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ALABAMA 3: AN ARMY OF LOVE

Soft Secrets Band Interview  by Kaz Peet

In a fairly inconspicuous building (only a stone’s throw away from an epicenter of the August riots that took place across the UK) in Brixton, South London, can be found the home of the Alabama 3. The band’s recording studios, pressing plant, offices and club venue are all within these walls. Police sirens screeched relentlessly through the night, as forces arrived from all over the country. Meanwhile, the studio was alive with the sound of a hot new album being recorded. It is here that SSUSA spoke to front man, Larry Love, about the gospel according to Alabama 3 and Shoplifting 4 Jesus, their latest sermon.

Half-consciously muttered, late one night, the title is provocatively anarchic and twisted in a typical Alabama 3 kind of way. It sets the tone for the album, and as Larry begins to illuminate, “We believe that the culture in which we now live permits a license to thievery. The bankers and the global financiers of the planet deem it acceptable to liberate, uncontrollably, the hard-earned incomes of many poor people – hence the current recession.

“Couple that with the concept in the music industry that people no longer buy records. So, I think that there is a whole kind of culture within society, both economically and aesthetically, whereby thievery is acceptable. Alabama 3 has made no secret of the fact that, as T.S. Elliot said, amateurs plagiarize, true artists steal, and Alabama 3 are the biggest motherfuckin’ thieves on the block. The album is very much comprised of ideas, snippets and melodies from hundreds of other people’s songs. We make no claim for originality; what we do claim is that whatever we’ve stolen, we’ve stolen in the name of the Lord.
“As we all know, if you put the name of the Lord behind anything, you can get away with murder. That is the theme behind the album. We are on the zeitgeist, with the current occupations in New York and London a very beautiful thing to see in terms of young people being energized – people are sussed to the fact that everything is being stolen. The crisis in capitalism is waking people up to the fact that stealing is believing.”

While the distinctive Alabama 3 sound is clear throughout the album, there is a strong feeling of a hugely increased passion injected into this, making it stand out from being ‘just a new Alabama 3 album’. Appreciating the compliment and with enthusiasm gathering, Larry agrees and explains, “This is a culmination of the last four or five years of us becoming a completely independent and autonomous organization. Consequently, this album very much reflects that energy. In this time of recession people need music, a bit of glamor and a bit of funk; it makes people think outside the box and our record reflects that.”

Never exploiting the global success of the Sopranos theme tune and never selling out, the band is certainly known for their commitment to aiding outlaw causes. But they are equally notorious for their hedonistic attitude, something that is strongly transmitted through the music. The crowd will always leave an Alabama 3 gig on a massive high. It seems that it is more important to have fun than to be angry, and to laugh in the face of adversity. In this church, grooving to funky chords and harmonic melodies can transport the soul to a beautiful place, transcending the discordant racket of the morally lacking organization.

“Our fans know that we know how to party,” smiles Larry. “There’s nothing more boring than soap box preaching rock ‘n’ roll. I think that the most important thing is to get a room full of people from loads of different backgrounds together, dancing and asking questions: why are you talking about Mao Tse Tung and Che Guevara? Who was Sister Rosetta Tharpe and who is John Sinclair? The last thing we want to do is give people boring politics. We are very political in our nature, but if you ain’t got the ladies’ asses moving to the left and the right, and the gangsters in the back feeling whack all night, then you ain’t got a party going on and people won’t ask the questions.”

Indeed the band is fond of asking questions itself, as in the track entitled Who the Fuck is John Sinclair? Why is the 1960s jazz poet, beatnik and political activist, entrapped and imprisoned for the possession of Cannabis, relevant to this album?
“Well, John Lennon and Yoko Ono did the Free John Sinclair rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1972 and I recognize the fact that John Sinclair was the manager of MC5 – kick out the jams, motherfuckers – and he set up the White Panther Party, which ran in tandem with the Black Panther Party. Basically, he was a counter-cultural figure who Alabama 3 was lucky enough to meet recently and do some recording. We made music and we got high together; he told me about all the new strains of weed in Amsterdam and he invited me to appear on his new album. He’s a cool operator waiting to be discovered by those who don’t already know him. In terms of Soft Secrets, he’s probably one of the biggest advocates; he smokes dope 24/7 and has the mind of Einstein. He doesn’t drop a stitch; he’s brilliant.”
Larry Love also smokes 24/7, including throughout this interview. Musing over how the band’s support for the legalization campaign may have had a detrimental effect on their career, he nonetheless appears undeterred.

Although Alabama 3 are probably best known in the US for the Sopranos theme tune, Larry believes they have always maintained their integrity – that the American audience are becoming more wise to the band. As he describes them: “A band coming out of Brixton with a Welshman and a Scotsman, pretending they’re from Alabama, talking in American accents and mixing country and techno is a shit idea. It’s taken a while even for a British audience to realize that there is a serious agenda behind this and I think the American audience recognizes that these boys can play the blues and they respect the quality of the music. Hopefully they will love it and dig it and we will be out there soon – hopefully April [or] May next year.”
After offering a final blessing of “Peace out ‘n’ keep on smoking,” Larry asks the growers out there if they can “have some Willy Weed when the band visits New Orleans next year, please?”

Soft Secrets USA Issue 6 Dec 2011