Summer Stars: St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Dean Budnick on June 16, 2014

Our annual Summer Stars series features a variety of groups making the rounds on the festival circuit. Today we feature St. Paul & The Broken Bones.

When music industry gadfly Bob Lefsetz devotes one of his “Lefsetz Letters” to your band, you’re in good company—all the more so when he opens that particular missive with a sentence anointing your group as “This year’s Alabama Shakes.”

While this reference point wasn’t meant to be altogether positive, as Lefsetz was questioning some of the hype that preceded St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ national TV debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday, the group’s namesake takes it all in stride.

“I didn’t know anything about who he was but when I read it, I thought there were some fair things in there,” says frontman Paul Janeway. “Apparently, he tears people apart all the time and he didn’t really tear us to pieces. He was just saying we’re something to pay attention to but maybe not that much. Golly, if I took everybody’s criticism to heart, I’d already be done with this. Do you know how many times I’ve been called the fat white guy who sings like this or that?”

Janeway—who stepped away from a life in the church, and later his pursuit of an accounting degree, to focus on his music full-time—clearly knows how to turn the other cheek.

What’s more, contrary to Lefsetz’s assertion, much of the group’s initial public reception has not been the product of a calculated marketing campaign
but rather has been generated via sincere, enthusiastic responses to YouTube clips. One particular viral video, a performance of “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” recorded in a space between Lexington, Ky.’s Rupp Arena and an adjacent mall, helped the group land their manager.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones released their studio debut, Half The City, this past February. As the band stepped up its roadwork in support of the record, live videos have continued to serve as a calling card for the group’s exhilarating gospel-infused soul.

Janeway is quick to emphasize the positive impact that the recent slew of live dates has had on the group.

“We’ve sharpened up the show. We’ve been obsessed with it and I’ve learned a little more about nuance in my voice instead of just screaming the whole time.”

Beyond a steady stretch of U.S. performances, the group will set their sights on Europe, with trips planned for late May and August.

“We did South By [Southwest] and we had people from France and Spain and England just gushing about us, asking if we were interested in coming over
there. I’ve never been out of the country—I’ve barely been out of the state of Alabama—so this is all very new,” Janeway offers.

Another upcoming performance holds particular significance for the singer.

“Bonnaroo is very special to me. It was two-and-a-half hours away from Birmingham and when I started getting out of the Christian music thing, Bonnaroo shaped my musical tastes. In 2006, I saved up all of my money to go and when I got there and experienced it, I said, ‘If I get in music, this would be the place to do it.’ One year, I couldn’t afford to go so I worked it. They let you work a 12-hour shift and then take 12 hours off to go see the festival.
So I did that but I got sun poisoning on Thursday and then, right before Jay-Z came out on Saturday, I got peed on.”

Perhaps that Bonnaroo baptism provided a boost of good fortune.

“When we first started this, my manager asked me for some goals and I said, ‘There are two things I would love to do before I get done with this: I’d love to play Bonnaroo and I would love to play the Ryman.’ Both of those are happening this year so she told me recently that I need to come up with a new list.”