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Birmingham soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones gets folksy in new album

Eight-member band St. Paul and The Broken Bones is known for its raucous soul music. Its latest album "Angels and Science Fiction" is subtle, reflective, and the closest the Birmingham-based band will get to folk music.
Paige Sara
Sacks & Co.
Eight-member band St. Paul and The Broken Bones is known for its raucous soul music. Its latest album "Angels and Science Fiction" is subtle, reflective, and the closest the Birmingham-based band will get to folk music.

Paul Janeway, the front man for the Birmingham-based band St. Paul and The Broken Bones, grew up dreaming of becoming a preacher.

And watching the singer-songwriter perform live now is almost like being in church.

"It's like a lot more accepting church, and loving church," says Janeway, who grew up in a rural Alabama town where church was the epicenter. "And a lot more cursing."

Janeway wrote some of the songs for the band's new album, Angels in Science Fiction, after he found out he was going to become a father during the pandemic.

The music is more subtle and reflective than the raucous soul the 8-piece band has been known for since it was founded in 2011. Janeway says it's the closest they're going to get to a folk record. It even includes something Janeway had never written before, a love song.

He explained how he finally wrote one and how the album came to be in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition. These highlights have been edited for clarity.

Why it took so long to write a love song

"I didn't grow up with the most loving and caring [home]. It was a pretty toxic environment as far as my family life went.

And when something bad would happen between my mom and dad, my mom would play piano and that was how I grew up with my relationship with music.

So my idea of writing a love song was always it just didn't seem natural because my connection [to] it was always retreat, letting go of your demons in a way. So it was hard for me to write happy stuff just because of my relationship with music. And so that's why getting to write 'Lonely Love Song' felt special."

Title track "Angels and Science Fiction" is a message for his daughter

"I think I want her to obviously find peace. You know, when I was young, I was brought up in church and [it] just kind of was instilled into me. And then as I grew older and disagreed with a lot of the things the church believed, I grew a lot of venom.

It's just funny. I think about this all the time — how different she's going to grow up than me because I haven't been particularly religious. But you go through those things where you're like, 'okay, am I going to bring her? Am I going to start going to church?' You want her to be instilled with morals.

But I think ultimately if it is something that brings her peace, then I hope she finds whatever that is for her."

"Sea Star" reflects on fatherhood and new meaning

"I think any time those kinds of things happen, everything has a little more weight to it.

That line comes from a story that a preacher told one time, where there's a bunch of starfish on the shore and a guy was throwing one at a time, and there are thousands of them. And the guy walks up to him goes, 'Why are you doing that? Like, you're not going to get all these starfish off the shore.' And he picks one up and throws it and says, 'Well, I made a difference for that one.' Picked another one up, said, 'I made a difference for that one.'

Sometimes our problems in the world seem so like you can't fix it, you can't do anything, and you just got to help the people that are by you and near you and make a difference. Try to make a difference for one person at a time. For me, I am a starfish in that situation and she is the one who has brought a new life, a new meaning."

A haunted feeling in Memphis

"We recorded in Sam Phillips Studios in Memphis. We are pretty sure that a ghost opened a door during the session. A door slammed that should not have been slamming. That place is haunted, I'm telling y'all. It's a bit spooky.

You kind of feel like there's some sort of presence there and you're kind of going through that and maybe it reveals something within you. And I think for me, because it was during 2020, we also kept the bodies limited in the room. And so I think what helped with that is that it gave it that sparseness. It felt very intimate.

There's one song, the opening song, 'Chelsea' on the record [with] our drummer Kevin on piano, and me and him had to look at each other for the timing. There was a moment in that song where you take your last breath of the song and we both have tears running down our eyes, looking at each other, like, 'Wow!'

And you had a few moments like that throughout the record because it was just you and someone else, which is a really, really interesting experience."

The audio interview was edited by Reena Advani and produced by Chad Campbell. The digital story was edited by Lisa Lambert.

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NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.