[Interview] From the Drummer's Throne: Andrew Lee of St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Helping to bring The Shaky Knees Music Fest to a rockin' close, St. Paul and the Broken Bones is set to really shake things up with their unique sound and explosive soul. Andrew Lee, the drummer of the band, graciously agreed to chat with us and shed some light from his perspective.

How are you, and what has the band been up to recently? 

I'm doing quite well; thanks for asking! Recently we've been enjoying the calm before the storm. We spent the better part of the last six months finishing up writing and recording our second album with a handful of touring excursions interspersed. Australia and New Zealand for the first time were extraordinary, but more than anything we've been enjoying some much needed time at home. 

All members from Alabama, How do these southern origins motivate your sound? 

Well, to be fair, the member of the band perhaps most responsible for its existence is Canadian, Jesse Phillips. He was at least responsible for handpicking most of the six original members. He attended college in the south and has been here for well over a decade. Let's call him an honorary southerner. That said, everyone else is from Bama; you couldn't take it out of our sound of you tried. It's embedded in the way we play. 

What has been your most interesting experience playing with the band? 

There have been so many, but I'd say consistently the opportunity to play in front of a new country or crowd is always interesting. You're on your toes even more than usual, and when Paul hits the stage, and you know that the thousands of people in front of you have never heard what happens when he opens his mouth, it's exciting. You can feel the air getting sucked out of the room. 

All members of the band are credited with the composition of your songs. Describe that creative process.

There are those in the band that are really great at bringing in source material, and there are those whose stronger point is the embellishment of that material. Our sound is very much an amalgamation of the influences of it’s members. Once a basic idea is filtered through the band and it has everyone's fingerprints on you find something very unique when it surfaces on the other side. I recall several times when one person contributed a chord change or turnaround that really made the song hit, even if they had little to do with the rest of the composition. It's a very different approach than a singer/songwriter vibe. When we can't get together the guys will pass around sound files, add a little something, and then pass it right back. 

How has the addition of Al Gamble, keyboardist extraordinaire, as a full-fledged member of the band changed the sound in your opinion? 

Wow. You know, I can't say enough good things about Al. When he joined on full time in 2013 it was a game changer. We hardly had anything to show for what we'd done to that point and were barely doing well enough to eat and keep the van on the road - everyone scurrying back to their day jobs between outings. Al has three daughters and at the time one was about to start college. Needless to say his choice to come on with us was a step of faith. He believed in what we were doing and more than helped us take the project to the next level musically and professionally. As far as the sound, there's just nothing that could replace the richness and texture of the B3, and he finesses the (insert favorite expletive) out of it! But you know that already…

What’s your philosophy on tuning drums for this style of music? 

I use 10" & 14" toms. I've always liked them. Keeping those at a comfortable tuning, the sweet spot, makes them ideal for versatility. When you're covering a 60's soul tune, you don't want anything too low; you especially need that rack tom to sing. But when we're playing something a little more rockin', you've gotta have the depth. I keep mine a perfect 4th apart so it's nice and clean when I have to play double stops or a build. 

Which do you prefer, recording in the studio, or playing live, why? 

Both definitely have wonderful highlights. In the studio, at least in our experience, you’re still searching for the songs, the approach, and the feel as the recording process is taking place. Everything gets put under the microscope, and you really, whether it’s painful or pleasurable, learn a lot about your own playing. Being that we do almost all of the base tracks live together in a room, and at that point we rarely have confined our imaginations to one idea of what the song is, you end up with the potential for some really magical moments to take place. RECORD EVERYTHING! You can dump it later, but it’s those subtle (or not so subtle) bumps and bruises that are going to make your record memorable and loved for many years to come. 

In the live setting, we’re a bit spoiled. Our fans are the most giving, enthusiastic fans on the planet. I sincerely don’t remember ever walking off the stage feeling under appreciated. But, it’s a huge give and take. Out on the road there are so many times when you just don’t feel up to performing. You’re tired, distracted, you miss someone back home or elsewhere, whatever. But you go out there knowing you’re going to make somebody’s night, and they for sure make ours. We also have a very broad demographic, and when I look out and see a 60 to 70-year-old folks smiling and having a blast with the 20 to 30-year-old folks, you know it’s something special. You remember why you started doing this in the first place. Creating an environment where there are no barriers and everyone is celebrating this universal language together. I mean, we’ve had shows overseas where I could tell most of the audience couldn’t really catch a lot of what Paul was saying; still, they’re having the same great time. Additionally, I couldn’t be more humbled my the musicianship I’m surrounded by on stage every night. And you know, we’re friends. Everyone has their days, but there is literally no strife in this band, and for an eight piece that’s a miracle.

How do you feel your experience with marching percussion in high school, drum corps and at college, influenced your musicianship and approach to playing kit? 

It goes without saying that having the additional rudiments and tricks that come from college and corps level playing are beneficial in any musical setting. But, what stuck with me the most was the attention to dynamics, timing, and sound quality. Our show is very up and down dynamically, even though it’s not always extremely challenging from a technical standpoint (speaking about the drums). The goal is always taste and what serves the song. Outside of that, the only goal is to have fun. 

With your busy touring schedule, what do you do personally to stay balanced? 

I’d be lying if I said I did anything consistently, as it’s always been a work in progress to create and then make time for good habits on the road. Myself and some of the other guys jog when we can, which is infinitely easier once you’re traveling in a bus and not spending three to six waking hours, sometimes more, every day scrunched together in a 15 passenger van. Me personally though, I enjoy meditation. Just a few minutes here and there when you can. There are a lot of ideas around that word that are misleading. Quite simply, it’s just taking time to notice what’s going on with your mind and not judging it or letting it sweep you away. Your thoughts are your life, and it’s important to keep them in a good place.

 Is there any news of a new studio album in the works?

I guess I’ve already spilled the beans on that one in the first question. It’s finished, mixed, and mastered. We’re on schedule to hopefully announce a release date later this month. 

After the Shaky Knees Festival, what’s next for the band?

We have two substantial tours in Europe over the summer with a few shows speckled around in other places. If all goes as planned we’ll be releasing the record some time in the fall and touring the states pretty heavily at that point. WE CAN’T WAIT TO BRING YOU THE NEW STUFF!

Check out St. Paul and the Broken Bones play at Shaky Knees Music Festival on Sunday, May 15 at 4:15 p.m. on the Peachtree Stage in Centennial Olympic Park.

James McDaniel

A man of many talents, James not only writes about music, he also composes, arranges, teaches, and plays. As an Atlanta area high school band director, he stays busy developing his program and writing and arranging for percussion at his place of work aw well as a number of other Atlanta area schools. He is also a gigging percussionist, playing live and doing studio work for InCrowd of Atlanta. Music is more than a passion for james. It is his lifestyle.