Initially, St. Paul and the Broken Bones frontman Paul Janeway had grand plans for the band’s latest effort, Young Sick Camellia
. He orginally thought he’d release three EPs, and each disc would be devoted to his, his father’s and his grandfather’s life story.
“We started with Part One [about the grandfather] and realized quickly that it couldn’t be an EP,” says Janeway via phone. St. Paul and the Broken Bones perform with Valley Queen at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at House of Blues
. “It was too dense. That’s my grandfather talking on those [spoken word] tracks on [Young Sick Camellia
]. I always loved spoken word pieces because I love albums that tell a story. I asked him what the worst storm was, and he told me about that [for the album's spoken word bits]. The wild part is that right before this record came out, he passed, and it took on a different tone for me. It’s kind of haunting now.”
It’s been a long strange, trip for Janeway, who grew up in Chelsea, a small Alabama town outside of Birmingham.
“When I was in Chelsea, it was a town of about 800 people, so there wasn’t a lot of exposure to much of anything,” says Janeway. “I grew up singing in church, so I was exposed to gospel and a little bit of old soul stuff. If it didn’t have Jesus in it, I probably wasn’t listening to it. As an adult, I’ve had to play catch up. I’ve found that I like all sorts of music. It just took me a while to find it.”
Janeway and bassist Jesse Phillips originally started the band, which grew out of another group they'd been in.
“At the time, I was getting into all sorts of music and trying to figure out what I liked and didn’t like,” says Janeway when asked about St. Paul’s formation. “He was a good source for that. We became best friends. [St. Paul] was our last hurrah. We were going to go get big boy jobs and not worry about making music. And then all this happened, and we had to put that on hold.”
The band cut its debut, 2013's Half the City
, at Nutthouse Recording Studios Sheffield and Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, places known for producing great soul albums.
Because the group wasn’t a known entity, Janeway says the band didn’t feel any like it had to live up to expectations while recording the album.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” he says. “We were just like, ‘Cut it live.’ There was no pressure because no one cared. It was just friends getting together making music.”
For the band’s second album, 2016's Sea of Noise
, the group teamed up with producer Paul Butler and even added strings.
“We just had more money,” says Janeway. “We had a bigger budget. I know for me, my only regret is that when you write records in a short amount of time, the lyrics are not as strong as you’d like them to be. I wasn’t really happy with the lyrics of Half the City
, and with Sea of Noise
, I got to sit down and explore a little more. That was, to me, very nice.”
For Young Sick Camellia
, the band decided to expand its sound even more and recruited R&B/hip-hop/dance producer Jack Splash to turn the knobs in the studio. As a result, woozy horns mix with sampled vocals on "Convex" and synthesizer flourishes and spirited horns drive "Apollo," a track that sounds like it could be on the soundtrack to a blaxploitation flick.
“We wanted to do something different,” says Janeway when asked about the album's production. “We were a fan of [Splash's] work but didn’t know if he’d be a fan of us. We got in the studio and hit it off really well. We all had the same goal. He comes from a hip-hop side, and it’s a good match. We had the same ideas. We have synths and sub-bass frequencies that are usually found more on modern records than old records. We were just like musical brothers in a lot of ways. When I heard that name [Jack Splash], I said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t think that’s his real name.’ But we just hit it off, and he was a great addition.”
For one highlight, the funky throwback number “Gotitbad,” the band went back to the Sea of Noise
sessions and dug up an unfinished song that it then completed.
“I thought it was a fascinating song, but we just couldn’t hit a chorus or anything,” says Janeway. “Me and Jesse [Phillips] both loved that song. Eventually, we showed it to Jack, who wanted to do something with it. We figured it out with him. I’m glad we did.”
As much as Young Sick Camellia
suggests the band’s terrific energy, Janeway says the albums can’t compare to the live shows.
“That’s the ticket,” he says of performing in front of audiences. “That’s the magic. That’s where you get instant gratification or instant non-gratification. There’s not a lot of jobs or situations where that happens. That part of it is nice. With any great show I’ve seen, I always like to think that you’re trying to make this moment of connectivity with an audience and with yourself. You get to be the conduit of that kind of thing. It’s pretty great.”