Brittany Howard is Listening to Rico Nasty, Nina Simone, and Blade Runner

Published October 16, 2019

Photo by Danny Clinch. Art by Jack Vhay.

This is “Add to Queue,”our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we speak with Brittany Howard, the powerfully piped singer who rose to fame with her Grammy-winning band, Alabama Shakes. After releasing her debut solo album, Jaime, recorded during an extended hiatus from the Shakes, she spoke with Interview about growing up with Elvis, getting married to Dylan, and (one day) collaborating with Björk.

———

JACOB UITTI: What was the last song you listened to?

HOWARD: “[Your Love Keeps Lifting Me] Higher & Higher” by Jackie Wilson.

UITTI: Who was the earliest musician to influence you?

HOWARD: The first that came to my head was probably Elvis. My grandma listened to Elvis and I was raised by a lot of older people in my family. They loved Elvis, so those are the first memories I had. 

UITTI: What was the first instrument you ever picked up?

HOWARD: Drums. 

UITTI: What was your first concert?

HOWARD: [Laughs.] What’s his name, the singer of Parliament-Funkadelic. George Clinton. 

UITTI: Do you remember it well?

HOWARD: Yeah, he came out in a diaper, I remember that!

UITTI: Do you have a favorite movie soundtrack?

HOWARD: Blade Runner—the original, of course. It’s not a particular song. I just think it’s the mood of the album that I love. 

UITTI: Do you have a favorite sitcom theme song?

HOWARD: The Jeffersons

UITTI: Do you have a dream collaborator?

HOWARD: Of all time? I’d like to collaborate with Björk.

UITTI: What’s a song that always puts you in a good mood?

HOWARD: Let’s see. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” by Bobby McFerrin. I was a little kid when I heard that for the first time. I was very, very young. 

UITTI: What’s a song you have to turn off? Like, one you just can’t listen to.

HOWARD: “November Rain” by Guns ‘N’ Roses. I’m not doing it. 

UITTI: Name a song or artist that you would definitely put on a road trip playlist.

HOWARD: I would definitely listen to Billy Swan. He did a cover of “Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis. 

UITTI: Dinner party playlist?

HOWARD: Dinner party, oh! I would do, “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” by the Lost Generation.

UITTI: House party?

HOWARD: For a house party, I’m definitely going to throw on “Rage” by Rico Nasty.

UITTI: Crying in your bedroom playlist?

HOWARD: Oh my god! “Lilac Wine” by Nina Simone.

UITTI: Breakup playlist?

HOWARD: Oh boy. Gosh, that’s a hard one. I keep thinking of Bob Dylan for some reason. I gotta get the title of this song. Just give me one second. It’s called “Baby Blue” or something like that? That’s not it! Oh yeah: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” 

UITTI: Getting high playlist? If that’s something you partake in?

HOWARD: [Laughs.] That’s not something I partake in. But if I did, I’d probably listen to “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic. 

UITTI: Your funeral playlist?

HOWARD: “Que Sera, Sera” by Sly and the Family Stone. Got that one ready! 

UITTI: Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

HOWARD: I usually do “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack. 

UITTI: Do you sing in the shower?

HOWARD: No, I talk in the shower, usually. I don’t sing in the shower. Pretty much talking out ideas. 

UITTI: What’s your favorite thing to listen to while making dinner?

HOWARD: Louis Prima. Probably “Oh Marie.” That’s a good one. 

UITTI: What’s an instrument you’d like to learn how to play?

HOWARD: I’d like to learn how to play piano. I’d just like to play piano well. That’d be great.

UITTI: If your life were a TV show, what would be the theme song?

HOWARD: Wow, what a question! “Hustlin’” by Rick Ross

UITTI: Favorite band or song you wish the world knew more about?

HOWARD: That’s a hard one. These are good questions! Probably Betty Davis. And the song I would choose is probably, “They Say I’m Different.”

UITTI: Was there a song that inspired you to sing? 

HOWARD: Dang. Not really. I just always did it. 

UITTI: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written?

HOWARD: My favorite song I’ve written is probably “Sound & Color.” I really like that one. I also like the song “Georgia” that I wrote. There’s not really a common thread between the two, I just really enjoy listening to them. 

UITTI: What song would you want to listen to before you died?

HOWARD: Woah. God, that’s a deep question. I haven’t thought about it. You know, I’d like to listen to, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Nina Simone. But a very particular version: the Montreux Jazz Festival version, 1976. That’s what I’d listen to. 

UITTI: Do you have a particular place in your heart for her?

HOWARD: I just really relate to her. She’s a very strong woman, but also very sensitive and endlessly seeking something. I don’t know, it seems to me that she’s always looking for something and she can never quite put a finger on it. I really relate to her, how she breathes music. There’s something about her that I just, like, kind of get. 

UITTI: Do you think you share that “seeking” attitude?

HOWARD: Music is more than just music. It’s something she breathes, something she has to do. Something she has to accomplish. But then, it’s like, where’s the pinnacle of it, really? I don’t know. It’s how it takes over her—that’s what I think I relate to. 

UITTI: What song were you most happy to hear at your wedding?

HOWARD: When we got married there was, like, no ceremony. Well, we had a ceremony, but, like, three people were there. It was us and the preacher and we were on this mountain next to this water when we got married. Then we came down to the car and we listened to a song called, “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Alter” by Bob Dylan. We used to listen to it when we were having a fun night out on the town. I have no idea why we loved that song so much, but we did. It’s really raucous! 

Listen to Brittany Howard’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.