Once upon a time, ‘Alamantra’ was simply a moniker used by Bobby Shiflett for his email account.
“I began using this word around 1995. It came about because I was trying to register for my first email account and I didn’t really want to be “Bobby1099567.” After trying several different names, only to find they had already been taken, I started getting a little frustrated. I just grabbed a book off the shelf, which happened to be “The Confessions of Aleister Crowley.” I closed my eyes, opened the book to a random page and put my finger on the page, just to see what word would pop up. The word was “Amalantrah,” which, for some reason, I misread, and wrote as “Alamantra.” …And the rest, as they say, is history.”
In the late 1990s Bobby was involved with Ordo Templi Orientis for a few years, and during that time adopted Alamantra as a fraternal name. As Alamantra, he also participated and moderated in online discussion groups, reviewed music, wrote articles and reviews for various online outlets, including Ashe’ Magazine. He kept a blog where he discussed a variety of topics, and in 1996, it was included in a book, Blogosphere: Best of Blogs, even though the authors mistook him for a woman. It became sort of an all around moniker for a variety of creative pursuits: writing, art, web design etc. and so it was only natural that it would also become the repository for Bobby’s extensive collection of music, as well as a vehicle for live performance.
When Alamantra emerged as “a band” in 2000-2001, the original lineup was Bobby on guitar and vocals, his brother, Ken Shiflett on drums and Andrew Reid on bass. These three had been playing together in several Birmingham bands since 1993, beginning with “Every Little Flower,” a regional alt-rock band that played throughout the South East. They continued to work together in various combinations: “ON,” “The Grand Orient” “Professor Marvel,” and “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” (these last two with eventual Alamantra guitarist, Steve Casteel,) before bringing all of this under the umbrella of “Alamantra.”
Live, there was a chemistry that had seasoned itself over years of playing together, and regardless of personnel, the group was as comfortable playing straight-up improvisation as they were performing a standard “set” of material. There is a complimentary chemistry between the guitar styles of Steve and Bobby that calls to mind the “weaving” technique of Keith Richards and Ron Woods.
In addition to an extensive original catalog Alamantra had also acquired a diverse set of cover material that extends across a broad range from the blues of Freddie King and Howlin’ Wolf to classic rockers like Neil Young and Led Zeppelin to progressive rock from King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Rush to ‘jam bands’ like Widespread Panic and the Grateful Dead to punk and alternative influences like Sonic Youth and Husker Du. The idea had always been to “get out of the way” and let the music run its own course. Bobby maintained that it was more interesting for everyone to not know exactly what was going to happen so that each performance was a unique experience that would never again be duplicated. When it worked it created a sort of collective consciousness that connected the musicians with one another and with the listener in a profoundly moving way.
“For Alamantra is not just a band – it is an entity all it’s own. One does not just listen to their music – but experiences it. Through notes and lyrics, Alamantra delivers insight that is left up to the interpretation of the listener. Not everyone will see the same picture the words and music paints, yet, through their music, people’s narrow view of the world is transformed and expanded.” Susan Leak (Renagades of Music)
Alamantra has always been keen to use the music to make change wherever possible. Going back into earlier incarnations such as “Professor Marvel,” they performed for benefits and charities such as the Harley Davidson March of Dimes rally at the Talledega Speedway. In September 2003, Alamantra worked with Mary Stevens & Catt Shiflett (Bobby’s wife) to put together a series of shows in various Birmingham venues to raise money and awareness for RAINN (The Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network), founded by Tori Amos.
In 2004, Alamantra recorded and released “Alamantra: 2004″ engineered by Bob Russom, at his Gintown home studio in Graysville, Alabama. “2004” cataloged the more abrasive side of their music, being defined by some as a “prog-punk” lo-fi effort. Author, Jonathan Sellers of the Antiquities of the Illuminati, called it “elegant but ugly,” and this is apropos. Bobby says, “It was an ugly year. The clown logo was accurate because The Trickster was having His way with us. The best thing about the whole adventure was the CD release party at The Nick on March 15th, 2004 (The Ides of March). “Tricky the Clown” was the M.C., we had a fire dancer in the parking lot and crawfish inside. It was a blast. We had fun recording the songs. Still, it is a record that I am personally not proud of at all. We rushed the songs and the mix. The tempo and dynamics were completely off the mark. We could have and should have performed them much, much better. The mastering and duplication were just terrible. It is so over-compressed that I can’t even listen to it. Originally, there were samples that tied the songs together to create a central theme. DiscMakers, who pressed the cds, removed them because they were afraid of liability, but that pretty much destroyed the concept of the work.”
Still, he was happy enough with “The Symphonette” to include it on the “By Turns” compilation. “That’s one of my favorites, no matter how it is recorded. It represents decades of percolation. I began working on it back in the late 1980s, and it has been evolving ever since. It has a life of its own. There have been sections added and sections removed …at one time it even had a harpsichord section…, but this version is definitive. Someone on Garageband said we were trying to imitate Mogwai (which I hadn’t heard of until that review.) They didn’t exist when the main themes of The Symphonette were laid out, but I’m glad the reviewer turned me onto them. …Great band!”
