Alabama Shakes: You Ain’t Alone
Over the last three years, Joshua Shoemaker has become a go-to video guy for Southern indie musicians, and today, we’re proud to bring you a small collection of his work. But first, a little story: the one about how Shoemaker might never have found this career if he hadn’t bought a ’96 Jaguar for $1,700 at a bar one night.
Shoemaker, now 29, grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and studied photography for a while at the University of Alabama Birmingham. He liked shooting still photos and wasn’t planning on becoming a filmmaker, but he found it hard to resist the urge to hit video button on his camera now and then. Then, in 2011, he fell in with a home-state band few people had heard of at the time — the Alabama Shakes. The first video he shot captured a live performance of “You Ain’t Alone” during the Shakes’ first outing as Drive-By Truckers’ opening act. A year later, when the Shakes were headed to Nashville’s Bomb Shelter studio to record their first album, “Boys and Girls,” they invited Shoemaker up to shoot the recording sessions.
But on the drive up to Nashville, the Jaguar threw a rod. “I was right about halfway between Birmingham and Nashville, and it was going to cost me just as much to tow it to one place as another,” Shoemaker says. He chose to send the tow-truck driver northward, and wound up spending an entire week in Nashville while he looked for parts to fix his car.
“Otherwise, I would have just shot for a day and bounced,” he says. “I had never had the right introduction to Nashville until then. But I met some musicians there and hung out. I finally found the part on eBay, local pick-up, and got the car fixed.” In the process, he fell in love with the city. A year later, he moved there.
Two qualities come through strongest in Shoemaker’s work: First is his love for the music. To watch his work is somehow to feel the appreciation of the die-hard music fan — which is one of the reasons Shoemaker often prefers to shoot in live settings. Second is his ability to imbue his videos with a sense of place. For evidence of that, watch his beautiful take on Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “St. Roch Blues.” To the ear alone, the connection of Riff Raff’s music to the rhythms of its hometown, New Orleans, are not always apparent, but watching this video is another story. You get to see the threads that weave the tapestry of that most special place together.