Alabama-based soul outfit St. Paul and The Broken Bones has carved a sizable fan base on the back of finely-crafted albums including 2018’s “Young Sick Camellia” (Records JV) and uplifting, spine-tingling concerts. Montana Press spoke to bassist and Missoula resident Jesse Phillips about the new album, working with singer Paul Janeway and a show in Eureka he won’t soon forget.
Montana Press: What might have been the biggest challenge about making the last studio album?
Jesse Phillips: We went into the studio with a producer, Jack Splash, who’s known for doing more hip-hop and modern R&B records. His work flow was very productive but very different. We would do lots and lots of takes of different things and lay down dozens and dozens of ideas and tracks. He went away to LA to his studio and assembled the album from all those bits. As opposed to having all the details worked out beforehand or working them out in the studio, we really didn’t know what we were going to end up with.
Montana Press: What was the music scene like where you grew up as a teenager?
Jesse Phillips: It’s a strange story. I grew up in British Columbia in the Kootenays. My parents lived in a tiny ranching community called Grasmere, it’s right by the U.S./Canada border. The little country school we had in Grasmere only went up to fifth grade. Then I went to junior high and high school across the border in Montana. So I considered myself to simultaneously grow up in both British Columbia and Montana. As for the music scene, there wasn’t. My friends and the support of a few teachers at the school, that was it.
Montana Press: How have you evolved as an artist from when you first started to where you are today?
Jesse Phillips: As a songwriter I’ve certainly run the gamut from trying to write like heavier rock and roll songs to sad bastard folk songs. It wasn’t until I met (St. Paul and The Broken Bones singer) Paul Janeway in Birmingham in the mid to late 2000s that I found someone who complemented the things I could do in a very favorable way. I think Paul felt the same way. That’s how the band was born. We both learned a lot from each other as songwriters.
Montana Press:What do you think is Paul’s greatest strength?
Jesse Phillips: Obviously he’s a great vocalist. But I think the thing that really sets him apart is there’s never any doubt in anyone’s mind that Paul isn’t investing 100 percent of himself in the moment when he’s singing a song. The guy simply doesn’t know how to phone it in. He has one speed and it’s 117 per cent.
Montana Press:What can fans expect at the show in Missoula?
Jesse Phillips:The band likes being out west. Most of the guys are from Alabama or from the south so everybody has a nice time when they come out. Just the scenery and the mountains and everybody is just relaxed and in a good mood. So I feel the shows stand a good chance of being really well done. I actually live in Missoula now for the time.
Montana Press: Do you have any fond memories about playing in Montana?
Jesse Phillips: When the band was first getting started we did a show at my high school in Eureka, Montana in the high school auditorium. Eureka has probably 1,100 people and I think over 400 came to that show. I was the ambassador at the front door greeting all of these people. It was a big deal to play there and for me personally but also just for the town to have a national touring act come through. Right before we started playing a thunderstorm blew the power out. So we had to reconfigure the show and play it acoustically until the power could come back on. It ended up being a pretty unique experience for everyone.
Montana Press: What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Jesse Phillips: We’re thinking of getting back into the studio in the first quarter of 2020. We’ll be pretty much touring non-stop until Nov. 1 then we’ll be a little quiet over November and December.
Montana Press: What do you find is unique about being a bass player?
Jesse Phillips: I think being a bass player you do have to be more of a role player than you do some of the other instruments. You’re essentially bridging the gap between the rhythm instruments and the harmonic or melody instruments. You just have to be in the head space of just serving the song. It’s not that you can’t inject your personality into it. I think playing too many notes is a danger if you’re a bass player.
St. Paul and The Broken Bones play in Missoula at The Wilma on Oct. 12.