Welcome to the Church of St. Paul, where the stage is the pulpit and each sermon revolves around powerful, energetic, engaging performances by St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Lead singer and band namesake Paul Janeway is always front and center, and not unlike a spirited preacher dressed in his Sunday best. More over, he belts out his soul over big-band horns and beats.
“It’s kind of like therapy for myself,” Janeway says, “letting all those emotions drudge out and go crazy. That’s what I get to do every show.”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones will bring their full sound to the Greenfield Lake stage on May 14. Opening will be Wilmington’s very own The Paper Stars.
Janeway grew up singing in a Southern church in Birmingham, Alabama. Though non-denominational, it wasn’t without various “charismatic phases,” as Janeway describes, including healings and glossolalia or speaking in tongues. His church housed unfiltered displays of emotion and spirituality that had a lasting impact, especially in how Janeway approaches the stage.
“I always thought that was incredibly fascinating,” he states. “It’s not something that moves me now, but it definitely influenced me. It always felt like performance, but it was performance with conviction—something real’s happening and that’s pretty amazing.”
Though a lot of his experience in the church still resonates—he even trained to be a preacher at one time and occasionally goes with his Episcopalian wife to services now—he wouldn’t call himself a practicing Christian. “A lot of those things still move me in ways I can’t really explain,” Janeway describes. “I really find a lot of refuge in music, but the experience itself is still very spiritual for me.”
The irony doesn’t escape Janeway that his booming, soulful voice isn’t often associated with a guy from Alabama with alabaster skin and Buddy Holly-esque glasses. When folks hear his tell-tale Alabama accent in conversation, they almost always assume he sings bluegrass, country or the like when he tells them of his profession. What Janeway and his band have actually created since forming in 2012 is everything in between big-band, soul and R&B, approached with the finesse of punk.
“We get associated with retro-soul and that type of stuff, but to me we’re not good enough to pull that off,” he says. “There’s kind of a DIY element to us, with some punk-rock and garage, I think. We’re not as seasoned—we’re kind of rough around the edges.”
Janeway completes a seven-piece band, consisting of Jesse Phillips (bass), Browan Lollar (guitar), Andrew Lee (drums), Al Gamble (keys), Allen Branstetter (trumpet), and Ben Griner (trombone, tuba). They’ve all been influenced by Muscle Shoals and the area’s rich history of music that surrounded them. With unlimited access to music and its various genres, subgenres and underground bands, their melting-pot ensemble continues to evolve. With a sophomore record set to be released this fall, Janeway says it’s shaping up to be much different than their debut full-length, “Half the City” (2014).
“I think it’s an R&B record that has many different influences on it,” he divulges. “I still haven’t quite figured out exactly what it is. I know that it moves me . . . There’s a lot of string arrangements. I don’t think the retro-soul tag will fit at all; it’s a little more modern, and it’s expanding the musical palate of us and our audience.”
Despite the band’s nomadic roots of sound, Janeway contrives their overall look and sound—even the vinyl album artwork. “No one’s ever going to tell me how this is going to go,” he mandates. “It’s not my personality.”
Dapper suits and golden shoes may dress up the band onstage, but off Janeway is a T-shirt and blue jeans kind of guy. His sound and performance translates into a character—for him the attire is a part of a persona integral to the music. St. Paul and Broken Bones encompasses a whole package: instruments and vocals are most important, but aesthetics have a place as well in invoking attitude. He takes cues from artists he loves and admires, such as David Bowie and Prince.
“Everything [Prince] did was with intent,” Janeway explains, “from his stage wear to his album art, because it’s the way you’re portraying yourself and your art, and that’s a big deal. Plus, it’s fun. . . . I think I like playing dress up.”
In preparation for their fall tour, Janeway has been working with Nashville designer Eric Adler to match the tour with the album. “[Adler] looks at it very much as an artistry, and how far out can we get within the brassy album and those themes,” he says.
As for his shoes, well, Janeway will don multicolored bedazzled originals made by his wife—of which Wilmington will get a glimpse of this Saturday. “It’s nice to have something that she worked hard on always with me,” he adds.
At the core of their music, Janeway and co-founder Jesse Phillips dictate where most of it begins and blends. Nevertheless, everyone in the musical organism is integral.
“It varies,” Janeway continues of their process. “Some songs are written in a collaborative fashion where we’re all in a room and some are written with me and Jesse . . . I don’t ever like limiting inspiration. I also like hearing what other people have to say. I don’t think everything I do or sing is genius.”
Whereas “Half the City” consisted of a culmination of life in Birmingham—including heartbreaks and trying times—the next record will be an exploration and expansion on world views. “There’s elements of cosmic oneness and trying to find your place in the world where I kind of feel alien to sometimes,” he explains.
The main objective is to make music the band loves and express something unique. Janeway’s mantra: Create music the band is happy with and enjoys first and have an audience grow with it. “I hope everyone on the planet loves [our music],” Janeway continues. “But success is not something that’s scary; it’s just that you want success on your terms.”