On the Road With St. Paul and the Broken Bones

The eight-piece soul band hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, breaks down what it takes to stay sane while touring
October 20, 2018Words by Tommy McDermottPhotos by St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Hitch a ride for Huckberry’s interview series, On the Road, where we introduce you to our favorite musicians — some you've heard of, others maybe not yet — to talk about life on the road, staying grounded, and of course, music.

This time we caught up with St. Paul and the Broken Bones bassist Jesse Phillips about his favorite places to play, how he combats “tour brain”, and his footwear obsession. Read on for some pro road trip advice and the band’s latest album, Young Sick Camellia.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

How is the tour going? Is it tough to spend all that time on the road?

It depends on where we are and how long we’ve been traveling. The band is actually pretty fresh right now because, after touring pretty much everywhere all the time for a solid four years, we decided to calm it down a little bit and let everyone go home and get to know their wives and girlfriends and children and dogs again. We took it pretty easy through last fall, made the record this winter, and we just started getting back into touring.

"...the Bob Marshall Wilderness was just to the south and Glacier National Park was just to the north, and I worked on a fire lookout tower for two entire summers. I haven’t been back to visit in a long time, but that was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been." 

You’ve been all over. Have there been any places that have really surprised you?

We’ve had the benefit of traveling a lot of places that I’ve never been before, especially overseas. But even in the United States, a lot of places you wouldn’t necessarily think would be places that you would have awesome shows, you often do. You start going into the smaller cities that maybe don’t get quite as much stuff on a regular basis — your Iowa Cities or your Fargo, North Dakotas. They’re a little smaller but people are psyched and the energy levels are super high.

One show in particular that knocked the band’s socks off was the end of the European tour last summer. In the Czech Republic at a festival called Colors of Ostrava, we were all kind of “tour brained” at that point and didn’t know where we were because we’d been jaunting around Europe all summer. We get up there, man, and it’s like a massive crowd so ready to go — they won’t stop yelling, they won’t stop getting into it. They’re just throwing their energy back at the band, and it was mind-blowing. We never even played a show in the Czech Republic before, so I had no idea what to expect. That ended up being the highlight of the year.

How do you stay sharp on the road? Do you have any rituals or routines that help keep you sane?

It’s taken me a long time to figure out how to manage my physical and emotional health on the road appropriately. For me, getting physical activity and outside time in a green space is really important. I’ll often just pull up Google Maps and look for the closest green space that I can jog to. Anything to get you out, get your heart rate up.

Sometimes you stumble across something that’s pretty cool. Recently I found some path in Richmond, Virginia, that took me down by the river where all these historical things happened during the wars. A lot of cities are built around a waterway of some sort, and there’s been a push to make paths along the shores of rivers. I never really thought about it until I started looking for these spots, but they're present in a lot of American cities.

What else do you do in your down time? Do you have any music you’re listening to or books you’re reading?

I don't listen to much music on the road. I don’t know if that’s just because it’s harder to find the headspace to do it, but reading is a really important part of keeping my brain healthy. It’s easy to fall into a bad habit of staring at your phone haphazardly all day. You’re not really actively focused or engaged with anything, so reading is a way better use of that downtime. Paul reads a lot. I wouldn’t say that I'm the most voracious reader, but I generally have something going on at any given time. Most recently, I’ve been working on Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

How do you pack for these long tours?

I now own the biggest suitcase possible, and it’s a struggle to keep it underneath flyweight sometimes. I think my problem is that I’m kind of weirdly into footwear. And it’s not even from a vain place where I need all these different kinds of shoes with different vibes, but I do feel like I always need a nice black pair of dress shoes or boots and a nice brown pair of dress shoes or boots, and then you gotta have the belt to match it. And then I’ve got my lounging shoes and some Chaco sandals, and now I’ve got my running shoes. And the thing that adds weight to a suitcase really, really fast is a big, clunky pair of leather shoes.

What about things to make travel more comfortable? What’s the smallest thing you pack that makes the biggest difference?

There are a few things that have been pretty clutch. Back in the van days, the butt pillow with lumbar support became my best friend. I’m not a particularly old person, but nor am I an extremely young person anymore. Logging hours a day on a bench seat in a van, man, it was killing my tailbone and my lower back. Our keyboard player got an ass pillow at some point and said that it changed his life. I wasn’t really convinced, but I bought one, and it did.

And then when we finally did make it to a bus, it’s a great way to travel, but it’s still 12 bunks squished into the middle of one vehicle, so it’s kind of submarine like in there. And you’re generally sleeping at night when the bus is moving, so you’re kind of rattling around. Anything you can do to make that bunk more comfortable, whether that’s bringing extra pillows or blankets, makes a huge difference. I also keep a couple of bottles of those tiny little essential oils in my suitcase. Sometimes a little bit of peppermint oil will make your space and your bunk seem a lot more pleasant.

Last question. You’ve got three days, a plane ticket anywhere, and your schedule is totally clear. Where would you go?

So way back in the day when I was in my early 20s, I had a job in Montana. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was just to the south and Glacier National Park was just to the north, and I worked on a fire lookout tower for two entire summers. I haven’t been back to visit in a long time, but that was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been. I would love to be able to visit that again soon and spend the night. I always thought the Big Sky country thing was kind of a cliché — it’s just a thing they say. But you get out there on a clear night in the fall when the weather first breaks, and it’s actually pretty true. The sky just seems bigger.

Interview: Tommy McDermott

>>Next: On the Road with Dr. Dog


Trending Gear