Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

St. Paul & the Broken Bones, with Hall & Oates return home to Alabama

David McClister

Paul Janeway, lead singer of St. Paul & the Broken Bones and a Birmingham native, is known for his boisterous on-stage antics. He’s been known to run amok – twirling around and hopping over and under stage objects, funkifying everything in his wake. But it was 4,487 miles away from Alabama, on a stage in Oslo, Norway, where he went totally and completely bonkers. After finding himself stuck underneath the drum riser, the phrase “showstopper” took on a new meaning. 

“I thought I was going to have to do the whole show under this drum riser,” Janeway said. “So I’m trying to wiggle out and I’m kicking and wailing and I can’t get out. And I end up kicking the power source to every instrument on stage and I just take out the whole show.” 

Everything was quiet, save for the horns. But if one silent Scandinavian show is the tax paid for hundreds of concerts teeming with Janeway’s theatrics, it seems the odds still side with the eight piece band from Birmingham. They’ll bring their soulful tomfoolery back home to Alabama next Tuesday when they open for Daryl Hall and John Oates at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. 

Since the group’s inception in 2011, they’ve toured the length of state, and across the U.S. and Europe. Home performances are always a special for Janeway, whose roots run deep through Alabama.

“Playing shows in Alabama is completely different than playing shows in other parts of the world because it is home,” Janeway said. “That’s where I’m born and raised. Never lived anywhere different than the Birmingham area. So for me it’s always kind of a homecoming.”

In the band’s early days they frequented such Tuscaloosa venues as Green Bar, when smoking in bars was still permitted and Janeway, who has a cigarette smoke allergy, lost his voice. The smokier days behind them, they’re returning to the Amphitheater.

“I love Tuscaloosa,” Janeway said. “Born and raised an Alabama fan. “It’s a special place for me. I had a relationship with a girl down there, spent a lot of time down there. It somewhat shaped who I am a bit, which is kind of funny.”

Janeway has played witness to the changing Alabama music scene over the years. Where Birmingham’s music terrain was once rocky, now it’s a hot stop on many bands’ tours. The same goes for Tuscaloosa.

“Birmingham is a very weird market for music,” Janeway said. “There was a time there where if you went through Birmingham or even Tuscaloosa that it was a struggle. Some bands had luck and some bands didn’t. I don’t think that’s as much the case now.”

Credit is due to St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and other Alabama brethren like Jason Isbell and Alabama Shakes, for the recent spotlight. As they’ve toured across the country and world, St. Paul & the Broken Bones have encountered varying ideas regarding Alabama music. 

“When you go up to Europe, [Alabama] is a mystical place,” Janeway said. “People think it’s a magical land where everyone plays great music. But when you go to other places in the U.S. it’s kind of frowned upon or there are certain stereotypes that go in play. But for us that’s changed slowly.”

Also on the national stage is the band’s appearance in the HBO show “Big Little Lies.” Their song “Grass Is Greener” was featured in the show, which just won an Emmy for Outstanding Music Supervision. Hesitant to watch the show at first, Janeway was eventually convinced by his wife to check it out. He was a fan. 

“When you’re a part of something that’s quality and to be included in that is obviously an honor that we were even thought of,” he said. “It was a really good show and I think to me, it’s not always the case, but I like being part of quality. I love television. I love movies. When you’re part of one that you like, it does mean a little bit more.”

Janeway has not, however, seen “Fifty Shades of Grey,” another film in which they’re soundtracked. 

“Grass is Greener” is a track from their first record “Half the City,” which was released in 2014. “Sea of Noise” came out in 2016. Their most-streamed song is still “Call Me,” from “Half the City,” but the new record has a more flowing feel to it that listeners have latched onto. Listening to the album is like listening to a story told by the ever-prominent horn, organ and Janeway’s rugged vocals. 

The album cover art for “Sea of Noise,” which depicts a golden altar floating in a cosmic sky studded with stars, compliments the record’s celestial sounds, and was inspired by Janeway’s trips to Rome with his wife. 

“I remember seeing all these cathedrals and beautiful places, and when you go there everything means something,” he said. “I just thought that was a really beautiful sentiment. I thought people should put that kind of thought process through music and art packaging. So that’s what we did with the cover of ‘Sea of Noise.’ Everything means something. Every little symbol is either a song reference or a theme reference.”

Janeway puts as much thought and meaning into the setlists as he does the album art. 

“I come from a pretty strong church background and I like to do my setlists in the vein of that background,” Janeway said. “You build ‘em up and take them down. There’s peaks and valleys. To me one of the most undervalued or underrated things for a live show is the set list. Some people don’t care and I care a lot because I think a bad set list can hurt a show. To ebb and flow, to have your peaks and valleys, is the way to do it.”

The band will bring all those peaks, valleys, ebbs and flows to the Amphitheater Tuesday night. They caught Hall & Oates’ attention, and will tour with them for three more shows after Tuscaloosa. 

“When they said they were going through Tuscaloosa we were like ‘Alright you know that sounds like fun and that’s close to home,’” Janeway said. “That basically is home.”

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