‘Joni Mitchell said she felt as awkward as me’: Brittany Howard on poverty, chaos, Alabama Shakes and fame

The Alabama Shakes frontwoman became the toast of music’s A-list – so why did she feel so miserable? She reveals the grief and heartbreak she overcame to make her stellar new album

On a good morning, Brittany Howard wakes up and decides who she wants to be. She will come up with a character, select clothes to match and pick some corresponding music. Today, clutching her recently neutered puppy, Wilma, the character seems to be “teacher who lives on the French Riviera”: she’s in white trousers, a white top and a blue work shirt with a hat which says Women Love Me, Fish Fear Me. Another recent character was a tractor-driving fan of the country singer Luke Bryan. “I had my camo Crocs on and everything,” Howard says, before breaking into song, Bryan’s Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.

It is disarming to hear this complex, captivating singer bend her voice around lyrics by a bro-country goofball. But Howard – the frontwoman of the rock band Alabama Shakes, a 25-time Grammy nominee and nine-time winner, who has shared the stage with Paul McCartney and Elton John – is never just one thing. She is indeed damn good at fishing (and loving every day, or at least some days). She once had a Twitter account devoted to rating hotel baths, with ratings in tongue-in-cheek categories such as “loneliness” and “drownability”. She says that her donning of other characters is part of her “inner-child work”, a practice used by therapists to help process and break through lingering behaviours induced by trauma.

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