Brittany Howard Enters Her “High Priestess” Era With New Album ‘What Now’

Brittany Howard has one word to describe her feelings about 2024 so far. “Suspicious,” she says flatly as we lock eyes in agreement over Zoom. “Highly suspicious.”

It’s an attitude shared by many still adjusting to life post-2020 pandemic, which is when Howard first began working on her new sophomore solo album, What Now. Despite her skepticism about the world at large, the former Alabama Shakes blues rock band frontwoman is secure in her personal ventures, which include “The Brittany Howard What Now Tour” that kicked off in Chicago on Feb. 6, just three days before her Island Records debut releases.

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What Now is what the world felt like,” Howard says of the album title’s double meaning. “I remember somebody said it was like some aliens landed and people were just like, ‘I don’t care.’ It was just blow after blow of unprecedented things happening and trying to hang on to your soul through all of that.

“It still feels like that,” she adds. “The other part is, ‘Where am I now? What am I creating now?’ ”

Her answer is a 12-track,sonically diverse EP that begins with the love manifestation anthem “Earth Sign” and ends with a sobering reminder of the limits to life’s highs in “Every Color in Blue.”

Howard, whose Grammy-nominated solo debut Jaime came out in 2019, talks about her new album, a new look and staying true to herself.

What would you say is the sound and vibe of this project? 

Definitely unique. It’s pulling from all the four corners of my musical world. It’s its own thing unto itself. It’s an emotional record. It’s a goofy record. It’s fun. It’s sad. It’s a roller coaster.

The transitions between songs sound like the singing bowls used in sound baths.

The cover of Brittany Howard’s What Now.
The cover of Brittany Howard’s What Now.

That’s what it is. I wanted to create something [between the songs] you can be anchored to, and there’s something you always come back to. It’s like coming back to your breath. I hope it affects people positively and gives people space to digest the record.

You have a different visual image for this album. What inspired the new look?

When I put on Raquel — that’s my wig — I liken it to putting on a high priestess outfit. I become my higher self. She’s powerful, she’s fearless, she said what she said, and she meant it.

The music industry doesn’t always hold space for artists to be their most authentic selves. How have you continued to carve out a lane for yourself?

You’ve got to find people who support your most authentic self and go out there and shine, because people aren’t going to roll out the red carpet for you. That’s life. I don’t know if the music industry even knows itself right now, to be honest with you. So we’re going to keep on keeping on with what we’ve always been doing.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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