Thursday, July 31, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Q&A: St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Paul Janeway has a voice that could rattle the rafters and it’s garnering him national attention as frontman for the old-school soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Janeway, an Alabama native, grew up listening almost exclusively to gospel and was on track to become a preacher. After reevaluating his career path, he enrolled in community college. Two semesters away from an accounting degree, Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips went into the studio to record the music they’d been writing together. Phillips brought Andrew Lee (drums) and Browan Lollar (guitar), and the group soon evolved to its current seven-piece, Birmingham-based lineup.

The band’s debut full-length “Half the City” was released in February to critical acclaim, landing St. Paul interviews on NPR, a feature in Esquire, and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel.

Janeway spoke to in anticipation of the band’s upcoming show at Amsterdam.

Q: Tell me how preaching prepared you to perform onstage.

A: One of the main things is it helped to read crowds and feel the momentum in a room.

Q: Do you feel like you were called to music by a higher power?

A: I don’t know [but] I definitely feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

Q: What kinds of experiences inspired the songs on “Half the City”?

A: Lyrically, it’s not an incredibly happy-go-lucky album. There’s a lot of heartbreak. It’s about the city that we’re from—Birmingham—and what happened in that city.

Q: Were any of the songs based on personal experiences?

A: They have personal touches on them, but I try to generalize to make it more universal.

Q: What do you think it is about Alabama that’s produced so many great musicians?

A: We ain’t got nothin’ else to do! That’s what it is. I think there’s a great legacy here, like there is in Minnesota with Bob Dylan and Prince. Alabama’s seen a lot of heartache and sadness in its history and that inspires music.

Q: You’re touring with a big band. Have there been any hijinks?

A: Touring with seven guys is pretty crazy. One time, one of our bandmates lost all of his underwear at the Laundromat. It was really funny getting that group text: “Hey, has anyone seen any underwear that doesn’t belong to them?”

Q: On the subject of clothing, the band has sharp fashion sense. How did that develop?

A: At the time that I started this [band], I was still working as a part-time bank teller. I liked that concept of dressing up and making it an event. It always was for me, like going to work or church or a wedding, you wear something nice. There’s not a dress code; we don’t over-mandate anything. We leave it to each individual, but they’re not going to show up in a T-shirt and jeans.

Q: You mentioned working as a bank teller. Didn’t you also work as a mechanic?

A: I didn’t even get to be a mechanic! I was a runner for a mechanic. I also cut grass at the shop and I’d get lunch for everyone. Gopher jobs.

Q: Did those jobs teach you any skills that you use now in the band?

A: They taught me what hard work looks like. My family has always been that way, with a strong work ethic, you know, put your nose down and plow on through. I worked at a tanning bed one time because I didn’t have a car and it was the closest thing within walking distance. I don’t think that one taught me much. There’s times when you start getting annoyed on the road—“My damn iPhone died” or something stupid—and I always go back to, “This sure beats the hell out of working in 100 degree weather and making a little bit of money.”

Q: You’re a comic book fan. What are your favorite characters or series?

A: I’m kind of classic when it comes to that. I’m a huge Batman fan. I’m also a Simpsons fan and they recently released Simpsons comics. I brought a ton of them on a plane and the guys were kind of giving me a hard time about it, like, “Aw, that’s kids’ stuff.” And they are. I read them and started laughing. By the end of the flight, all the guys in the band were reading those comics and laughing, like, “You’re gonna have to get more of those!”

Q: Your nickname St. Paul came about because you don’t drink or smoke. Is it hard to be a standup guy in the music business?

A:  [Laughs.] Oh, that’s a trick question! I’ve developed who I am and I’m happy with where I am. That was a difficult place for me to come to, because being a Southerner and not agreeing with everything that’s typical of Southern politics, it was tough. I’ve been dealing with that my whole life. At this point, my voice is my livelihood and the last thing I’m going to do is fill it full of cigarettes and alcohol. The guys love that I don’t drink because I get to drive ‘em. I think I’m a fairly fun guy without it. I would be a little too crazy [if I got into that].

Originally published on in July 2014.