Long before they nabbed three Grammys Monday night, Alabama Shakes was just a band of teens with a dream of becoming rock stars.
“It feels really nice to get this recognition because we weren’t made by a big label: We’re a real band from a little, small town and we got together for real reasons – we wanted to share music together; write music together – so it’s pretty cool that still, in 2016, to be a group that went to high school together … Now we get to go to the Grammys together,” frontwoman and guitarist Brittany Howard, 28, told PEOPLE last month, gearing up for music’s biggest night.
By Tuesday morning, they’d taken home Grammy honors for best alternative album, best rock performance and best rock song.
Adds Howard of the band’s success: “When I sit back and think about how miraculous that all is … I’d say it’s more than gratifying: It’s surreal.”
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The popular rock act’s members – Howard; Zac Cockrell, bass; Steve Johnson, drums; Heath Fogg, guitar – all grew up around Athens, Alabama, attending the same school growing up before forming a band.
Since becoming seemingly overnight sensations with their 2012 debut Boys & Girls, Alabama Shakes swapped their small gigs at Southern bars for the festival circuit, gaining a steady following and nabbing three Grammy nods, including best new artist, between 2013 and 2014.
When it came time to record their sophomore set Sound & Color, the group updated their bluesy roots rock vibe with Americana and soul. And finding fame and critical acclaim came with its perks.
“If I call someone and say, ‘Hey, I need an orchestra,’ then they’re gonna do it. And that’s a great tool to have – I can create any way I want to, and I feel like that’s the biggest change,” says Howard.
Between spending months on the road last year and launching an electric side project, Thunderbitch, Howard has found life as a troubadour fulfilling – but also demanding.
“I still live in a suitcase; I still live out of a vanity bag. Like, I don’t know how to [hang] my things up because I’m always going, and it’s types of things like the past five years – the traveling, the being away from home: I feel like the biggest challenge is just trying to figure out what life is when it’s always moving and changing,” says Howard, who will embark with Alabama Shakes on another headlining tour this spring.
Splitting time between Nashville and her hometown, Howard says she seeks comfort in the simpler things in life in Athens.
“I really like cleaning the house and gardening, and just doing a lot of normal stuff: I love washing my dishes, I love grocery shopping. I don’t take that for granted,” she says. “It makes me feel like I have a home; it’s great.”
And there’s a certain pleasure that comes with being her hometown’s pride, too.
“The people at home, they’re supportive. They’re like, ‘I’m so happy for you; I’m so proud of you; you guys keep working hard,'” Howard says. “It’s a cool town, man. It’s full of hard-working people, and they’re just happy to see someone getting to do what they dreamed of, you know?”