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St. Paul and the Broken Bones at the Fox Oakland

Alabama-based soul band visits the historic Fox Oakland on September 21

One of the year’s nicest musical surprises is the sophomore album by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Sea of Noise. Featuring a deeply soulful vibe—think Curtis Mayfield or Muscle Shoals or Memphis in the early 1970s—Sea of Noise is best played in its entirety. That’s right, an album—nice to know that someone is still making them.

The eight-piece band, which hails from Birmingham, Alabama, will be playing the historic Fox Theater in Oakland on September 21. I had a chance to catch up with lead singer Paul Janeway, the day before Sea of Noise was released, to talk about the new album, his favorite movie music, and meeting the Rolling Stones.

Congratulations on a really impressive record. After working on this for well over a year, how does it feel to be on the cusp of releasing it to the world?
At first I was a bit anxious about it, but now it’s just kind of a weight getting lifted off. I think we started work in January of 2015. That’s when Jesse (Phillips), the bass player and I started hashing it out. We were able to take some time on this—it was nice to have that time. We did not have that luxury on (2014’s) Half the City.

It’s out there—all this work, and it’s finally in the hands of people to experience it, however they will. We have been getting very good feedback so far, so that’s good.

Sea of Noise is a terrific title—when did that lightning strike, that you knew you knew you had the title?
It comes from the “Crumbling Light Post, Prelude” (the album’s opening track, which has two subsequent versions throughout the record). It shocked me too. It kind of captured the record, some of the themes and content, it just captured it.

You’ve recently been on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and NPR’s Tiny Desk series. Everyone wants to know what the best outlet to sell records in the age of streaming and piracy—what’s worked best for your band?
I guess you shoot with birdshot, and just see what hits. We believe in streaming, the album will be available through those services.  But we also do limited releases with vinyl—if you buy the vinyl at an indie store, you get a seven-inch as well.

Ultimately, it’s probably about physically touring. People come to the show and they buy the record. And people who are coming to the show, they want to know what they are going to hear so they get it in advance.

I did notice that there was a run of hand-pressed vinyl copy of Sea of Noise for sale on the band’s website and it’s already sold out. It’s nice to know that there are people buying the record on vinyl. It seems like the ideal format to listen to this record for sure, because you play it from start to finish.
Yes, that is the fun stuff that I like. We made about 30 of those, a limited purple vinyl edition. I’m a record collector and that’s what I would want to get. We had this cool promotion, I mentioned earlier where people could pre-order the record at a local record store and get a free seven-inch record with it. The seven-inch had GPS coordinates to some buried treasure—within two hours, someone found it.

What was in the buried treasure?
The treasure had two gold tickets to any show they want to go to, a meet and greet, a copy of the handmade vinyl. We were going to use the treasure hunt as a marketing tool, but someone leaked the announcement about the GPS, and so everyone was ready to go as soon as it was available. That’s how they found it so quickly—I even had to talk to the police and tell them, ‘Yes, these people are really looking for buried treasure.”

You mentioned your record collection. What was your most recent find?
"et me think. There’s a great one by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers. I don’t get out to stores as much as I should, but there is a photographer in Nashville who will text me these great finds, asking “Do you want this?” Ands I will almost always say, “Absolutely.”

I was  thinking about a memory of one of the first times I heard pop music—around 1980 the Blondie song, “Call Me” came on AM radio, and I heard it in a friend’s car on the way to Little League. My parents listened exclusively to classical music, so Blondie sounded so exotic. What are your earliest memories of music blasting through the universe and finding you?  
My earliest memory—I was about 5-year-old, and “You Make Me Feel Brand New” by the Stylistics came on the radio. I was hooked, instantly.

You will be playing the historic Fox Oakland on September 21. It’s a spectacular place. Which historic venues have you been able to play so far?
We’ve been lucky—there are so many already. The Ryman in Nashville was really amazing. We got to play the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham, I grew up going to movies there so that was cool. I’m really excited about the Fox show, that place sounds amazing.

I always ask about movies—what films have you seen that use music most effectively?
As a kid it was definitely The Lion King. We got to meet Elton John, which was amazing, especially when I realized that he wrote the music for the Lion King, which was a huge part of my childhood. As an adult, I would pick There Will Be Blood. Jonny Greenwood’s music was so creepy, creative, and sparse.

Finally, I wanted to ask about your experience opening for Rolling Stones. Carl Hiaasen told me that he was invited backstage at a Stones show and there is this whole other world going on back there. What was the most surprising thing about your experience behind the scenes at the two Stones shows?
Just the act of meeting them—it was like meeting royalty. It was a surreal moment that did not feel like real life.