Brittany Howard looks past and forward ahead of the GrammysJanuary 23, 2020 6:48pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Leaving a successful band is never easy. For Brittany Howard, stepping away from the roots-rockers Alabama Shakes wasn't easy — but it was necessary.

“Being on my own was really important to me creatively. It was a really big risk and it was a really big choice,” the singer-guitarist says. "It was hard to do but I knew it was the right thing to do because I knew I needed to.”

That decision seems to have paid off, with Howard's commercially and critically well-regarded album “Jaime” up for two Grammy Awards at Sunday's ceremony. Her song “History Repeats” competes for best rock performance and best rock song.

While she wishes the best for the fellow musicians in her categories, Howard admits she'd love to win because it would make her parents very happy. "Hopefully both of them so I could give my mom one and my dad one,” she says, laughing.

Howard's album is a deeply personal swing through her musical influences and life. It's so intimate that she named it after her late sister. She explores a hate crime ("Goat Head"), God ("He Loves Me") and an early schoolgirl crush ("Georgia").

“It is very personal. It’s very truthful, to be honest," she says. "If I was going to do this, I knew I needed to do it truthfully and honestly and with the right intention.”

Putting the Shakes on hold gave Howard the chance to explore and celebrate the music she adored growing up, so listeners can hear on “Jaime” garage rock, soul, R&B, gospel and psychedelia.

“Basically it was a white canvas and you could do whatever you wanted to do. The songs sound like vignettes — different parts of my life — because the songs were coming from different parts of me with different voices.”

Howard produced the album with the support of ATO Records, the same label as the Shakes. Label head Jon Salter said Howard was ready “for something completely extraordinary on her own.”

“There is so much genius going on in her head,” he says. “She's an encyclopedia of music knowledge — retro, new. She just transcends different genres. In the studio, left to her own devices — her instincts, what she hears — she's next-level.”

Howard says the past year has flown by and she's not sure what her next step is. "The exciting part is: I don’t know,” she says. “Whatever excites me creatively is the next thing everyone’s going to see me do.”

One thing she definitely wants is something not many could have anticipated. “I want to collaborate with Bjork,” she says. “She’s actually one of the only people I’ve wanted to collaborate with for years and I feel like I’m ready now.”

Categorizing Howard has always been challenging. When she was with the Shakes, they won Grammys in the rock categories for the song “Don't Wanna Fight” but the album it came from, “Sound & Color,” won in the alternative category. A few years later “Killer Diller Blues” won in the roots category.

“I’m really honored even to be considered,” she says, adding that categories don't bother her. “All I ever wanted is freedom, especially creatively. That’s why I became a creative person — to experience freedom, of my mind, of my thoughts, of sound, of vision."

While Howard says her role at the Grammys on Sunday is a secret, she does add her voice to those hoping the Grammys and the music industry as a whole embraces the efforts of women. A lack of female Grammy winners in recent years has led to a backlash.

“If you want anything to transform, you have to begin with the painful part, which is saying something. Saying something and then doing something," Howard says. "And it’s unstoppable at this point. There’s no way we’re going backward from here on.”

Howard urged the industry to hire women in all parts of the industry — engineers, producers, songwriters and musicians — and ensure they get proper credits. Then celebrate when one wins.

“Let her accept that Grammy Award. Let some little girl who’s watching that go, ‘That’s what I want to do!’ And then 20 years later it’s a different industry,” she says. "Visibility is really important and talking is really important.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

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