Paul Janeway is known for belting out soulful songs with a majestic voice that makes you wonder if you’ve been transported to a past generation, but during our recent hour-long phone conversation, it was his contagious laughter that stole the spotlight. For a discussion about how he and the rest of St. Paul and the Broken Bones have navigated the choppy waters of 2020, the most prominent takeaway was the power of hope and positivity (combined with a healthy dose of reality).
Paul and the band were in the midst of recording their fourth album when the world shut down last March. Like the rest of the planet, everyday life was put on pause for the band for an indefinite amount of time - which meant no more recording. Each member had to tackle what their work and everyday life would look like in this “new normal”.
“2020 was going to be a great year for us. It was lining up very well. Then March happened, and it happened to everybody. It happened to all of us - it was a universal feeling. But it really devastated the music business and my concern wasn’t necessarily me, but we have people that work at venues; people that don’t make a ton of money because it’s a passion project, and they just got nailed.”
Paul felt fortunate to have the cushion of leading a successful band to help him get through these tough times, but boredom hit early on. It didn’t take long before he did what any stuck-at-home musician with too much time on their hands would do. He started covering songs that made an impression on him and posted them on the band’s Instagram. One of the stand-out covers is “drivers license” by Olivia Rodrigo which Paul accurately describes as “the most dramatic 16-year-old pop song I have ever heard in my life” while still being the perfect pop anthem. Not one to limit himself to a single genre, Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly” and Celeste’s “Strange” are a couple of his other recent, favorite covers.
While covering a wide variety of songs for his online fan base was his more public-facing pandemic endeavor, these moments were far from the only positive experience his family had this last year. Paul and his wife welcomed their first-born daughter this last September - a beautiful addition to the world that he credits with bolstering his mental health and bringing brightness into his life. “You try to look at the positives, and for me, I look at it like I get to spend all this time with her that I never would have gotten to spend had we been on tour.”
His other saving grace has been a bit more out of left field but interesting nonetheless. Field recordings of various species of birds, frogs, and people walking through cities in foreign countries have captured the singer’s attention, so much so that he’s taken to recording for himself. “I’ve really gotten into it. I have actually bought a microphone and all sorts of stuff to record me going up stairs, and me walking in leaves, and to record the birds. It’s a thing. A weirdo thing.”
Paul and the band haven’t spent their entire pandemic in the house, though. A couple of car shows and strictly-monitored outdoor concerts allowed them to get back out and enjoy playing in front of a live audience. The sparse crowds in spaced apart settings aren’t anything close to playing 30,000 person festivals, but as Paul and the band figured, it wasn’t too long ago that they were playing shows to only 10 people in an empty room. “I put it all on the line then. Why would it be any different now?” asked the famously rambunctious live performer.
One of the biggest highlights of this new approach to concerts was a live recording of the band’s debut record “Half the City” at Birmingham venue Avondale Brewing. The band normally stays away from returning to their old hits too much, but 2020 felt like a reflective year and made the live throwback an easy decision. An exclusive vinyl of the recording will be released July 17th as part of Record Store Day’s RSD Drop, so be sure to snag one for your home!
As the vaccine rollout continues to expand and the weather warms up, the feeling of hope and the planning of concerts rises as well. St. Paul and the Broken Bones have a string of outdoor Southeastern shows, including playing above the famed Caverns in Pelham, Tennessee and even a couple of outdoor festivals coming up on the horizon.
The band is also back in the recording studio and on the way to completing the previously-mentioned, delayed fourth album. The setbacks actually allowed them to record the whole thing in Birmingham at Communicating Vessels, which is a first for the band. Randall Turner, a well-known musician with The Green Seed, and labeled “genius” by Paul, is rumored to have his fingerprints all over the record.
The band absolutely can’t wait for the record to come out, but they are just as excited to reunite amongst themselves again. Only three band members still live in Birmingham, and Paul’s best friend and Bones’ bassist, Jess Phillips, lives a 30-hour drive away in Missoula, Montana. When asked about the prospect of Paul moving from Alabama, he gives a straight-forward “I ain’t ever leaving.” However, he certainly misses the road and his closest pal who he gives full credit as being the only reason the band exists in the first place.
While there are many dream destinations to perform at when the world opens back up, there is one experience Paul and the band want to feel more than anything else - a return to the Alabama Theatre with two “on like Donkey Kong” sold-out shows. It’s clear that St. Paul and the Broken Bones have love for the Magic City. The interview was laced with shout-outs to Bham staples like Rodney Scott’s BBQ and Birmingham Mountain Radio, alongside hilarious stories like showing up to a Bottletree internship interview in khakis and a button-down and feeling vastly out-of-place. When you love a city so much, it certainly makes it easy for them to love you in return - and Birmingham loves this band. It’s safe to say the Magic City can’t wait to fill up the Alabama Theatre to see Birmingham’s band ambassadors give it their all on the stage once again.