Interview: Alabama 3

Rob GarrattProphetic or profane? Drug addicts or Christians? Techno or blues? Alabama 3 have baffled classifiers and rocked audiences. ROB GARRATT speaks head honcho Larry Love.Rob Garratt

Prophetic or profane? Drug addicts or Christians? Techno or blues? Alabama 3 have baffled classifiers and rocked audiences. ROB GARRATT speaks head honcho Larry Love.

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The press blurb for the average band will often tell you that they 'defy categorisation', blend genres and generally sound like little you've ever heard before.

Such hyperboles are batted around so much you often expect little more than a new haircut from the latest indie upstarts who claim to have the New Sound.

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But Alabama 3 really do present the critic with some classification problems - their music in equal parts a heady mix of traditional American blues and gospel, and electronic, techno-beats.

The resounding preach of their American south vocals present another problem - tongue in cheek, or new age Christian rock? And the depth of the onstage personas they delve into raise questions of what country they are even from.

Despite the accents, which have cheated many a fan, Alabama 3 burst out of Brixton in the mid-nineties.

The bizarre party mash up of traditional American country song forms and acid house beats was the brainchild of the two main vocalists Rob Spragg - aka Larry Love, and Jake Black - aka The Very Reverend Dr D Wayne Love.

Principle vocalist Spragg drew on his experience of being brought up in Wales as a strict Mormon for his lyrics to the band's work, most principally on their calling card first album, Exile on Coldharbour - a play on the Stones seminal Exile on Main Street.

At first listen the record sounds like the new age preaching of a Christian rock band, the opening song Converted glimmers with the refrain 'Let's go back to church' and the rest of the record is packed with moralistic tongue-in-cheek tales of overdoses and decadence.

Speaking from Jamm, their studio-cum-nightclub-cum-hangout in Brixton, Spragg said: 'If you read the Bible four times a day since an early age it always lives with you in your lyrics. I've got loads of words from the Bible.

'There's a few people who took it at face value. There's got to be an element of irony. Some people think we're too heavy, but we've been accused of being a novelty, hilarity band.

'It's important any artist or art should question; one thing we can do is ask people to question things themselves, to get them thinking.'

The band's biblical messages are only reinforced by a myth that they met as a group of heroin addicts in rehab and shared a joint spiritual re-awakening. Spragg laughs at the fact around 15 years after they spread the story, it is still believed by many fans.

'I used to work as a drugs councillor,' he explains. 'We did this gig that we billed as 'straight out of rehab', we said we were all strung out on methadone and saw a spirit; we put this story out and people still believe it. We were taking the mickey all along, people still go on about it now, but I'm sad to say it's not true.'

This tour brings them to Norwich to promote their eighth album, Revolution Soul, which has attracted prophetic and profane praise from ex-Oasis manager Alan McGee and novelist Martina Cole. Other high profile fans of the band include Stephen King, Irvine Welsh and Howard Marks.

Its the first to be released on Alabama 3's own homegrown label Hostage, and like all their albums was recorded in their native Brixton. 'We've got nothing to lose,' explains Spragg. 'There's a certain cynicism in the industry right now, the record industry is falling apart. What you gotta do is look for different ways of making money.'

The title, a timeless play on the titles of two of The Beatles best records, came when a hapless engineer mislabelled a track originally titled Religion's Cool.

'I just like the sound of it, it's pretty funky,' says Spragg, who sounds somewhat under the weather throughout our 4pm interview. The sound, however, he describes as 'like listening to soul music with a gun against your heard.'

Guesting on the album are two high profile mates of the band - Razorlight frontman Johnny Borrell and iconic Pogues lead singer Shane MacGowan.

The ghost of Tony Soprano hovers in the background of the band, with a song from their first album, Got Myself a Gun, featured over the iconic opening sequence of the much-loved TV show the Sopranos.

'We can eat great Italian food in any Italian restaurant in any Italian town,' jokes Spragg. 'It opened a lot of doors to us. I'd feel sorry if I did the theme tune for Friends, but we've got something to be proud of, it's a high-profile programme. I haven't seen all of it, I've seen a few. I'll have to sit down with the box set one day.'

The Sopranos connection is far from over with Steve Van Zandt, who plays Silvio in the show and is also the longstanding guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, to feature in a forthcoming promo video.

Looking ahead, Spragg says his next project is putting a Welsh crooner, who's first name is Paul but he's forgotten the second, on a dubstep album. He barfs at the suggestion he is joking: 'I take it very seriously, but I am quite disrespectful of the established way of doing it.'

Any last thoughts Larry? 'You tell the brothers and sisters to get ready for revolution. We'll bringing soul music to your town so take the gun away from your head and get ready.

'I love Norwich, we always have a great after party, down by the river, and at the pub with the lock in. It's just a rocking good party town.'

t Alabama 3 play the Waterfront on May 13.

t Revolution Soul is out now.

t Further listening: