[Interview] St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Paul Janeway has been compared to Al Green and Otis Redding. Keith Richards and David Letterman have praised him.
On a recent afternoon, however, he answered his phone expecting a call from an appliance repairman.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry. I was in a trance,” he says. “I’m having to get a washing machine fixed and I thought it was the washing machine people. So I was like, ‘How do you know my name?’ ”
People might not know the name Janeway, but savvy music fans know the leader of St. Paul & the Broken Bones, the Alabama band that has introduced a new generation to the sweet sounds reminiscent of Motown and Stax and sent older listeners into reveries of their youth. That mixed-age demographic quickly bought all the tickets to Friday’s sold-out show at the Madison Theater.
The group’s 2014 debut, “Half the City,” broke through with its fresh R&B sound, which featured Janeway’s falsetto soaring above the horn-heavy music. Last’s year’s “Sea of Noise” proved the band had staying power. That is redemption for Janeway, who grew up singing in his family’s nondenominational church but was ready to give up music for accounting before recording a last-ditch EP that caught the attention of Jason Isbell’s manager in 2012.
“You count your blessings in those situations,” Janeway says. “I was 27 when this started to get cranked up and I was pretty comfortable in my skin. It’s somethin’ I love doin’, I get to do it for a livin’ and I know I’m lucky. But I feel like I am who I was at that point. All it’s really done is put a little bit more money in my pocket.”
That Everyman vibe has endeared the Broken Bones to fans as much as the music. These guys have fun on stage and audiences love being part of the show, which is a combination of concert and tent revival. The key, Janeway says, is to give it everything you have every night.
“I’ve approached both records this way: This is the last one, so I don’t worry about the pressure,” he says. “The only time I felt pressure was when (the second record was coming out and) they showed me tour dates and we were playing these huge runs. I was like, ‘Ohhh, are you sure? This thing could not be successful and we’re screwed.’ ”
Janeway tells this tale with a laugh, a pleasant chuckle that accompanies most of his side of the conversation. Maybe he did worry a bit before “Sea of Noise” was released, but the reception removed any doubts. As did the band’s gigs with the Stones in Atlanta and Buffalo. Janeway’s performance prompted Richards to tell Rolling Stone magazine, “He’s a cat who can do Otis Redding, he’s very interesting to watch.”
“You’re flattered,” Janeway says, before stammering for about 20 seconds trying to find more words. “You’re pretty honored when that happens. It’s weird for me, though, because it’s one of those things … you go, ‘Oh, I never thought that was going to happen.’ ”
Especially to someone waiting for a washing machine repairman. But the kind words aren’t likely to change Janeway.
“Man, I cut my own grass, too,” he laughs.