretty much from the start, and that level of control is heartening.”

The power shifts between artists and labels in the last decade is something of which Love is acutely aware, and it has particular resonance for an act with such a strong touring identity. “These are exciting times,” he enthuses. “This so-called collapse of the industry has forced a change in how musicians operate. We’ve finally got some of the power back, [whereas] it used to be all about the label or the middleman. Musicians have to ignore record sales, ignore looking for some magical deal to be offered to them, because people want real bands who believe in the hard slog.”

Hard work aside, it was mostly chance that saw Alabama 3 break through in America, when their track ‘Woke Up This Morning’ was co-opted by television series The Sopranos for its opening titles. US rapper Nas subsequently sampled it on his track ‘Got Ur Self A…’ from his album Stillmatic. “Mate, we’ve made more money and got more exposure from that TV show and Nas then we ever got flogging our own wares!” Love says with trademark self-deprecation. As if being a purveyor of alt-country psych-trance wasn’t boundary-pushing enough, he then reveals that Nas’ debut Illmatic is his favourite album.

“Funny thing about Nas,” he adds, “is that when he played Brixton he did ‘Got Ur Self A…’ for his finale, as a tribute to us. But he didn’t know there’s quite a big Yardy culture in our hometown, and there are some issues with firearms. So he starts playing and a bunch of guys scattered throughout the audience start firing their guns in the air, and shot out the lights. Needless to say, they shut the gig down pretty quick. And Nas wandered off stage looking pretty bewildered. Great night, though.”