In 2009, Alamantra released “By Turns,” a collection of various demos and recording sessions. It revealed a number of varied interests and influences from the mid-90s to 2008.
“Surf Babe,” “Pike’s Peak or Bust,” and “In the Shadows” were recorded in 1998 at Studio 6 in Birmingham, Alabama during the ‘Professor Marvel’s Velvet Eye’ sessions. “Surf Babe” is a neo-surf instrumental that has found its way to a number of podcasts as theme music, as well as a couple of indie films and even German television. Bobby wrote it on a bet challenging him to write a surf tune. “Surf Babe” featured Steve on lead, Bobby on rhythm and organ, Ken on drums, Melinda Everitt and Ashley Hoefer on percussion and Danny Everitt on bass.
“Old Trickster’s Last Grand Parade” and “Mark of Cain” were recorded in 2000, also at Studio 6 with long time engineer and collaborator, Frank Pigott. Bobby: “Frank was the first engineer I ever really worked with. He recorded Subject II Change, a band I was playing with in the early to mid 1980s. That’s how far back we went. In 2000, Frank was dying of melanoma while we were doing these sessions. My own life was in the can and I was pretty much living at the studio while we recorded this. It’s the last time Frank and I ever got to work together.”
After 2005 the band and the material began to change form and personnel, but the music never stopped. One version of Alamantra featured Mike Hamilton on lead vocals, Bobby on guitar, Joel Smith (Happy Lemmy) on bass and Ken Shiflett on drums.
Another version featured Laura (Whitney) Stansell on lead vocals, Shea Heatherly on drums, Steve Casteel on guitar, Rhonda Ellis (Simple, Mask of God) on bass.
The lineup morphed to include original members Ken Shiflett and Andrew Reid on drums and bass with Laura, Steve and Bobby (2007-2008.)
2009: Bobby, Ken and Steve with Allen Eaton on bass.
From 2010-2012, Brandon Allison (Grandson of NASCAR legend, Bobby Allison) came in on drums, with Ken occasionally joining in on percussion. Steve remained on guitar and the bass slot became a revolving door, sometimes with original member Andrew Reid, and sometimes other bassists:
(2011) James Mitchell (Dub Massive, The Deep End and the Emmy nominated soundtrack of Mr. Dial Has Something To Say,)
Rick Glaze (2011-2012),
Richmond Culp (2012-2013)
Additionally, there were several others who filled in on bass during shows: Lex Adwell, Ian Feathers, Troy Williams, and Craig Smith.
Most of 2011 was spent with Brad Timko recording and mixing the nine tracks of “Workingman’s Bread.”
“They’ve been around for more than a decade, but last year’s Workingman’s Bread found the locals of Alamantra still taken for granted as a jam band. That’s a shame, since their jams are great enough that they leave little room for noodling. They can also be safely categorized as Southern Rock. Then you just have to guess which decade of great forgotten Southern Rock, since Alamantra can go heavy with a bluesy ’90s vibe or indulge in wild ’60s psychedelia. They’re also capable of a sunny ’70s sound worthy of vintage Chicago—although they never get quite as sappy. What they’re incapable of is boring indulgences, even when getting past the six-minute mark. The band must be working really hard to remain obscure.” Music Critic, J.R. Taylor (Black and White Magazine ‘Set List’ 06.28.2012)
“That’s what brings me to Alamantra. Workingman’s Bread is one of the albums I keep rolling back to. After I listen to music all day, after I work to find cool stuff, after I look for the news, I click on the icon of Workingman’s Bread. I wash my dishes to it, I build shelves to it, and I put it on the headphones, pumping it into my ears while I type away. I could tell you it’s psychedelic rock…but they mix in a lot of other genres. I could tell you Workingman’s Bread is a clean, well produced album which still retains an enjoyable soul. I could tell you I like to try to hear all the lyrics because they’re somewhat like a puzzle, with a message you feel compelled to follow. And I could tell you that when I’m listening to it I feel the urge to sway. But I think the main thing I could tell you is to click the link and have a listen. I get shit tons of music through what I do. This is one of the ones I’m sharing.” Lee Waites (Birmingham Music News 05.21.2012)
After playing a show at The End in Florence Alabama on March 13, 2012, Bobby announced that this would be Alamantra’s last live appearance for a while and that Alamantra will be focusing less on being a “band” and more on being a recording project. Alamantra has already started laying tracks for material to be released sometime in 2014. Going forward, the idea is to match collaborators with particular song ideas and serve the song, rather than have a song be limited to the proclivities of a fixed group of musicians. This will best highlight the eclectic approach that has always been the hallmark of Alamantra.
Additionally there are plans to have some more of the archives mastered and released.