Alabama 3 are playing three shows in Ireland this month to mark the premiere of Irish film Songs For Amy that the acoustic and unplugged band features in. Alabama 3 Acoustic and Unplugged is a four-piece outfit consisting of Larry Love and Aurora Dawn on vocals, Rock Freebase on guitar and Harpo Strangelove playing harmonica. With this line up they bring a whole new dimension (inspired by country, gospel and delta blues) to the songs made famous by Alabama 3, including Woke Up This Morning. They kick off the tour at the European premier of Songs for Amy at the Galway Film Fleadh tomorrow (July 11). Following this they play Cyprus Avenue in Cork on Thursday July 12, Dolans Warehouse in Limerick on July 13 before finishing up in the Roisin Dubh in Galway on July 14.
Bernard O'Rourke caught up with Larry Love ahead of the tour to find out what inspired Alabama 3’s unique sound, and how he made the transition from musician to film star.
You featured in the upcoming Irish film Songs for Amy. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I’m a bit upset really. I was led to believe that the film would start a campaign to rescue the reputation of Alabama 3 from the gutter. And Songs for Amy has basically confirmed everyone’s suspicions that we are a sex, drugs and rock and roll band. They exploited us because we are bad boys. I wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, but they ended up using Alabama 3 as these crazy rock and roll people in the film. Which I think was bit of a cliché.
Nah, I’m kidding it was really good. Songs for Amy was a fantastic experience. Half the clubs we filmed in, we did gigs in, so it was really good vibe. I only saw it once, but I think it’s a wicked film. They got us in to be naughty boys, and was fucking naughty boys, know what I mean? It was a great collaboration, and I am honoured to be associated with Songs for Amy.
How much of your performance was really acting? You play yourself in the film, but was that the real version of you or the deliberately exaggerated persona you take on onstage?
Well listen, my wife is coming over for the Galway Film Festival, so I’ve told her it’s all acting, yeah? But there was a certain amount of method acting. I went right into the role, which is basically a drug crazed, alcoholic rock and roll singer. Just remember that in the party room scene, with all those naked women dancing around, I was only acting.
So is acting like bad boys (and girls) an important part of the stage show for Alabama 3?
Oh yeah. I mean thank God for Louis Walsh, and thank God for Westlife and Boyzone and Bono, but I think the world still needs real, 100 per cent rock and rollers, and Alabama 3 do that.
You are also playing a number of I dates in your acoustic and unplugged capacity. How different is this from your electric live shows? How does it compare to the crazy energy of a typical Alabama 3 show?
I dunno if you are familiar with a fellow called Woody Guthrie, but he used to have a guitar with “this machine kills fascists” written on it, and in the acoustic band of Alabama 3 we got a delta-blues guitar palyer, a harmonica and two vocalists, and that’s it, but we still kill fascists.
The acoustic band is just a different genre. I’ve always written songs which can be done in a full on techno-rock and roll style, but it can also be reduced to a delta-blues kind of vibe. So it’s the same sort of energy, it’s just a different genre.
How do you like playing gigs in Ireland? What is the response like over here?
Listen, without sounding like some fucking American tourist, we do more gigs in Ireland than we do anywhere else. I mean the first gig we ever did outside of the UK was in the Rosin Dubh. And it was also the first time we had an intelligent audience who could understand what we trying to do by mixing country and blues and trad with techno.
Where did that mix up of musical genres actually come from?
Basically we are the only band in the world that does sweet pretty country and western-acid house music all night long. But I’m a Welshman and Rev. D Wayne Love, the other singer, is as Scotsman, and we met after we moved to Brixton. One of the best pubs in Brixton was called Brady’s bar, and in one side of the bar was all these Rastas playing reggae, and in the back room were all these Celtic supporters singing rebel songs. And we’d hear all these combinations, like reggae versions of Irish songs, so we thought we’d take it one step further and become Americans doing that. It was that collision of cultures that inspired us, because we come from a very multicultural community. It was the Irish trad-acoustic thing with a reggae beat which give us the idea, so that became our angle.
Among all those influences, is there one artist or musician who made you want to go out and start a band?
I’d probably say Hubert Selby Jr., as a writer. He wrote Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream, he was very inspiring. We come from a very Lou Reed school, and we believe that there is room in rock and roll for literature. And I like to think that Alabama 3 have some literary angles to us. In that sense we are more influenced by literature than rock and roll. But I also love Miles Davis, John Coltrane and John Prine.
Did it ever get annoying to be known as “that band that do The Sopranos theme song”?
No we never get annoyed. I mean imagine if you did the theme music for Friends, you’d hate it, wouldn’t you? I would get fucking annoyed then. But The Sopranos is consistently well regarded, so I’m really happy to be associated with it.
How did that kind of exposure effect Alabama 3 as a band?
Well we didn’t make too much money from it. We didn’t get the best deal at the time, because our manager was not a rock and roll manager, he was a sort of gangster we knew from Brixton. It has opened a lot of doors, but we never really exploited it. I mean we’ve been approached many times to cash in. At one point Kellogg’s approached us and wanted us to record a version of “Woke up this Morning”, with the words changed to “woke up this morning/ got myself some bran.” But we’ve never gone for anything like that.
And what’s ironic is that the song wasn’t written about gangsters at all. It was written about a women who suffered domestic violence, who turned around one morning and shot her husband. The song may have become The Sopranos anthem, but we didn’t write the song for The Sopranos. It was very much a about a women who’d had enough of her wife-beating husband. It’s interesting to see how that song has mutated. I mean, fuck The Sopranos, we’ve been on The Simpsons with that song. That’s better, innit?
You also get a lot for criticism for your unconventional nature. NME once described you as: “a monumental waste of time.” How do you deal with this?
On our website we have compilation of quotes, you we have the Guardian calling us “the best live band in the country” and NME calling us a “monumental waste of time”. It’s like that old adage, “a prophet is never known in his own land.” I think a lot of that goes back to where we came out of. We came out in the middle of Britpop, and we said: we’re not British, we’re not flying no fucking union jack. I’m Welsh, he’s Scottish, and we’re pretending to be Americans while living in Brixton. So everyone went: “this band are a fucking novelty band, you can’t mix techno and country and western.” I mean it looks stupid on paper, a Welshman and a Scotsman pretending to be Americans doing country and western techno, it looks stupid doesn’t it? So God bless the NME for having no sense of humour and no concept of postmodernism. And we’re still standing, so what does that say?
What’s next for Alabama 3?
We’re very much enjoying the collapse of the record industry. We’ve set up our own record label called Hostage Music and we’ve got our own studio and we’re working with a lot of young and upcoming artists at the moment. And we’ve got a big UK tour coming up in November.
We’re also doing a load of soundtracks. We were always under the radar, and that’s what’s kept us busy. And what’s interesting, the same way the music industry is falling apart, the film industry is doing the same. What used to be half a million pounds budgets for film scores are now much smaller. So we’ve got a lot of film people coming to us asking to do a film score cheaply and quickly. I like to think we’re on the radar now, but we’re angling for different kind of areas. We’re not looking to sell records, we’re looking to sell more gossamer like entities. Selling records is so fucking passé, you sell culture, so that’s what we are trying to do. The revolution is happening, worldwide, I like to think.