Zac Cockrell: Can't Shake the Feeling

“I NEVER THOUGHT WE’D GET TO THIS LEVEL,” says Zac Cockrell of rootsy buzz band Alabama Shakes.
By Jon D'Auria ,

Zac Cockrell of Alabama Shakes performs at Th e Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on May 16, 2012. “I NEVER THOUGHT WE’D GET TO THIS LEVEL,” says Zac Cockrell of rootsy buzz band Alabama Shakes. “Just playing shows outside of Alabama felt like a huge accomplishment to me. I love the music we make, but I never would have guessed that other people would like it so much, too.” Two years ago, Zac and his high school friends were playing small bars. In time, the band’s sound morphed from progressive rock to roots rock, reflecting the 24-year-old bassist’s songwriting influence. The quartet took on the name Alabama Shakes and decided to record an album for the scrapbooks of their family and friends titled Boys & Girls. In a matter of months, the album went viral and put the quartet on the map as a hot new talent.

How did you approach the bass for Boys & Girls?

I didn’t have any one mindset, but I’ve always been a fan of players like Donald “Duck” Dunn, Tommy Cogbill, and Gordon Edwards. I’m sure their influence came out in some of my playing. I just tried to not overplay and to give the songs what they really needed.

How did the single “Hold On” come about?

Our guitarist Heath [Fogg] and I had written that groove, and the rest of the song was built onto it while we were gigging at a local bar. Steve [Johnson] put a drumbeat on it that really locked it in, Brittany [Howard] wrote her vocals, and I just kept tight with them the whole time and filled out the body.

You get an authentic, vintage tone with your playing.

I mute the strings as much as I can with my left hand, and I dig in hard with my index finger. I’ll use my middle finger as well if it’s a faster line, but I’m used to playing with one finger. I try to keep from sounding too muddy; I prefer a big, clear tone.

Do you approach larger shows differently, compared to the small ones you’re used to?

Even on a bigger stage, we still set up close to each other. I’m not a big fan of running bass through the monitors, so I try to get as close to my rig as I can. When we’re playing a big festival and we’re spread out, it doesn’t feel right. I like being close to the drums and in the middle of all the noise.

What can we expect from the sophomore album?

I think it’ll be different, but it’s hard to say at this point. We don’t want to make the same album twice, so we’re exploring new approaches with our writing. It will still sound like us, but we’ll probably take some risks stylistically.

What are you going to do differently on bass?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Joe Osborn and working on my picking. The muted pickstyle tone is something that sounds so good when it’s done right. Carol Kaye on the early Quincy Jones stuff is amazing. I’ve been playing along with that music and it’s been wearing me out.



Alabama Shakes, Boys & Girls [ATO, 2012]


Bass Fender ’50s Reissue Precision Bass, 1966 Fender Precision Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT Classic head and SVT-410HLF cabinet
Strings La Bella flatwounds (.045–.105)