St. Paul & The Broken Bones bring a new hip-hop infused concept album to Pisgah Brewing

GET LIFTED: St. Paul & The Broken Bones' vocalist Paul Janeway, levitating, is a longtime fan of Asheville. "It’s this place where all of these creatives and hippies and all these people live, and it’s beautiful," he says. Photo by McNair Evans

Before St. Paul & The Broken Bones was a revered, nationally touring band, vocalist Paul Janeway would head to Asheville when he and his wife visited her family in Bristol. Enjoying what he calls “the oasis in the mountains” and his mild-mannered father-in-law’s fascination with the Pritchard Park drum circle, Janeway has since experienced the city — and its range of temperatures — on a professional level.

“One of the coldest shows we ever played was [at The Grey Eagle in 2014],” Janeway says. “I remember being outside and being like [wheezing sound] and having to have constant tea. It’s funny, the heat — as long as you stay somewhat hydrated, you’re OK in the heat, especially when there’s a lot of humidity in the air. But when it gets really cold, your voice dries out real quick.”

The Birmingham, Ala., soul rocker’s May 2017 stop at Highland Brewing Co.’s meadow was also checkered by extreme weather. While it rained throughout the show, Janeway recalls attendees letting loose, much to his delight. The band continues on the local outdoor venue circuit Saturday, Sept. 29, at Pisgah Brewing Co.

Through these and other electrifying performances, St. Paul & The Broken Bones have developed a reputation as one of modern music’s most exciting live acts. One consequence of that status, however, is that the group’s studio efforts have become somewhat underrated.

“I think that’s what you get scared of — [that] people might think the albums don’t have any merit,” Janeway says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just new material for them to perform live.’ And that’s not totally the case. We work really hard on the albums.”

He continues, “You just don’t want to be the band where, like, ‘Well, they’re the live band. They don’t make good records.’ We don’t feel that way, but when we first did Half the City, we were only a band for three months, so of course by the time you sit on a record for a year and a half, you’re going to get a lot better at performing than you were when you recorded [the songs]. And I think we’re kind of growing out of that.”

Janeway and the group, perhaps unconsciously, sought to solidify themselves as purveyors of high-quality records with their new album, Young Sick Camellia. Helping them achieve that goal, producer Jack Splash (Kendrick Lamar, CeeLo Green) augments the octet’s already dynamic sound with fresh sonic layers. As suggested by his credits, multiple upbeat tracks — especially “Got It Bad” — have a noticeable hip-hop vibe, to the point that one half expects Black Thought or Nas to jump in with a guest verse. The prospect of collaborating with talented MCs appeals to Janeway, who’s also inspired by the creativity that frequently emanates from such artists.

“Even popular hip-hop [artists], like Chance the Rapper or Kendrick Lamar, are making really conceptual, smart music,” Janeway says. “It’s well-thought-out, and it’s also weird. It doesn’t do particular structures. It’s different, and I think that that’s something that, as a musician, you have to look at and go, ‘All right. Well, they’re some of the biggest artists on the planet. It’s OK to conceptualize this and really think everything out.’”

Adding to Young Sick Camellia’s status as a distinct studio work is the occasional use of clips from a phone call between Janeway and his grandfather. Described by Janeway as “just a normal conversation” before the band opened for Hall & Oates in Texas, the audio jump-started a musical exploration of his family’s dynamics through the perspectives of three generations of Janeway men.

“Initially, this whole thing started off as three EPs. I was going to do me and then through my father’s eyes and then through my grandfather’s eyes,” Janeway says. “Now, when you tell a label you’re going to do EPs, they just kind of look at you and go, ‘That’s the kiss of death.’ But then we started working with Jack and we started going, ‘Uh-oh. This is going to be three albums.’ We just had so much material and it was flowing.”

With Young Sick Camellia checking off his own vantage point, Janeway plans to complete the trilogy — despite PR people not being thrilled by the expectations set by that statement. He also acknowledges that he could very well lose interest in the project at some point, but for now he’s set on seeing it through, especially after the recent passing of his grandfather.

Also of interest to Janeway is blurring the band’s stage and studio sides with a full-length live album. The group released a Record Store Day 12-inch in 2015 with a few tracks from its Alabama Theatre show, but he says that, for some reason, cutting a full LP is something that’s yet to happen.

“I think we’d have to at some point,” Janeway says. “I want to say we record every show, because we like to listen back and see where we’re screwing up. So, it does happen. There’s a lot of material, but I don’t know at this point.”

WHO: St. Paul & The Broken Bones with Mattiel
WHERE: Pisgah Brewing Co., 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m. $35 advance/$40 day of show/$70 VIP

About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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