Biography

Painted Saints is centered around the songwriting of Paul Fonfara, and specializes in the ever so popular Spaghetti Western, Heroin Klezmer, Experimental Sad Bastard Gutter Blues, Avante Garde Shoegaze Chamber Folk, Psychadelic Motown Dirge, Andrew Bird if he was from Twin Peaks genre. While there are often odd cinematic twists in merging such disparate aethetics with tangled dense lyrics, there is also a transparent sense of sincere, and cathartic meaning to painted saints songs.

A transplant to Minneapolis from Denver, where after finishing a degree in music, Fonfara got his start in DeVotchKa, then moved on to record and tour internationally with 16 Horsepower/Woven Hand and with Jim White on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. When Fonfara settled in Minneapolis seven years ago, his well-honed and exploratory talents were immediately recognized as he became a member of local favorites Spaghetti Western String Co., balancing the precision and delicacy of that band with the raucous playfulness of the Brass Messengers, and silent movie film scores of Dreamland Faces. To fill out Painted Saints, Fonfara recruited many of Minnepolis’ finest players including members of The Poor Nobodys, Dark Dark Dark, and Polica. 

Throughout all of his time working with other bands and collaborators, Painted Saints has remained Fonfara’s outlet for his own songwriting. A talented painter, his songs become sprawling sonic landscapes of visually imagistic lyrics, often as melancholic and forceful as they are shimmering and lovely. Lyrically, the songs are populated by escapist dreamers, flailing underdogs, and children’s imagined civil wars. There are songs based on Henry Darger paintings, a boxer comtemplating his life between the moment he takes a hit on the chin and landing on the canvas, children watching the world below from the tallest Pine tree in small town Wyoming, and bike rides through blizzards.

Painted Saints first record, 2006’s Company Town and 2007’s The Bricks Might Breathe Again, share much in common with his work with other bands, with more focus on Slavic-style orchestrations, building on a chamber-folk sound. No Match For Greater Minds, from 2011, takes a turn for much more aggression, with a seething, sometimes tense wall of sound. Painted Saints 4th record, Giant, will be released in the Fall of 2014, which is more minimalistic, plaintive and textural.

