No Bones About It
Paul Janeway steps up to the microphone in his thick glasses, tailored suit, shining white shoes, and bow tie. He looks at the crowd, raises his hands and slams down the first note with a soulful, powerful voice that sounds like it should come from someone else. Janeway, once groomed to become a Pentecostal pastor, brings down fire and brimstone. As he spins and slides across the stage, the horns, drums, keyboard, and guitars match him note-for-note in songs that knock you down and lift you up. It happens night after the night for St. Paul and the Broken Bones as the tours grow longer and the crowds get larger.
The southern soul band exploded earlier this year with the release of their debut album Half the City in February. It has been reviewed and recommended by music critics across the country, including many from National Public Radio. The band recently performed on CBS This Morning and the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. They were on Jimmy Kimmel Live in June. Only 18 months ago, the seven musicians were working day jobs at music stores and restaurants and painting houses. Two were graduating from college and Janeway was working as a bank teller and taking accounting classes (he is two semesters away from an accounting degree).
St. Paul and the Broken Bones started from a friendship between Janeway and bass player Jesse Phillips. They occasionally played together at parties and coffee shops in Birmingham and Les Nuby of Ol’ Elegante Studios in Birmingham encouraged them to record their music. They recorded four songs that became the Greetings from St. Paul and the Broken Bones EP. Lollar and drummer Andrew Lee came in at the end of the recording to help fill out the songs and formed the band. Alan Branstetter and Ben Griner were added as the horn section and Al Gamble joined this year on the keyboard.
The name St. Paul and the Broken Bones was an inside joke when Janeway and Phillips started playing around with music. St. Paul is because Paul doesn’t drink or smoke and broken bones came from the alliteration of the two b’s and the idea of fragmented parts. It also sounded like the name of an old-school soul band.
The band played together in weekend gigs for five months when Ben Tanner of the Alabama Shakes asked them to record a full-length album on his Single Lock Record Label. Janeway was still learning how use to his voice and safely screech and howl and says that he tried to hit everything he could during those recording sessions, even notes he shouldn’t have tried. Songs about lost love and the wrong love feel raw and real coming from the singer with a voice that sounds like a mix of Otis Redding. Wilson Pickett, and Steven Tyler.
I know that I’ve been cold
Baby, I ain’t got no soul
I have had those sweet sugar thoughts
They have been taken away from me
They can’t melt me no more
I just have to be unhappy
We put on our Sunday best
We live our quiet mess
But we’ll never be married
–“The Grass Is Greener”
“We sat on the album for a year so it is a blast now that the people know the songs and sing along with us,” says Lollar. “The songwriting process is addicting — lay it out, record it, release it, then see how it is liked by other people. I am looking forward to doing it again, for the second album.”
People who saw St. Paul and the Broken Bones play at favorite local venues like Callaghan’s in Mobile and Bottletree Café in Birmingham knew the band would quickly outgrow the local clubs. They’re now filling venues that seat 400-500 such as the historic Troubadour in Los Angeles that helped launch Elton John, James Taylor, the Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Browne.
“The last few months have been a blur,” says Lollar. “We have been so busy and so much has happened that it is hard to focus and take it in. We have been on our first tour of the West Coast and we have sold out 20 shows in a row and most of them are in places we have never been. It is humbling to think about how much it has grown over the past few months. One of the most surreal days was playing a sold out show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and taping the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson on the same day. We stood on the set and looked around realizing that life is really weird sometimes. Our manager tells us not to get used to this.”
The crowds and stages are bigger, but the band’s music and performance remains the same. “The shows haven’t changed much, maybe a little less sweaty from playing at a place like Callaghan’s.” Lollar laughs. “It is challenging in bigger venues because engaging people is a big part of our show. We have to work a little harder to get people closer to the music, but Paul is good at making people listen and pay attention no matter where we play.”
From the beginning, there have been predictions of big things for St. Paul and the Broken Bones and those predictions are coming true. “People keep telling us to strap in because it is going to take off, but our approach to success is wait and see,” says Lollar. “If it happens, great, but we are realistic about it. We enjoy writing and playing songs and it is more fun when people are there to listen. As long as we are making a living playing music, we are happy. “