By Lisa Morgan
There I was, minding my own business, watching a little post-CV Weekly writing deadline TV – the late night music lover, David Letterman:
“The first time I heard this song, I was screaming ’til I cried,” said Dave, who was as on fire as a Pentecostal preacher at a tent sale. “That’s what I want. Can you do that for me tonight? And it won’t be your fault, but if I don’t get that, I’m going to stop the show, and we’ll do it over.” I thought to myself, whoever these guys are, they better bring it. Seemed like a lot of pressure for any band on this high profile gig. “We’ve known you guys for a long time…we know who you guys are,” Letterman said. “Let’s launch this rocket, OK?”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, composed of Paul Janeway, Browan Lollar, Jesse Phillips, Andrew Lee, Al Gamble, Ben Griner, and Allen Branstetter, unleashed their song, “Call Me” and they did not disappoint. Letterman didn’t have to stop for a do-over, but he did make the band keep playing after the song ended, and they had no problem appeasing their most famous fan (or the one writing about them right now). I watched an unbridled soul pouring out pure musical joy, delivered through a vessel that was completely abandoned to the song, with no thoughts of the cameras or how he looked on them. It was inspirational. Little did I know that in a few weeks, I’d be talking to the lead singer who pulled that national audience into their fan base like a weaponized pied piper.
(In his native accent) “They said Dave’s a fan of y’alls and I said, ‘Cool,’ thinking they were just paying us lip service. Turns out, he really was, and that was way cool,” shared Paul Janeway, lead singer of the seven-piece soul band based out of Birmingham, Alabama.
CVW: I think what impressed me most was your absolute, selfless abandon to your music along with your incredible vocals. Not many people can do that without a six pack of beer in them. You appeared to be completely sober. How did you get to the place where you could do that so inspirationally well?
Janeway: (Laughs) Thank you. Being uninhibited is definitely part of what I do, and I have never drank a drop, ever. It’s a weird thing. Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge. It is almost stupidity in a way. You love it so much you just do it. I‘m hot or cold; I am really into it, or really not into it. That’s how I sing, and that’s how I do a lot of things.
My parents were strict about what I listened to musically. I grew up in church. I really love the church, but I could only listen to gospel music and a little bit of soul…Sam Cook, The Stylistics, old-school Marvin Gaye…pre ‘Let’s Get It On’ Marvin Gaye. Then there was Aretha Franklin…man, to this day, I think she’s one of the best singers ever. But at 18, I started listening to Tom Waits and other lesser known artists. And Muscle Shoals is right down the road form us; Rolling Stones, Wilson Picket, Aretha Franklin…all these great folks performed and recorded there. There is this kind of tradition for great music … you can’t half ass it. You literally put it all on the table, and that’s what we do EVERY show.
CVW: You put out an EP, Greetings from St. Paul and The Broken Bones, before you even did a show together, and you gained attention from managers and labels alike. In January 2013, you began to record your first full length album, Half the City, at the Nutthouse Recording Studios Sheffield, Alabama and Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. One year later it was released under Single Lock Records (a record label owned by Ben Tanner, Will Trapp, and John Paul White of The Civil Wars). Half the City received immediate critical acclaim from many national journalistic outlets including Paste magazine, Rolling Stone and NPR, among others. In its first week of sales, Half the City reached #62, and ultimately #56 on Billboard 200 charts. When did it occur to you that this music thing just might work out for you?
Janeway: This was going to be our last hurrah, but then, something just clicked…” (Laughs) “I think the first time we sold out a show in our hometown, Birmingham…that was a big moment for us. I thought ok, ‘I’m going to be doing this longer than just a few months.’ Then we sold out a show in Chicago before our album had even come out. I thought, ‘Maybe this will turn into a living.’ The music business is a combination of luck, skill and hard work…those 3 things have to line up to have a lasting effect. And it just doesn’t happen for a lot of people. We have a great booking agent who knows how to feel a room. We played 200 shows last year so we have been busy. I definitely feel lucky, but I’ve also worked my ass off.
CVW: You guys are an interesting addition to a music festival that, progressively, has more of an EDM/Techno element. How do you feel about playing this world famous festival?
Janeway: I went to Coachella in 2008. I’m a huge Prince fan. I was working at a construction company and I was getting over a bad break up. I told myself that I didn’t care how much it cost me, I was going to take a few days and fly out to California to see Prince at Coachella. I spent my whole paycheck on a plane ticket, and I waited all day to see him.
CVW: All to heal a broken heart?
Janeway: Yes, to heal my broken heart. I got up early in the morning and waited at the gate, then waited all day to get front and center. I about passed out ‘cause I’m not used to the heat. It is pretty special to do these things when you are a fan of music, and then turn around and perform at them. It’s a dream.
When I told our booking agent that I had gone to Coachella, and I’d really like to play it, he said ‘You know, Coachella is a lot of EDM – there’s not a lot of room for real bands.’ So he basically prepped me that we weren’t going to get it. So when we got it, I could barely contain my excitement.
Check out their website stpaulandthebrokenbones.com.