Singer Paul Janeway's unassuming mug belies the soul monster behind it. He sings like he's having a borderline fit, a Pentecostal tantrum. He moves about the bandstand like he's got ants in his pants — fire ants. His band, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, is a powerhouse that hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and rocks classic worldwide. It's broken bones for your busted soul.
Janeway used to dress the part ... of an accountant. You'd be hard pressed to see him as a soul shouter. "I am sure if a record label was going to make a lead singer, he wouldn't look like me," Janeway says.
It was the early 2000's, and Janeway was in school studying for a nice, safe job as an accountant while pursuing music at night. It wasn't numbers that initiated the leap to pro; it was the writing on the wall.
"Well," Janeway says, "it became obvious when I was struggling to get to class because of playing shows. It definitely was scary, but I had to go where my heart was leading me."
It all made sense to Janeway and his band when the man opened his mouth to sing. No longer stood the mild-mannered number cruncher in his rumpled suit blue, but rather The Reverend Al Green with his head on fire. Janeway has pipes for days.
"I don't know if I really consider my voice good," he says, "but I can stay in tune most of the time. I am still discovering my voice, which is really fun to do. I'm always working to make it better. I am very grateful to be in the position I am in. No one could have predicted what happened to us, and I feel lucky to get to make a living playing music."
Janeway has been into sweet soul music since he was a kid and his mom would spin records in the home.
"When I was very young, I first remember hearing a group called The Stylistics," he says. "I was in love with that music."
And this love for soul has carried over to what St. Paul and the Broken Bones do night after night and in the studio. Yeah, it's the voice that gets the kids all twitterpated, but you gotta have songs — and this band has got 'em: little post-modern vignettes that'll sear your soul with their contemporary relevancy and vintage appeal. Spin one of the band's two LPs — "Half the City" and "Sea of Noise" — and you'll hear it.
"I think we just write and record songs the best way we know how," Janeway says. "It is us, but our influences will bleed through for sure. There are a lot of vintage recording techniques we use that sound better than modern techniques."
Live, the band brings it on home wherever it plays its signature barn-burner sets. It's more than a show; it's an experience where Janeway has seen elated fans in tears. When he's on stage there is no place he'd rather be, nothing he'd rather do. He can't think of anything right off the top of his head, anyway.
"I honestly don't know what else I'd do," he says. "I have thought about going back to school if we ever had enough time off and get an Art History degree. But hopefully I get to continue to scream into a microphone until I can't scream no more."