Concert Spotlight: Interview with St. Paul & The Broken Bones

Expanded Eight-Piece Outfit Unifies Through Soul
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Birmingham, Alabama soul-rock band St. Paul & The Broken Bones made a splash in 2014 with their debut Half the City, a throwback album of sorts with song themes ranging from heartbreak and infatuation to self-reflection and hope. The talent level on the newly-expanded eight-piece band (previously six) is particularly high and the Southern outfit is poised to gather the global appeal of artists such as Adele, Amy Winehouse, Alabama Shakes, and even Bruno Mars. The rockers plunge into the hearts of fans at Terminal 5 on November 10 with their mostly joyful, signature blend of soul, blues, and Southern rock coming o several high-profile broadcast performances like The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Conan, opening dates for The Rolling Stones, tour stops at festivals like Austin City Limits and the Newport Folk Festival, as well as the honor of playing at Otis Redding’s 75th birthday celebration along with blues singer Andra Day.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones have a whole new album of material to share while on tour, their second titled Sea of Noise, released earlier this fall. The instrumentation, horns, and Janeway’s iconic vocal delivery [he was raised on gospel Christian music and some soul greats and was trained to be a preacher] truly inspire and uplift. Janeway is joined by longtime members Jesse Phillips (bass, guitar), Browan Lollar (guitars), Andrew Lee (drums), Al Gamble (keyboards), Allen Branstetter (trumpet), as well as Jason Mingledor (saxophone, clarien, ute) and Chad Fisher (trombone). New York City Monthly spoke with lead singer Paul Janeway about a favorite Broadway memory he shared with his wife, rappers that he believes share a certain level of charisma, and why music lovers will be filled with many emotions by the end of their set.

Your November 10 Terminal 5 date is one of your largest shows ever in New York City. For longtime fans or new ones, what can you share about the experience of the tour when you come to town?

Well I mean, it’s definitely the same energy that we’ve had – we have a new bag of songs and you know, I would say the whole experience is probably a bit more expansive musically and experimenting with that has been interesting and fun.

Alabama is known for so much great music and so is New York, but they are vastly different places. During your downtime in New York over the years, what have you enjoyed the most from music and entertainment to culture, cuisine and more?

One time we did Letterman and me and my wife went to The Book of Mormon which was really cool. But I mean, it’s crazy – the one thing I do love about New York is you can do anything within about six or seven blocks which is pretty amazing. Where we’re from it’s pretty spread out, you have to drive everywhere, and I like the convenience, it’s got more of a neighborhood feel to it. I like that.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones.  Photo by Sundel Perry.

Your personality is really magnetic once you hit the stage. What is it about the stage that really allows you to let loose and are there some other performers across any genre that you feel are giving their all these days?

I tell people every time I play a show it’s like a therapy session on display in a lot of ways and I love the idea of performing and creating a moment with what we do and what connects us all together. And it’s one of those things where we don’t take ourselves too seriously but we’re not a comedy act either. It’s a weird balance.

There are some hip-hop guys that are pretty charismatic on stage, cause you kind of have to be in those situations, like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye. When I saw D’Angelo, I mean he’s pretty charismatic on stage. We love what we do and you hope you connect with an audience like that. We want to take them to the mountain peaks and then take them down to the valleys low.

The lyrics and messages on some of the album’s new songs have political and social themes like on “All I Ever Wonder” you sing “I can’t tell what side I’m on / I can’t tell what’s right or wrong.” Or on “Waves” you sing “All the people they are praying but there ain’t love no more / just bullets and hate.” Without getting too political, do you think music in general and your music can help people think about a more peaceful world and nation and act accordingly? Does music have that power?

I think it’s part of a collective effort. Music sometimes can kind of for me, especially the way we’re writing, be a mirror on society and I think once you acknowledge things you start going OK. And art in general feels that way, it can kind of be reflective in a way to move us, to do better and find solutions. But I’m also not arrogant to think what we do is going to cause some mass change.

The horns, the big band elements, the call & response in St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ music really makes for a memorable live show. What do you think the crowd at Terminal 5 will take away from your show this time?

I mean, I think honestly with the new record and everything it’s completely more expansive feeling but the same energy. There’s moments that are set up and you’re gonna sweat, you’re gonna dance, you might cry and laugh a little bit and I think that’s the whole game. That’s the range of emotions I can go through in a show, it’ll be fun.