One thing Alanna Quinn-Broadus would like you to know is that she is not “Alanna Royale,” a headcase lead singer just itching to go solo, with a bunch of faceless, anonymous dudes backing her. No, Alanna Royale is a band.
While Quinn-Broadus fronts the group, she happily rattles off her “boys,” mentioning them constantly in conversation. Along with Jared Colby, who is also her husband, on guitar, the group features Matt Snow on drums, Gabriel Golden on bass, and a rarity in the Nashville music scene, a dedicated horn section: Kirk Donovan on trumpet and Diego Vasquez on trombone.
Quinn-Broadus has a big voice. Were it a guitar, it might be a Gibson Les Paul: throaty, warm, powerful, and capable of searing, soaring leads when unleashed. It’s not unlike the jazz singers she loves — Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson. It’s a soulful voice above all, and, as such, it’s a perfect match for the horns, the drumming, and Colby’s sinewy, sinuous guitar parts. All of this is on display on the band’s debut full-length, Achilles, which is available as a digital download or on CD or vinyl at their Bandcamp site. The album was recorded at East Nashville’s Bomb Shelter studio and engineered by Andrija Tokic, known for his work with Alabama Shakes, Benjamin Booker, and former Alanna Royale tourmates Hurray for the Riff Raff. The record, which has received raves from the likes of NPR and Garden & Gun, almost never got recorded at all.
On tour back in 2013, Quinn-Broadus ruptured a vocal cord during a SXSW appearance. After seeing several doctors and therapists, as well as a chiropractor and vocal coach — she was “given the gift” of having to relearn her craft from scratch, she says. (Bassist Golden suggested the album title after comparing the band’s travels and travails that year to that of the mythical Achilles and his famously vulnerable heel.)
But such scares are in the rearview now, she says, and on the eve of beginning a short tour with fellow rock/soul revivalists St. Paul & the Broken Bones, the vocalist is in a reflective, even grateful, mood.
“We recently played a show at the new Basement East, and it dawned on me that show was three years to the day from when we played our first one (at the original Basement location on Eighth Avenue),” Quinn-Broadus says. “One of the first people I met in Nashville was [Grimey’s/Basement owner] Mike Grimes, when I was waiting tables. And then I met Kate Mills of Old Made Good, who after like a month here put me and my husband in a photo spread in a magazine. After meeting Mike, we played an open mic at The Basement, and six months later we were headlining there. Not even a year after that we played Bonnaroo.”
Quinn-Broadus puts a lot of faith in faith. Not religious faith, per se, but faith in following one’s instincts and believing in oneself and surrounding yourself with people sharing a common vision, and letting the rest work
“I was in a really awesome mall-punk band,” she says dryly. “I am into legit punk music, and I am into legit hardcore music. You can ask anyone I play with. I also love pop music, I really love a good hook, and I’m a big hip-hop fan. When I thought about what I liked, it sort of all came together: I like distortion. I like loud guitars. I like theatrical music. I grew up doing musical theatre. But I love the big, soaring thing with Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. And so we’re kind of all of those things thrown together.
“But I also always wanted to be in a grunge band,” she continues. “So my husband and I, we started writing these songs, these ’90s alt-grunge kind of things. And when Matt, our drummer, came over to our house to try out for the first time, we played him those grungier songs and asked him if he’d like to play with us. He said, ‘No!’ So we played him the pop/soul songs, all of them really rough, and he said, ‘You throw some horns on there, and I can get down with that.’ That is what is exciting to me. It’s almost like we needed permission or something. In a matter of weeks, we had a seven-piece band and were playing a show. It just blows my mind how stuff
Quinn-Broadus and Colby both attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which she says was a great education, but only up to a point, that point being graduation day. “Berklee is a wonderful, vast resource,” she explains. “I went, and dropped out, and six years later, I went back. When I went back, my life changed as a musician and as an adult. I’m eternally grateful to Berklee for a lot of things, but it’s really, really insular. Growing up, everyone tells these kids that they’re great, and that they have a future in music, and then you go to this school, and their parents are paying their tuition, and then they move to L.A. or some place when they graduate and they have absolutely no idea what to do. It gives them a false reality. It’s like a really hot virgin. What do you do with all this? You have no idea what to do with all this!”
She pauses, then continues. “You know, it’s a domino effect. If I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have gone on my Nashville Berklee trip, where you meet with producers and publishers and songwriters, and you’re in conferences all week. And Jared and I would have never moved here, and none of this would have happened. That said, our horn section almost never happened because of Berklee. One of them said to the other one, ‘Hey man, I’m going to go sit in on a session with these kids, they’re from Berklee. You want to come along?’ And he said, ‘No.’ Just flat out, ‘no.’ He had to convince him that we were cool despite that!
“I mean, look: No one knows how you got to where you are when you’re on stage, and the lights are on you, and it’s ‘go time,’ ” she says. “They’re just interested if you can move them, physically or emotionally. And I think most people would tell you that’s never been a problem for us.”