A southern revival is bringing back soul music that is raw, powerful and real. Music that fills a room with trumpets, trombones, drums, and guitars and charged by a lead singer with a powerful voice that glides over surging melodies or kicks in the door of emotions. Alanna Broadus-Quinn is the lead singer of Alanna Royale, a southern funk and soul band based out of Nashville that became a favorite at the SouthSounds Music Festival in Mobile in April 2014. Members of the band are Jared Colby (guitar), Gabe Golden (bass), Matt Snow (drums), Kirk Donovan (trumpet), and Diego Vasquez (trombone).
Alanna Royale formed two years ago but the band has already played major festivals like Bonnaroo, toured the country, received offers from record labels, and just finished their debut album, Achilles, that comes out September 16. They have survived the hazards of life on the road including blowouts and break-ins and the scare of losing Alanna’s voice during recording. They have developed their sound and a full show of original songs, and learned how to use the force of their personalities to charge a crowd.
“I am a very neurotic person and being on stage fits my personality,” says Alanna. “Sometimes I find myself breathing hard before a show, but then I walk on stage and I never think about it again. It’s like being in a trance and I can’t remember the details, just what we were doing. This band is collective effervescence. One person gets crazy and another person gets crazy until it becomes a mob mentality of craziness.”
The band’s collective effervescence was tested when Alanna hemorrhaged a vocal chord before the band went into the studio. “One of my vocal chords was full of blood from overuse, bad technique and tension,” she says. “We had to cancel recording twice. We also had a lot of shows booked during that time. I wasn’t getting enough down time.” “That was a scary time because as Gabe put it, the whole machine and the people who work for us depend on my little vocal chords and if I can’t sing, the rest doesn’t happen,” says Alanna. “I have been in speech therapy and vocal therapy for months and months to repair it. It was brutal because I would lose my voice here and there and it took an emotional toll on me, on all of us, but the guys stuck with me and made me take a break to get serious about this. I couldn’t sing and I felt like I was responsible for everyone else’s future. Gabe called it my Achilles heel, and he was right.”
The band and Alanna’s vocal chords made it through recording and they symbolically named the album Achilles. “In the myth, Achilles’ was shot in the heel with an arrow and that fatal flaw was the end of him,” says Alanna. “The picture on the album cover is my hands breaking the arrow. I am stopping the arrow and taking control of my fate and not letting it break me.”
Achilles was produced by Andrija Tokic (he also produced albums by the Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff) and he brought the power and energy of Alanna Royale’s live shows into the studio. “We only did three or four takes of a song and we recorded to 2-inch tape instead of a digital format,” says Alanna. “We didn’t use Auto-Tune or editing, so if you couldn’t play it then, it didn’t make it on the album.”
Recording with Tokic helped Alanna learn her voice. “I wanted to work with Andrija because I knew he wouldn’t put me in my comfort zone,” she says. “Letting go to get out of the comfort zone is scary because once I was out, I felt like shit and wondered if I had made a mistake. I trusted Andrija fully, but maybe I didn’t trust myself. Being pushed like that is hard to swallow. There were times when I had to step outside because I felt like I couldn’t give him what he wanted. It was a great learning experience and I am thankful.”
Friends and guest musicians also played on the album: Peter Keys from Lynard Skynard, drummer Aaaron Mortenson from Los Colognes. Alanna’s friends Jaime Babbitt (Leon Russell’s background singer) and Maureen Murphy (who also appears on the new Phish record) sang background vocals.
Alanna sings with the fire of a woman who was burned and not going to take it any more. The final song on the album is, “Go Back,” with an Ike and Tina Turner vibe about sending her man on his way.
Baby it is so sweet of you to let me down gently
You know it’s funny how you think you got the best of me
Now you’ve got me on my knees next to you
But I’m praying that I never meet another man quite like you…
Do you hear me? There’s a train track saying go back, go back, go back
In real life Alanna is engaged to the band’s guitar player Jared Colby; they met in Boston and moved to Nashville together. They have matching tattoos of Hold on the left hand and On on the right hand. When they hold hands, the tattoos together say Hold On. They both graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Alanna studied music business and film scoring then settled on songwriting, and Jared majored in music business and management.
“I am still waiting tables in Nashville because I went to Berklee School of Music and I am paying off student loans, but waiting tables also keeps it real,” says Alanna. “This is an intersection of fantasy and reality in my life. I will be bussing a table and people recognize me from the band and want me to sit with them or take a picture with me while I am wearing my uniform.”
If Achilles is successful, Alanna may soon retire the apron for bigger stages and more time to make soul music her way. “I have always been a singer, but I was never selected for the choir in high school because the choral director told me I don’t blend,” says Alanna. “Now that I’m older, I realize that I don’t want to blend, I like tipping the scale. All of the women I love like Cyndi Lauper and Grace Jones are courageous and bold. The bigger, the brighter, the better. Any way that I can express my own creativity or do my own thing, I will do it.”
Photography by Michelle Stancil