St. Paul & the Broken Bones recently announced a surprise concert at Saturn, February 6. They will be joined by fellow dynamo band/snappy dressers The Burning Peppermints, who have quickly made a reputation for themselves as one of Birmingham’s up-and-coming acts. Both groups are notorious for passionate, high-energy performances. The two bands together could power half the city. The Saturday night show sold out immediately. By now, that shouldn’t be surprising.
Volumes have already been written about the heart and soul that singer Paul Janeway heaps into his performance, as well as the drum-tight professionalism and aptitude of the musicians that comprise the Broken Bones. Their audience has no choice but to feel what they put out, from the near-painful sincerity on Janeway’s face to the Pentecostal intensity in his voice.
And the city that gave us St. Paul & the Broken Bones continues to produce live wires with boundless potential. Movers, shakers, and attention-grabbers. The Burning Peppermints have been making waves through Birmingham’s indie scene, recently reaching the ears of St. Paul.
“I one day received a call from Paul out of the blue,” says singer Jake Wittig. The Broken Bones frontman had been catching an abundance of buzz about the garage rock group and checked them out. Upon hearing their sound, he decided they’d make a fine pairing. “A few months later we got an email from their booking agent about a secret show at Saturn!”
Like their suit-clad headliners, The Burning Peppermints reinforce their music with vehement showmanship. Their sound is a stampede of driving riffs, droning synth, and thumping drums. It’s good old indie rock, with ample personality written to the mix. It would be nigh impossible to deliver their set standing still. Understandably, when the Peppermints get up to play, they put on a show for all senses.
“We live in a time where it’s so easy to hear and see just about anything immediately; every concert goer is also Netflix subscriber and a YouTube viewer and a Spotify member,” says Wittig. “Just standing on a stage and playing music isn’t enough.”
While both bands have thrilled audiences with zealous live performances, Wittig knows that antics and aggression alone don’t turn a band into a phenomenon. Those are only signifiers. He believes that making a connection with the audience will take a group further than stage gimmicks or a branded X factor. When you see Janeway or Wittig sweating it out through their music, you can believe they mean it.
“If a band is just going to play their music for an audience and not perform the hell out of it and try to connect with them, then you might as well just plug someone’s iPod into the venue’s PA and everyone can just sit and listen to it together.”
The Burning Peppermints have blazed a trail through up-close-and-personal venues, from breweries to alleyways, and their show has often boiled over from the stage into the crowd. Wittig and company may careen into the audience, wrap up dancers in their guitar cables, or blast the room with confetti. They make each show interactive, a musical ambush.
As they appear in larger venues, however, the Peppermints have sought new ways to get the lead out. “Suddenly you’re not on a floor having to make sure you don’t hit people with your guitar,” says Wittig, “and when you’re in that environment you have to find a new, more emotional than physical, way to add some danger and excitement to everything, which we’re very excited to do at Saturn this time.”
Both the Peppermints and St. Paul are alumni of Birmingham’s Secret Stages music festival. For one weekend each year, Secret Stages turns downtown’s loft district into a large-scale music crawl, introducing music lovers to the latest bands on the very edge of breaking out.
The festival has been an invaluable resource for these burgeoning acts, exposing them to a wider audience than traditional gigging allows. “One problem with the overwhelming amount of great bands in Birmingham is that they exist in different sub-scenes in Birmingham, and if you don’t usually go to a certain venue, or you’re constantly going to a certain band’s shows, there are a lot of acts that you miss out on,” says Wittig. “Secret Stages is great because it’s the one time of year when everyone is on the same page and those lines of the ‘sub-scenes’ of Birmingham are gone.”
Events like Secret Stages can offer a tipping point for ambitious acts, but you have to start somewhere. If a band is in its early stages, that means playing on many stages: bar stages, farmers market stages, and taproom stages. “Playing out as much as possible when we were starting out was such an essential part of The Burning Peppermints’ doing well, I think,” says Wittig. “Going out to shows is on the short list of things to do in Birmingham.”
Since embarking on those early gigs, Wittig has watched the local scene grow to accommodate aspiring musicians. “I think that the overall positive tone in the music scene in Birmingham has made it easier for established artists to work together,” he says. “So many breweries and restaurants are doubling as music venues now because if they’re not having shows, people are gonna go where there are shows!”
As the interest in local music continues to escalate, even non-traditional venues are seeking to offer live entertainment. It’s a rising tide lifting all ships. “It’s great to see that live, original music is becoming more commonplace in the Magic City,” he says, “because for a long time even acoustic cover bands were given the cold shoulder for being too loud to have a conversation over.” Attitudes have changed for the better, and it’s hard to deny that Birmingham has become a vibrant music city.
What’s next for the Peppermints? They’re in the process of writing and recording their next album, Witch Mountain. They’re also working with Marcus Turner and Dez Wilson for a video to accompany their crowd-pleasing barn-burner, “Ned Schneeblee.”
B&W photo by Andrew Laningham.