It wasn’t long ago that Paul Janeway, who fronts the soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones, was pursuing a very different career path. “When this started up I actually wasn’t singing — I was in accounting school,” he says. “I was trying to get my accounting degree while working parttime as a bank teller, so it was kind of nuts for me.”
Janeway had previously played in a band with Bones’ bassist Jesse Phillips, and once that group broke up the two went their separate ways. For a while, music seemed like a pipe dream that neither person could afford to pursue. Phillips considered giving up, and Janeway actually did.
“I was done with music, to be honest with you, because in my eyes, it was like, you’ve got one chance to get hit by lightning and be in a fairly successful band,” Janeway says. “I started thinking, ‘I’ve got to give up on this. It isn’t going to happen.’ That’s the truth. I just gave up.”
But as Janeway notes, Phillips wasn’t quite ready to give up on a professional music career, and he had an idea that he thought would attract Janeway as well. So he called him up and gave him his pitch. Soon after, lightning struck.
“He calls me up and says, ‘Why don’t you come in, I’ll write songs geared more towards your voice, and we’ll see what happens?'” Janeway recalls. “And we went in there and did ‘Broken Bones and Pocket Change,’ and then I went, ‘Uh oh. I have to pursue this,’ because there was something in me that would say, ‘You can’t do that,’ whenever I would think about giving up.”
So the band quickly self-released a debut EP in 2013, “Greetings from St. Paul and the Broken Bones,” and followed this up with their Single Lock Records debut EP later that year, “St. Paul and the Broken Bones — Live and in Person.” And thus the groundswell of support for the Birmingham, Ala., band started, and once things got rolling, they didn’t slow down. The band released its first full-length album, “Half the City,” back in February, and it debuted at No. 62 on Billboard’s Top 200 before peaking at No. 56. The record received raves from mainstream media, and they have since toured Europe and throughout North America in support of the album. Not bad for a group that was all but started on a whim.
“I think we’re going to end up playing about 200 shows this year,” Janeway says in amazement. “It’s hard for me to fathom. People just seem to really like our music a lot.”
“City” features 12 tracks of earth-moving, spell-binding soul. Janeway’s vocals on tracks like “I’m Torn Up” fuse the deep power of John Popper with the smoothness of Allen Stone, and a song like “Don’t Mean a Thing” plays at times like a modern send-up of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” But they also show off their funky side on such numbers as “Like a Mighty River” and demonstrate a keen sense of rhythm and melody. All of this is done so well that you would probably be surprised to know that the band had only been together a handful of months when the songs for “City” were recorded.
“It ain’t like I’ve been doing this professionally for 20 years, you know?” Janeway says, laughing again. “That was the first time I’d ever done it on that kind of level.”
Janeway speaks in an easy-going, sometimes self-effacing manner that makes him instantly likeable. The way he carries himself bleeds into the band’s good-time vibe that is hard not to like. It is little wonder why the band’s fans enjoy Janeway and his music so much. He is not a prima donna rock star who thinks he deserves anything; quite the contrary, he views the whole situation with a sense of humor.
“I know I’m a white guy singing soul music,” he says with a laugh, “but it is part of my background. One thing I can say is people like authenticity, and I think that is something that is just true to our region, so that’s really worked in our favor.”
But he also views “City” as a way to grow as an artist, because despite all the success it has brought to him and the band, he knows there are ways it could have been improved upon.
“What I like about the record is there’s bumps and bruises in it,” he says. “The record breathes. I thought it was going to be the last time I ever recorded something like that, so I just went full-bore. I just let it rip. But there are parts of the record, listening now, where I go, “Ugh, why did I do that? Oh man, that’s too high or too gravelly,” so I’ve learned a little more about nuance.”
Janeway may have learned a thing or two about reining in his performances a bit, but his passion for music remains unbridled. In fact, if anything, he is keenly aware that it could lead to marital problems down the road if he isn’t careful.
“I’m getting married in December, and my fiancee always tell me, ‘I am never worried about you cheating on me with some broad; what I am worried about is you falling in love with music and never talking to me again,'” he says. “And music is kind of that thing for me. I live, eat and breathe it. There’s something about it that moves me like nothing else.”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones will perform from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at South on Main as part of the ACANSA Arts Festival. The event is sold out, though tickets may be available beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday at South on Main.