A year ago, Paul Janeway was working as a
bank teller and pursuing a master's degree in accounting at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. In his spare time, the Pentecostal-reared Drew Carey lookalike would join his good friend Jesse Phillips for foolhardy recording sessions and one-off soul revue concerts at local pubs.
Neither man — nor any of the other musicians who coalesced around them after recording the four-song EP "Greetings from
St. Paul & the Broken Bones" in 2012 — thought a full band had any chance at success. Janeway took a chance, though. Last March, he quit his day job to bring his sharp-dressed, livewire onstage persona to SXSW in Austin.
The gamble paid off. Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner signed St. Paul & the Broken Bones to his record label and produced its debut full-length, "Half the City," which drops Feb. 18. Folio Weekly chatted with the frontman about learning curves, D'Angelo and the promise of 2014.
Folio Weekly: Your upcoming album, "Half the City," is one of the most anticipated releases of the new year, Paul. Tell us about the writing and recording process, some of which happened at Alabama's legendary Muscle Shoals studio.
Paul Janeway: Well, when Jesse and I did the EP, we didn't even know if this was going to be a band. So the LP was recorded under different circumstances. We did the whole thing live-to-tape, too. We enjoy playing live, and there's a certain energy that our live shows give off that's sometimes hard to capture on a recording. We think of ourselves as a soul band, and all our heroes in that genre recorded live-to-tape, so we thought, "Well, hell, we'll do that too." [Laughs.] It's pretty raw, and it's definitely got some scuffs and bruises on it. But I think it definitely captured the moment.
F.W.: As the band's frontman, how much have you had to learn about being an entertainer?
P.J.: I'm still very much on that learning curve, but I think I've learned quick. Again, when I first started doing St. Paul, I thought, "This isn't going to last long." So I was a lot more reckless with my voice. Now that it looks like something that's going to last longer than 30 days, I've refined it a little bit. But I have a hard time sitting still. So that helps; I do a little bit of dancing.
F.W.: That's an understatement. Did your roots in the Pentecostal church help you become a passionate performer?
P.J.: Absolutely. That's what's really bizarre about this whole experience; some people turn away from that, but I've just embraced it. I definitely treat each show as a little church [service]. That helps me be comfortable with people and read a crowd — make sure we're not about to start a mob or anything. [Laughs.]
F.W.: Do you put a lot of work into taking care of your voice?
P.J.: What I struggle with is getting amped up
— having discipline with it. When my voice started becoming my livelihood, I changed my attitude. I do a lot of teas and honey now, along with vocal exercises. And there are certain things I just don't do anymore. I still give 100 percent, but I used to give more than that on every song. Just because you can doesn't mean you need. You learn that lesson pretty quick, or you'll pay for it.
F.W.: We know you're influenced by legends like Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and James Carr. Do any contemporary artists inspire you?
P.J.: I'm actually a huge fan of D'Angelo. Even Outkast, too. But D'Angelo's album "Voodoo" to me represents the progression from Marvin Gaye to Prince to now. That's the kind of album I want to make one day.
F.W.: Less than a year ago, you were a college student and bank teller. Have you and the band reconciled yourselves to eminent rock stardom?
P.J.: [Laughs.] I think we've embraced it. Like I always say, we're only one bad interview away from it all falling apart. We're all pessimistic people in general, so we go, "Nobody will like the album — nobody'll buy it." But we love playing shows, the rooms keep growing and there are more people coming out. So it definitely feels like something pretty special is happening. I know I've enjoyed it thoroughly so far, and I'm anxious to see what happens next.