Brittany Howard on her new album ‘Jaime’
The frontwoman for Alabama Shakes is set to perform at Afropunk in Atlanta on Oct. 12
After a successful run as a singer and guitarist for Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard had hit a wall. So she decided to take a hiatus from the Grammy-winning band behind “Hold On,” “Hang Loose” and “Don’t Wanna Fight” to seek her own creative liberation.
Howard’s yearlong sabbatical led to the creation of her solo album, Jaime, named after her older sister, who succumbed to retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, at age 13.
Jaime features Howard, 31, whisking together gospel, hip-hop, jazz, soul, spoken word and blues across 11 tracks to find her voice and appreciation for her biracial identity. The daughter of a white mother and black father revisits the bigotry her parents encountered predating her birth in “Goat Head.” She also croons about her relationship with her dad (“Stay High”), delivers a sermon about uplifting humanity (“13th Century Metal”), pleads to get the attention of another woman (“Georgia”) and expresses her conflicted relationship with God (“He Loves Me”).
The Alabama native will perform at Afropunk in Atlanta on Saturday. She spoke with The Undefeated about her time away from Alabama Shakes, the challenge of making her debut solo LP, making fans out of icons, healing through creativity and finding freedom through music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you realize you needed to step away from Alabama Shakes to deliver your own solo project?
I just made the decision to follow my own destiny. That’s when I started working on the record. After writing a few songs, I realized I had a bunch of other songs on my laptop that I put to the side because stylistically it wouldn’t work with the Shakes.
What did you notice as you embarked on your cross-country travels that helped you create Jaime?
I’d been so busy working for years, I forgot to re-evaluate where I was as a person growing. I never took the time to just check in with myself. Those road trips were a big part of it because I was with myself, forming my own opinions and getting out, doing things on my own.
Did you have a playlist that you used as a template for conceptualizing Jaime?
Everything and nothing. I wasn’t listening to a lot of stuff that had anything to do with this record. I was listening to stuff like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, which is my partner’s music. I was listening to her music and was trying to see what I could come up with without being directly inspired by one thing.
On Jaime, the song “Goat Head” retraces the bigotry your parents experienced but also addresses your appreciation for your biracial identity.
Being of mixed race is its own story in itself. No matter how much whiteness I have in me, my experiences are never going to be that of a white woman. My experience is a black experience. My parents went through a lot from both sides just to create me. If you’re struggling with not having any identity, it’s up to you to make your own.
How do you handle being one of the few women of color leading a band and playing all styles of music?
I don’t think of myself like that. I just love being creative and thinking about what’s the biggest thing I could do or what have I not done before. It may appear like I don’t give a s— about anything or what anyone says. That’s very true, but I also work very, very hard to have freedom.