It’s not a gimmick, or a marketing ploy: Birmingham, Alabama’s St. Paul & the Broken Bones play music as though the last 40 or so years never happened.
Depending on your perspective, that throwback aesthetic is either a good thing or a bad thing (it’s a very good thing). Singer Paul Janeway knows you need to break a few bones to make a good show or album, and his eight-piece soul/rock band's sophomore effort, September's Sea of Noise, is just that.
City Pages chatted with Janeway by phone about Twin Cities radio, the new LP, and touring in an unclassifiable band ahead of SP&BB's two-night stand Wednesday and Thursday at First Avenue.
City Pages: This first question is sort of a ringer, and I am clearly asking it to get at an angle, but is the band more NPR or MORNING ZOO CREW?!
Paul Janeway: Wow, well, I’d say definitely more NPR. I think most of us listen to NPR [laughter] … NPR has been good to us, but I don’t listen to much morning radio anyway.
CP: Do you think radio in general knows how to classify the band?
PJ: I think that we’re a little hard to classify. I think it is an interesting dynamic. People want to put us in a genre, but, “Eh? It’s not really that…” I think most try to classify us as “alternative," but I don’t see us that way. Genres are for record labels and PR people.
CP: Do you have any favorite stations out there?
PJ: I don’t listen to the radio much, but ... aren’t you in Minneapolis?
CP: I am.
PJ: OK, then, this will be a little too “kissing the local ass," but I do like [89.3] the Current.
CP: A-ha! We got there. I got you to say it!
PJ: I forgot you were in Minneapolis. This is pandering a little bit ...
CP: It’s OK. You can kiss the local ass all you want.
PJ: [Laughter] My experience with them has been really good, and here’s the thing. Radio is a game, you know? You show up, and do things for the station, and they might play your songs. It’s a game. The Current comes along and plays what they want to play, and that is getting rarer and rarer.
It’s cool. They curate their own station. One of our first shows up there in Minneapolis, the Current was playing us, and there were a ton of people at the show. It hadn’t been that way everywhere else on that tour, and I found out the Current had been playing us. I guess I will kiss their ass.
CP: In the grand scheme of things, St. Paul & the Broken Bones is still a fairly new band. Do you want to go back and talk about the formation? You sort of put your own backs against the wall.
PJ: This was band was the last hurrah to document our music, and we didn’t know if it would turn into anything.
CP: What about the name of the band?
PJ: It was a nod to my church background. I don’t drink or have the “normal vices," and the Broken Bones comes from the first song Jesse Phillips [bass] and I wrote, called “Broken Bones and Pocket Change." The line is, “Broken bones and pocket change is all she left me with." She left me with no money, and this band. That’s the joke, anyway.
CP: Sea of Noise is a really fantastic record. It’s very, very different than Half the City. The vocals are more crooning, and the music is a lot more '70s. How did that come about?
PJ: Thank you. For us, we wanted it to be more nuanced. Last time, we were a band for only four or five months when we recorded Half the City. I didn’t know my own voice, and had never done this in any professional capacity. This time, we wanted to explore, and expand the musical palette.
We didn’t want to get put into the, you know, “retro” box. We listen to a lot more music than that. Sea of Noise is a lot more expansive, the arrangements are better, and I know vocally I wanted to find the right melody and derive the nuance instead of just screaming the whole time.
CP: The first track, “Crumbling Light Posts Pt. 1," is arresting. It’s a powerful minute. Who are the light posts?
PJ: We all are. Bizarrely enough, it comes from a Winston Churchill quote. He said that England, at the time of WWII, was “a crumbling lighthouse in darkness," and I thought that was an interesting image.
CP: Regarding the tour you are on, and touring in general, do you like it? What are your loves and hates?
PJ: We tour like crazy, so there must be something about it that we like. I am more of a homebody, personally. At the end of the day, though, I like performing, and I love creating a moment for people. That is worth it.
CP: Anything we should be looking forward to at the First Avenue shows?
PJ: I feel sort of bad ... We haven’t had any complaints, but the early shows on this tour, we are experimenting. We are doing every song off Sea of Noise, and we didn’t do that with Half the City. I probably shouldn’t admit something like that, but by the time we get to Minneapolis, we’ll be comfortable. We’ll be set.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
With: Diane Coffee
When: 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu., Oct. 26-27
Where: First Avenue
Tickets: $25; more info here