It’s safe to say that St. Paul & The Broken Bones is a different band than when they first graced national ears in 2014.
Their sophomore album “Sea of Noise,” set for release next Friday, is a celebration of that maturation – the horns are bolder, lead singer Paul Janeway’s vocals are more commanding, and the introspection is even more gripping.
From the depths of political unrest to the soaring highs of romance, there are many captivating stories being told.
But those stories aren’t just confined to song lyrics. The “Sea of Noise” album art is a collection of those very same stories, patiently waiting to be unraveled by fans.
We teamed up with St. Paul & The Broken Bones to concept and create that art, which hearkens back to the band’s spiritual roots.
“We wanted something like an altar piece,” Janeway said. “I had been in so many cathedrals, plus it tied to the spiritual side of what we do, and the allusions of space throughout the record.”
Since our creative team collaborated with the band previously on the design of their debut album “Half The City,” as well as their website, Janeway and company decided to get the band back together for the second album.
“Big has a rich history in supporting the local music scene,” said president John Montgomery. “We’re glad to play any part we can in that.”
Any successful partnership – musical or otherwise – requires synergy. St. Paul & The Broken Bones found their creative soulmate with our creative director Aaron Gresham.
“Working with them this time around, they had become a much more mature band,” Gresham said. “They had become informed about the industry and who they are as artists.”
“As they described the [album] storylines, they talked about growth, separation from family and friends – issues that come through in the music,” he added. “The album allows you to connect to it and relate your own story – and once I knew their story, I listened and started drawing.”
Those drawings manifested into a pseudo stained-glass window, one that harkened back to the band’s spiritual roots and also represented the many individual elements presented in the album.
Swords and spaceships. Locked doors and angelic wings. The jagged points of a crown and shifting sands trapped in an hourglass. Each symbol is a representation of one of the album’s 13 tracks.
And like the stained-glass windows that inspired the look, those separate elements combine to make something much more majestic.
“[The band] was very involved, very in tune with the art and how it relates to the music,” Gresham said. “Paul came back and added specific symbols – elements that combined into one larger element.”
“I want (listeners) to look at the album and go ‘ohh,’” Janeway added. “Like unlocking a puzzle, each symbol has a tie to a specific song. It’s interactive with the music and I think that’s a cool thing.”
Gresham completed the stained-glass motif by using shimmering gold foil, a look reminiscent of Kayne West and Jay Z’s 2011 “Watch the Throne” album cover. And like the partnership between those two rap titans, Big and St. Paul & The Broken Bones – and Alabama herself – are reaping the rewards of their creative chemistry.
“I wasn’t doing them a favor [by designing their cover],” Gresham said. “They were doing us a favor. When Stephen Colbert holds up their album cover, it’s encouraging for all of us.”
In our increasingly digital world, where playlists are cobbled together at the mercy of the listener, album art is becoming an afterthought. But savvy artists know that artwork can make their musical narratives even stronger.
Besides, Birmingham has too many stories to be confined to a mere 40-minute playlist. Those stories beg for both your ears and eyes.
“These guys are locked and loaded,” Gresham said. “They have such a vision for sound and art.”
“This album is about taking chances,” he added. “So is the art.”