Chris Hepola – drums, piano

Eric Struve – bass

Christa Schneider – violin, cello, erhu, vocals

Will Dockendorf – lap steel guitars

Paul Fonfara – guitars, clarinet, bandoneon, piano, vocals

Andy McCormick – saw

Channy Leneagh – vocals


Press Quotes

If Disney’s Fantasia grew up and released an album, if Golgo Bordello mellowed out and accuired an orchestra, if Morrisey was actually as deep as he wants to think he is, you would have somewhat of an idea of the sound of The Painted Saints. In short, The Painted Saints are pretty damn good. Their sound is somewhat small orchestra-like and I could of sworn that on some of them that I heard a theremin in the background. All of them are very dark sounding but not in a lame Goth kind of way, they don’t make you want to smoke cloves and worship Johann Vasquez or anything. The closes they come to ‘rock’ on this album is the song, ‘Tinder,’ which has more of a guitar part than most of the songs on the album but still stays true to The Painted Saints’ dark orchestra sound by retaining the same instruments, cellos etc. “For the Brokers of Bottles,” takes on somewhat of an eerie marching band sound kind of tone. The best song on the album I was pleasantly surprised with was The Painted Saints covering Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Oh, Comely.” They seem to slow it down just a tad more than Neutral Milk Hotel originally does it and naturally they throw in a cello. Also theres no mistaking the theremin in this one now. All of these songs all show off how wonderfully The Painted Saints can have their own distinct sound while not recreating the same song again and again. The album is good, period. I have no constructive criticism this time around and await the instructions telling me where I could buy it. Well done, Painted Saints. Well done.
— Hot Indie News
Lead by multi-instrumentalist Paul Fonfara, a virtuoso clarinet player with a handle on just about any music-making device you can throw at him, Painted Saints are perhaps the most accomplished local band you’ve never heard of. A transplant from an incestuous Denver music scene, Fonfara possesses a technical prowess that has been on display for years; he’s a former member of Devotchka and touring sideman to Jim White, but it’s his songwriting and orchestral creativity that get the limelight with Painted Saints. Live, Fonfara layers guitar, clarinet, strings, an archaic Colombian squeezebox, and whistles that would make Andrew Bird blush, resulting in a self-described “spaghetti western-heroin-klezmer-chamber country-sad-bastard thing.” Also a talented painter, Fonfara pens lyrics that detail the kind of dark and vivid imagery one could imagine Hieronymus Bosch creating, were he raised in modern-day rural America.
— Christopher Mathew Jensen City Pages
The appreciation for the odd or slightly out of whack sound served fonfara well. that sense of mood alng with fonfara’s eye for the unusual and his ability to seamlessly integrate different instruments and traditions into single songs keeps The Bricks Might Breathe Again from being easily pigeonholed. The sleepy, nodding “Paladin Whine” stands in marked contrast to the chain-gang country stomp of the title track and somewhere in the middle rests the Victorian March of “For the Brokers of Bottlecaps”. Tying it all together are instrumental interludes that give the record the cohesive feel of a soundtrack. It’s an intimate record of small pleasures that grows with each listen.
— -Steven McPherson Reveille Magazine
In your dream your car and breaks down in the middle of the American West. You’re at a non-place where you can see the desert, the forest and the plains stretching off into the distance. The shadows of mountains rise behind the fog that shrouds everything. I doesn’t take you long to realize that you’re lost in time as much as in place. “The Bricks Might Breathe Again” by Painted Saints could be the soundtrack to this dream. Painted Saints are lead by Paul Fonfara, late of Denver currently of Minnesota. To get from one to the other he had to make his way across much of the American plains and, apparently, make his way through every genre of Americana. He’s a multi-instrumentalist wielding guitar, clarinet and bandoneon, he also takes on the singing/song writing duties (he’s a damned good whistler,too). With other folks bringing the cello, saw, bass, violin, toy piano and percussion Painted Saints are more an ensemble than just a band. But there’s a humbleness to the “chamber country” found here. These songs are always accessible, never pointlessly virtuosic. Perhaps it’s the clarinet... or the cello. But this album doesn’t stay land locked in the middle of America. There’s a palpable European undercurrent washing through the songs. The clarinet brings in bits of klezmer, the guitar sounds positively flamenco at times and “For the Brokers of Bottlecaps” is a waltz for a broken Baltic capitol. These influences aren’t jarring they just help make the haunted rural landscape that much more otherworldly. We’re not quite in another world but the elegiac manner of the vocals is straight from the borderland between here and the Other Side. This matches the mannered, judicious percussion that’s so laconic you’re bound to think less of high spirited country music and more about somber “indie” rock like Morphine or Low. The rhythm section knows that you can’t go too fast if you want to hypnotize the audience. You can hear the influence of contemporary music throughout “The Bricks...”. This isn’t just another retro-folk album the song writing is so tight, so succinct that it feels completely modern. Even at their most protracted they evoke God Speed You! Black Emperor more than any meandering folky, just check out “Paladin Whine”. It’s nice that musicians can sound so world wise and still be so wonderfully youthful. All of these elements work together to create an amazing amalgam. This troupe feels like a French cafe ensemble that got lost time and was forced to work with sheet music from the last 100 years. But Painted Saints work it all into a cohesive dreamscape, the soundtrack to your dream if it was directed by Sergio Leone.
— SEPIACHORD
Company Town takes country-blues-folks at its finest and adds awe-inspiring cello, bar banter wisdom and a few wild cards for good measure, hearkening back to a mythical time when men were men, moonshine flowed freely and a musician couldn’t get by if he didn’t play a mean fiddle and whistle for a fistful of dollars in his sleep...Company Town is not merely an excellent and evocative album, but something rarer— one of those hair on the back of your neck records that comes out of nowhere and inhabits your CD deck for weeks.
— Nick Norton Splendid

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