Music Q&A: St Paul & The Broken Bones

Co-founder and bassist of the Alabama octect, Jesse Phillips talks about the new album ahead of their appearance at Leeds Brudenell Social Club (14 Nov) and Manchester's Albert Hall (15 Nov)

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Tells us a bit about the new album Young Sick Camilla.
We made Young Sick Camilla with Los Angeles-based producer Jack Splash. He’s worked on a bunch of notable recordings in the past 10 years – lots of modern hip-hop and R&B that still feels rooted in classic material.  He also produces vocalists really well. We thought he’d be a great choice to help us marry some more danceable, playful vibes with the heady lyrical and thematic content Paul was working on. I think it was a super-successful collaboration.

What informs your music and songwriting?
St Paul and the Broken Bones is a rhythm and blues band, in the classic sense, but that’s the only real emotional qualifier with regard to the content of the music and songs. We’ve drawn musically from whatever kind of mojo works – we’ve got guys in the band with more cerebral jazz backgrounds, gospel, boogaloo, guys like myself raised on country music, so it’s just whatever we feel is serving the purpose.  I mean, the guys in Muscle Shoals would play on a rock record one week, a country record the next, and then make a classic R&B recording, but it all had the same swagger and punch. So we kind of look to them and their approach as the gold standard.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
There’s a number of ways to answer this but, over the course of 700-800 shows and three records in six years, you learn a lot about consistency, professionalism, musicality, how to get better pragmatically, etc. I mean, I could go and practice hours of 16th-note bass arpeggios in Phyrgian mode, and it would be good for me, on some level. But is that the most pragmatic, helpful thing for me to focus on at this moment? Probably not.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
We’re in the throes of promoting this new record, Young Sick Camellia, so the dominant focus in the band currently is how to go out and deliver the show, and especially the new songs, with maximum impact and nuance every night. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve arrangements and flow and transitions and stuff.

What’s on your rider?
Ha! It’s not that interesting over here – just enough stuff to snack on and get us to the next place. We eat so much toast on the bus, late night, so boring shit like bread. Stuff everyone likes. Some of the folks on the tour have even taken to eating Vegemite on their toast. Imagine that – Americans actually taking a liking to the stuff as adults!  My favourite British treat is McVitie’s Digestives.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
I mean, there’s a lot of small embarrassing things that have happened over the years, like walking out on to a stage and acting a confident rock star for several minutes and then realising one’s pants fly is wide open. Or hitting an opening part confidently and then realising your instrument is muted, because you muted it to tune or something. I don’t think I’ve ever been just straight humiliated.

I did walk out on stage one night a few years back – it was the first song of the encore, and Paul and I started the number together, with me accompanying him on solo guitar for several moments at the beginning of the song.  Then the horns come in to add a layer – and the guitar is so far out of tune, it’s terrible.  Like, can’t be saved out of tune – and it’s my fault, because I just straight forgot to tune it before the show. We had to stop, tune the guitar, and start the song over. Took me a minute to live that one down. And Paul stuck in to me in front of the crowd while they waited.

What song do you wish you’d written?
I Forgot To Be Your Lover by William Bell (and co-written by Booker T, maybe?) is a classic example of beauty. There’s no fluff at all – just a beautiful arrangement and delivery. Such cool, subtle momentum in the song– one of my favourites of all time. The Broken Bones band got to back William Bell on the track at a party for Otis Redding’s birthday in Macon, GA a couple years back, and the dude is still just slaying it – old school mic technique and everything.

What’s your worst lyric?
Haha – I’m not going to say I’ve got a least favourite lyric of ours. Our wagons are circled. I love all of our songs. I will say – it’s sign of getting older, I’m sure – the choruses of some pop songs these days are pretty mystifying to me. I’m just saying – hard to maintain a relevant understanding of popular music when the word “pussy” is just pouring relentlessly into one’s earholes. It used to take at least a thinly disguised metaphor, you know? Not any more.

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