Southern-rock revivalists in Bishop Gunn are proud of their roots. They even named their newest album, Natchez, after the band’s Mississippi hometown, filling its songs with a mix of stomping Bible Belt blues and vintage, electrified soul. Their newest release, “Alabama,” is something of an outlier, downplaying the group’s amplified attack in favor of haunting chord progressions and swampy, gospel-influenced vocal hooks. The result is a spooky ballad fit for a Stephen King movie, with a music video to match.
Directed by Tyler Barksdale, the newly-released video for “Alabama” spins its own kind of Southern horror story. In the clip, we see a one-night stand spiral into a world of Pentecostal worship, ritualistic self-mutilation and murder. The hero, played by comedian and podcast host Theo Von, attempts to escape, only to be pulled back into the circle by a crooked cop. After a montage of masked worshippers and forced bloodletting, the video ends on an uncertain note, with Von standing by the remains of a fire, surrounded by a circle of fallen bodies.
“Lord, I hope I don’t die in Alabama,” sings Bishop Gunn frontman Travis McCready, who co-wrote the song with bandmate Ben Lewis and solo artist Nicolette Hayford. Weeks after finishing the song, Bishop Gunn headed down to the recently-reopened Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, looking to record “Alabama” in one of the state’s most famous rooms. The bandmates were still in the van when they received a phone call telling them that Rick Hall, the studio’s owner for more than 50 years, had passed away. At the urging of Hall’s son, Rodney, Bishop Gunn continued driving to Fame, where they recorded “Alabama” with help from a number of local musicians — including rapper G-Mane, who sang the song’s wordless intro and later starred in the music video, playing a godless preacher — in the same room that spawned countless songs of the South.