NUVO chatted with St. Paul and the Broken Bones bassist Jesse Phillips in advance of their sold-out Radio Radio show. You'd never guess, after seeing their name on lots of major music blogs across the web, that the band wasn't even touring full time less than a year ago. What we discovered is, like so many of our own great local acts, St. Paul & Co. get by with a little (and sometimes a lot) of help from their friends.
NUVO: Last time you were in town, one of your horn players said that you guys had held off touring until a few of them had graduated. Is that correct?
Phillips: That is correct. The horn players were both still in college when we started rolling with the band and they didn't graduate until a year ago in May. So we were kind of just doing Thursday, Friday, Saturday little runs out of Birmingham. Once they graduated we started doing more time away but we wanted to make sure they got their degrees, not ruin their futures by making them miss a class and all that kind of stuff. They did good. It was hard on both of them towards the end because they were gone every weekend but they both got their diplomas and got out and we started hitting the road pretty hard.
NUVO: Since then, I've seen you guys written up on Paste, HuffPo, NPR - all over the place. Does it feel like you're sitting in a rocket ship and the G's are just pulling you deep into the seat?
Phillips: It didn't really feel like that for a long time but it's starting to feel like something's going on especially within the last few weeks and since the record's come out. There's been a lot more press. We're in the midst of a string of shows that have almost all sold out or come close - and they're bigger rooms, 250 - 500 person rooms, a lot of them. We've actually been selling some records here, seen our record show up on Billboard and iTunes charts a few times so it definitely feels like things are moving. It's probably hard [for us] to see because we're living in a bubble. Our microcosm consists of the eight of us and the inside of a van. But yeah it definitely feels like something exciting is happening for sure.
NUVO: Speaking of bubbles, you guys are bursting out of the Birmingham music scene which is producing some really interesting stuff.
Phillips: I think Birmingham has had a pretty good music scene for quite some time. I think Birmingham as a city, more specifically north Alabama as a region is starting to attract attention for a lot of different reasons. Birmingham is getting its act together and being known as a destination city for a variety of reasons, a great food scene, emerging downtown scene. A resurgence of the downtown area. It's been written up a lot as a city with cool things to do recently in major publications. So you've got all that and a lot of attention has been refocused on the tradition, the musical tradition Muscle Shoals with the release of that movie. That documentary made the festival circuit and reminded people about how much great music came out of there in the 60's and 70's. The biggest single thing for us is the Alabama Shakes, the Civil Wars, Jason Isbell. They're all from our part of the world and they've all had quite a bit of success recently and I think that's turned eyes and ears towards that part of the country and made people pay attention a little bit more. Birmingham been's chock full of great bands since I've moved there about 6-7 years ago. I think it's just now coagulating. It just felt really fragmented. I think when I first moved there, it's one thing to have a bunch of great bands and great musicians in town. But once they start working together more collectively things start happening to draw attention to the region and that sort of feels like what's happening now. There's a number of cool labels that have sprung up in Alabama, our label Single Lock Records, out of Shoals. There's been a lot of good things going on there.
NUVO: Would you say there's been an increased emphasis on collaboration or community building down there and that's what caused the forward motion?
Phillips: I definitely think that's part of it. There's seems to be a pay-it forward-vibe. We try to talk Birmingham up whenever we can, the food, music and the arts scene that's happening there. In a similar way, we've had help from Ben Tanner from the Shakes and John Paul White from the Civil Wars. Those are the guys that started the label along with a fellow named Will Trap out of Florence. They sort of used some of their capital or good will in the music industry to help us get a foothold here and there. Everybody's helping each other out, or trying to. We haven't been home much at all so I haven't really hung out in Birmingham much in the last few months, it'd be nice to get back there.
NUVO: Another thing that I heard the last time you were here was that you guys have a deal set up with somebody that presses and cleans your suits for you. Is that true?
Phillips: That is true. There is a family-owned dry cleaning business in Birmingham called Hunter's Cleaners and it's basically a father and son operation. Whenever we're home we drop off piles of dress clothes there and they ask us when we need them back. They'll do things like buy bunches of our records and hand them out to their best customers but they're real supportive of the arts scene and the music scene in general. We met them pretty early on and you know you approach those things cautiously at first because you don't want to take advantage but they seemed happy to do it and that's been happening in other areas too. There's an upscale men's clothing store in Birmingham called Harrison Limited and we partnered up with them recently and they've been helping us out with some nice custom tailored shirts and trousers for the road.
NUVO: I was going to say you guys look sharp. As my mom would say, "You got to be careful or you're going to cut yourself you all look so sharp."
Phillips: I appreciate that. That's a good compliment. I'm going to have to remember that one. It's been a work in progress. It's harder to do that when you're on the road for long periods of time. I know were in the midst of a run right now and all of us are kind of really looking for a laundry spot. When you're out for so long you don't really have time to get things dry cleaned either so everybody's got 4-5 sets of clothes but even those are starting to get a little - well we sweat a lot to be honest. You only get so many uses out of a set of show clothes.
NUVO: I guess you could fly them outside your car like flags down the highway but maybe that's not the best way to keep track of everything.
Phillips: Probably not the best way. Before we had a trailer we had all those clothes hanging in the van with us. I was really glad when we got a trailer because I enjoy the increase space inside the van but mostly so all the smelly clothes can go in the trailer and not hang out in the van.
St. Paul and the Broken Bones will play a sold-out show tonight at Radio Radio.