Ben Tanen interviewed Jesse Phillips of St. Paul & The Broken Bones on Wed., October 26, at the start of their tour backing their recently released LP, Sea Of Noise. St. Paul & The Broken Bones will be playing Sat., November 5 and Sun., November 6 at the Royale. Listen to their newest album, Sea Of Noise, on Spotify or iTunes.
Ben Tanen: Thank you very much for listening to WMFO Medford, you are currently listening to Story Time with Papa T. Today I am joined by Jesse Phillips of St. Paul & The Broken Bones. How are you doing Jesse?
Jesse Phillips: I’m doing great, man. Thanks for having me on the show.
BT: So, you just had a second album come out in the last couple of weeks, Sea Of Noise, right?
JP: Yeah, it dropped on September 9th. So I guess about six weeks ago now.
BT: So how does it feel to have a second album out there?
JP: Man, it was a long time coming, but we’re really glad to have the second out. And it seems as though people are enjoying it, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to start playing those songs live and see how people respond to them.
BT: So you’re back on the road now, and you’re a little bit less than halfway through with the tour?
JP: I would say the first leg of the tour, we’re coming upon the halfway point. We’ll be out until probably mid-to-late November and then we’ll have a little break before we begin up again in the new year.
BT: So do you like being out on the road or are you more of a studio guy?
JP: They both have their ups and their downs. I mean we make our living primarily on the road, so there are aspects of both that I really enjoy. You know, being on the road, it never really stops for us. We’re kind of like a blue collar mid-level working band so it’s just kind of part of the lifestyle. I really enjoy playing the shows, some of the travel gets grinding sometimes, but everybody has parts of their job like that, you know? The studio can be the same way but the studio’s fun because you get to sit around and explore and take care with your friends. So that’s a good time too. I like them both, man. We’re pretty lucky to be able to do it for a living.
BT: So the newest album is two years or so after Half The City.
JP: About two and a half, is what it ended up being, between release tapes.
BT: And when you went back into the studio for Sea of Noise, were there any things you knew coming off the first tour that you knew you wanted to bring into the second album?
JP: Yeah we definitely had, kind of expanded goals and visions for the newer record. We had the benefit of two and a half years on the road and a more expanded line-up, and just more aware of our identity as a musical group going into making the second one. So we wanted to explore and have fun with that a little bit more. You know what I mean? Like, why not put a flute on this song? Or why not have Paul climb into a reverb chamber to sing this one, you know, just have fun with it. We had the benefit of having more time in the studio to experiment, too. So that was fun.
BT: Did you have a favorite track that you liked producing or an overall, you know, “baby” off the album?
JP: You know, one of my favorite ones is actually called “I’ll Be Your Woman”. It shows up at number four, maybe five, on the tracklist. I think it’s four. And that one was one where we got to experiment a lot with just kind of like, darker, cinematic textures. And we got the strings arranged and played on the track. And that was something that was pretty new for us. We had never used those, a string section, before. It kind of gave the whole thing this dark, weighty, kind of cinematic vibe that I thought was really cool.
BT: Through working on Half The City, since it was your first album, did you want to have some of those more dark, orchestral sounds? Or did it really just come through after the first album, that you wanted to do that?
JP: I think we knew going into this one that it was gonna be a little weightier, and kind of darker shades of the same coin. The first one happened so quickly we were kind of doing the best we could with what we had at the time and it turned out pretty well for what it was. But we had more time to put thought into the themes and the general vibe of this one, so we knew it was probably going to be a slightly heavier affair going in.
BT: Very cool. So I have a little bit of a throwback question, I guess. In 2014, you guys came out with a live recording of your SXSW session, and on that you had a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” with Lizzo, right?
JP: Yeah, that’s correct. With Spotify House.
BT: So that was a personal favorite cover of mine, but do you guys have a personal favorite cover other than that song that you guys like to play?
JP: We’ve done a lot of different covers over the last few years. We used to lean real heavily on doing some of the early stuff, that’s kind of where our roots are. So we’ve learned a lot of those songs over the years. Though I think we’ve retired most of them at this point, from our repertoire. Not to say we won’t play any of those songs ever again, but we did spend some time playing “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie on the road. That was always a fun one for me. I’m a big Bowie fan, so playing that one was great. We’re doing a Van Morrison song in the set now, that’s a good time. We’ve covered some Beatles stuff which I really enjoyed. Covers kind of give you an opportunity to sort of have fun with things outside of your own material. So we usually pick fun ones.
BT: Well it seems like you guys have fun with them, too. A lot of the press I’ve seen for Half the City and also for some of Sea Of Noise has had you guys labeled as one of the best live bands that’s currently touring in America. How do you guys feel about that title?
JP: [Laughter]. I mean it’s hard for me to believe that. Because I’ve seen a lot of good bands over the years. It’s really sweet that people say that and I know our show is high energy and is a genuine show, it’s a connection with the audience, and it’s a spectacle. It’s not just us standing on stage, looking at our shoes, playing songs to an unconnected audience. As far as being one of the best touring bands on the road, I don’t know, man. Hyperbole’s always the name of the game in music press and criticism so if I started believing that we were that good, I think we’d probably lose our edge. So, I’ll just kind of ignore that.
BT: Another, maybe strange question. Are you familiar with the term “blue-eyed soul”? I’d imagine you are.
JP: Yeah, of course. I’ve heard that a little bit.
BT: So how do you guys, as a band, feel about that term, and I guess, what’s the feeling on working in a space that is or at least has been predominantly black?
JP: It’s a delicate question for sure. But it certainly is one that we’ve thought about and discussed. But I mean ultimately the tradition in Alabama, like in Memphis Shoals, which is one of the biggest influences in our band. Or even in Memphis, obviously, where all their stuff is recorded. The music coming out of those traditions is pretty color-blind, like the colors of the people making the songs ran the gamut of all shades of white and brown. And everybody playing together and creating the same songs. So I think we try to treat it like, as just music. Like all music is just music. R&B and gospel are some of the closest sounds to our hearts, so that’s sort of where we skew. But we certainly don’t think of it in terms of white music versus black music or anything like that. Most of us just happen to be white people. Wouldn’t shy away from the term blue-eyed soul but to us it’s just music.
BT: You’re making the music you like making.
JP: Right! Exactly.
BT: Well you do a good job. Looking forward through the tour, do you have any stops coming up that you’re excited to be? Any particular venues?
JP: This whole tour is actually pretty cool spots. We started last night in Omaha. Tonight we’re in Minneapolis at First Ave, we’re doing two nights there which is pretty much a rock club. We’ve got a stop in New York at Terminal 5, we’ve got two nights at the Royale in Boston. We’ve got two nights at the 9:30 in D.C. So it’s gonna be a real fun tour. It’s all great rooms, the crowds are gonna be great. And we love most of the cities we’re stopping in, so we’re gonna have a good time.
BT: Well I look forward to your stop in Boston, I’ll be at at least one of the shows.
JP: That’s awesome, man. Thank you.
BT: That’s all I’ve got for now, but thank you very much for coming on the show!
JP: You too, man. Take care.