Most people would never match St. Paul & The Broken Bones singer Paul Janeway to his voice.
As a bespectacled, heavy-set man often dressed in a sharp suit, Janeway has been likened to Drew Carey, your high school history teacher and a bank teller (which he was) – not the lead vocals for one of the hottest bands out of Birmingham, Ala.
When he opens his mouth, his soulful, soaring pipes and high-energy movements tend to elicit surprise and awe – even for members of his own band.
“I couldn’t match his voice with the way he looked” after first meeting, guitarist Browan Lollar said. “And I think a lot of people get that same reaction when they see him for the first time.”
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St. Paul & The Broken Bones plays Friday, Jan. 22 at Music Farm Columbia.
The band is Janeway, Lollar, bassist Jesse Phillips, trumpet player Allen Branstetter, drummer Andrew Lee and keyboardist Al Gamble.
Their debut album “Half the City,” released in February 2014, sold nearly 60,000 copies, and soon, festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella were snapping them up for performances.
Their name, St. Paul, jokingly alludes to Janeway’s upbringing in a Pentecostal-leaning church. Janeway was even groomed to be a minister until age 18, which explains his ability to connect with a crowd.
Lollar also grew up in a religious household, where he was only allowed to listen to church music or faith-oriented bluegrass. He saw MTV for the first time at age 8 and fell in love with Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.
“I was like, ‘Oh, you can make a guitar sound like that? That’s awesome!’ ” he said.
Before Broken Bones, Lollar recorded and toured with Jason Isbell for several years.
Here, Lollar reminisces about his first time meeting Paul, why the band likes wearing suits and where they’re at on their second album.
Q. What was your initial impression of Paul Janeway?
A. The first time I met Paul was at the studio when we were doing the EP. I had just moved to Birmingham from Muscle Shoals. The bassist, Jesse, called me because we were friends from a different band. I got there, and they had all the vocals muted, so I just heard the music. I played my part and left.
A couple weeks later, I got the roughs and Paul’s vocals were mixed in. I called Jesse and was like, “Who is this woman singing? She’s amazing.”
I had no idea Paul was the singer. I thought he was just some dude hanging out at the studio.
After that, we didn’t play together at all until the first show. That was the first time I saw Paul sing live, and I was blown away. After that, I said, “We need to make a serious go of this.”
Q. The band has played some pretty big venues so far – Coachella, Bonnaroo, even opening for The Rolling Stones. And it was just announced that you’ll be at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival in May. What’s been the best gig so far?
A. We’ve never played Shaky Knees, but we’ve always wanted to. A few years ago, we were playing a tiny little festival 20 miles from where Shaky Knees was, and we were saying, “God, I wish we were at Shaky Knees right now.” So it feels good to finally be playing it.
A fun venue is always Alabama Theatre, which we play when we’re home. We love that place. It’s one of our favorite venues in the world. We played Coachella, and that was really nice because we got a chance to see Alabama Shakes and hang out. We’re good friends with them. But to be really honest, (the shows) all blend together so much. I hate to say that ... It’s easier to pick out the bad ones than the good ones because they’re all so cool.
Q. What do you think it is about the band’s sound that people respond to?
A. I think authenticity. That sunk in when we were playing Coachella. We were one of the only bands without a drum machine or an Auto-Tune rig. I think people respond to that, when they go to a show and see people on stage actually making the sounds that they’re hearing, because it’s fun to watch. And Paul’s a talented guy. It’s nuts to see someone sing like him in this day and age because that seems to have gone away.
Q. On stage, the band is very well-dressed. Is that by design?
A. It’s by design. We talked about it early on. It was like, “Hey do guys want to maybe wear nice shirts?” Really that’s as far as it went. Like, “Yeah, let’s try to wear suits.”
At first it was piecemeal because none of us actually had full suits. Then we started working with a designer. Now, it’s part of our show checklist. We try to look sharp. It’s a visual companion to the music. Like dressing up to go to church.
Q. Where are you in the process as far as a second record?
A. Right now, we are about halfway through. We spent two weeks in the studio at the beginning of December, and we’re going back in the last week of January and first of February. For this album, we’re recording at Sound Emporium in Nashville. We’re sort of at the point where we’re trying to see what the album is. We’ve got about 10 tracks and will cut maybe three or four more. At some point, we’ll step back and take a look at it as a whole.
It’s definitely different from the first record. Paul is experimenting with some vocal layering, and there’s going to be strings. I’m eager to hear what it’s going to end up sounding like.
If you go
St. Paul & The Broken Bones, with Banditos
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22
WHERE: Music Farm Columbia, 1022 Senate St.