ST. PAUL & THE BROKEN BONES
Amidst the hyper-connected instant gratification of the modern era, there is an elegant patience involved in slowing your life down and taking your time to get things right.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones made the collective decision to track their fourth full-length album, The Alien Coast, in the band’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama — their very first time recording there. That move provided the eight-piece group with the creative freedom to write and record in a relaxed setting where they didn’t feel rushed by time constraints or pressured by industry expectations.
The result is a loose, expansive album churning with a fresh, experimental sound, reflecting a bold new sonic direction for the band. Producer Matt Ross-Spang pushed the Broken Bones to use the city's Communicating Vessels studio as a testing ground for a variety of dynamic musical experiments. The new songs break free from the predominantly horn-driven sound of their early days in favor of samples and beat-laden arrangements that were shaped by the band’s collaboration with Birmingham-based hip-hop artist Randall Turner.
Photo by Bobbi Rich
“We’d wandered off the path in the past, but this record felt like we were going for broke — like every single song is us moving forward,” says guitarist Browan Lollar. “This album has some of the more strange musical ideas I’ve ever come up with, and I’m proud that we were all excited to swing for the fences and not really worry about getting too weird.”
The Alien Coast moves fluidly from the gospel-drenched urgency of opening track “3000 AD Mass,” to the spare, haunted menace of “Bermejo and the Devil,” which was inspired by singer Paul Janeway taking in Bartolomé Bermejo’s ominous work, ‘Saint Michael Triumphs Over the Devil,’ at London’s National Gallery. “You absolutely have to see the devil in this painting — it’s terrifying,” Janeway says.
The Broken Bones took plenty of musical risks throughout the songwriting and recording process, embracing new directions and eccentric ideas while eschewing the standard creative framework of their old style. No sonic experimentation was off limits or too strange to try out, resulting in the band’s most innovative album to date.
“We were very conscientious about not artificially imposing structure on any of these songs, and tried to focus on preserving whatever felt good when we initially constructed them,” says bassist Jesse Phillips. “We source ideas from everyone, and let each idea be what it wants to be instead of directing the aesthetic of the songs too much. It’s about catching a vibe and experimenting ‘till you find something good, then just chasing that to its fruition.”
Photo by Bobbi Rich
The group expertly blends elements of ‘50s soul and ‘60s psychedelia throughout The Alien Coast, mixing in propulsive funk rhythms and modern synth-fueled pop to round out their contemporary soundscape. While the songs themselves have a bright, buoyant edge, there is a recurring theme of loneliness threaded throughout the lyrics. Janeway’s vocals ache with a desperation to reconnect with people once again and rediscover familiar places that are forever changed from how we remember them.
“This album was birthed through the idea of falling asleep in a hotel and having a sequence of nightmares, then waking up and missing home so badly,” says Janeway, the band’s primary lyricist.
The tender, affectionate album closer, “Love Letter from a Red Roof Inn,” perfectly encapsulates the isolation that comes from a life on the road and leaving those you love behind. “It’s a song to my wife, about being stuck in this shitty hotel and wishing I could be with her,” Janeway says. “And we ended up making it whispery like you’re talking softly into the telephone.”
The album’s lead single, “The Last Dance,” features a seductive beat and infectious bassline that Phillips composed on his Korg minilogue analog synth. But beneath the song’s dynamic arrangement, the lyrics express a desire to lose yourself in the passionate embrace of someone you love on the dancefloor even though the world is crumbling all around you. “The juxtaposition of dancing while facing certain doom is what ‘Last Dance’ is all about,” Janeway shares. “Like dancing through a Mad Max scene.”
That tenuous dichotomy is at play throughout The Alien Coast, with St. Paul & The Broken Bones sharing a vibrant collection of new tunes for us to get loose to, even as the state of the world grows more dire and threatening by the day. But no matter how bad things may appear, music has the power to make us forget our worries for a while, which is precisely what the Broken Bones have done on The Alien Coast.
“I hope the record takes people on a journey and tests their boundaries a bit,” says Janeway. “I’d love for it to be almost like a gateway drug, where it opens a door that people weren’t willing to open — or maybe weren’t even aware of — and through that they get to experience all these beautiful moments they never would’ve expected.”
Bandbox is excited to offer The Alien Coast on "Neon Green" vinyl! This extraterrestrial variant arrives in January 2022, along with a 16-page St. Paul & The Broken Bones zine.