"I Remember Thinking, 'What The Fuck Have I Done With My Life?'"

11 January 2016 | 4:12 pm | Dylan Stewart

"I don't really have a lot of outlets, and music is it. So when I get on stage and sing, it's my release."

St Paul & The Broken Bones are in a Nashville studio, laying down tracks for what has to be one of the more anticipated records of 2016. Their debut album, Half The City, went down a treat when it was first released in 2014, but more importantly the band has been recruiting a legion of fans through their live shows ever since.

Nobody who's heard or seen St Paul & TBB play live would be surprised to hear Paul Janeway, the singer and titular saint of the band — "I don't really drink alcohol or smoke and I get sleep pretty regularly" — say that since the record came out, two years of touring has taken its toll on his voice. Nailing notes like a soulful siren, Janeway's vocals are enormous, blanketing Half The City as well as the audiences who come out to see the band.

Of course, this means knowing his limits. "We can basically do four shows back-to-back before my voice is smashed. It's not necessarily how many nights you do on the road, it's how many shows you do in a row.

"I can tell and the band can tell. For instance, if we're playing our fourth show in a row I'll start to feel my voice waning. Typically, the audience can't tell and to me that's all that really matters. The trouble is when you get to the point where you feel that you're not giving the audience the show they deserve.

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"It's always funny because when I'm on stage I have to sometimes scream over all the rest of the band, so we have to make sure that our monitors are in good shape. We are about the loud and soft moments. It's all about dynamics."

Making the most of his voice is something Janeway has worked hard on over the past few years, most importantly acknowledging that it doesn't always have to be turned up to 11. Even since recording Half The City, he's learnt to be more nuanced.

"That song needs to sound like it's your last, dying breath, and church music helps to inspire that."

"I'm learning about my voice, and realising I don't have to go for it on every single song. You can sing a pretty melody and so when you don't go for it on every song, on those occasions that you give it everything it really stands out.

"When the band first started, I didn't want to lose my voice at a show, so I went to a vocal person to learn a few vocal techniques and how to keep my voice reserved. I didn't know how to warm up or warm down, or anything like that."

The power that Janeway possesses in his voice was first harnessed at church, Janeway growing up as part of a religious household in Alabama. "I definitely draw from that [church involvement], because it teaches you to sing like there's something on the line. There's a sense of urgency, and it's great to use that, especially on a song like Broken Bones And Pocket Change. That song needs to sound like it's your last, dying breath, and church music helps to inspire that."

What is it about that song, then, that deserves such passion? It's not a topic that Janeway talks about too often. "Broken Bones And Pocket Change was the first song we ever wrote together. It was at a time in my life when things weren't going so well: not just about heartbreak or sadness, but disappointment in life and not doing well. I was jobless, we'd been evicted and there were times where there wasn't any power or electricity.

"I remember thinking 'What the fuck have I done with my life?' I had no direction, and ended up working at a shoe store. I was 26 years old and I went and got hired by a 19-year-old. I remember thinking 'God almighty' [laughs].

"I don't really have a lot of outlets, and music is it. So when I get on stage and sing, it's my release, and that song, Broken Bones And Pocket Change, is really therapeutic. It's bizarre because I still, to this day — and I'm not saying it's every single night, because sometimes it's not — but more times than not it's an emotional moment for me. It gets me, that song gets me.

It's sure to get Australian audiences when St Paul & TBB come Down Under for Bluesfest and some sideshows. They'll be dressed to the nines too. "I'm not the most beautiful guy so I have to dress up as much as I can. What's funny is when I first started this, the only suit was my dad's funeral suit. It didn't fit me but I was committed to it.

"I was 26 years old and I went and got hired by a 19-year-old. I remember thinking 'God almighty' [laughs]."

"I'll be honest, I wore two suits for a three-week tour once. Granted, they smelt like shit, and they were awful, but they made it. The guys don't like being around it, but I've done it. Nowadays, things are going a little better." With tailors offering free or heavily discounted suits, Janeway's wardrobe is currently home to about ten different suits now. There's no safari suit though.

"I don't have a tonne of knowledge about Australia, but I figure when we come out if I'm wearing a safari suit then it could be seen as a little bit patronising. I think people want the Alabama show, so we're going to bring the Alabama to Australia."

Most of 2014 and 2015 was spent on the road, playing hundreds of gigs, festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, and opening for The Rolling Stones. And while there were some amazing times had — "You're getting to do something that people would lose a leg for, and you get to do that for a living" — the pull of home was ever-present.

"Family's important to me. Both of my parents are pretty hard-working folks. They believe in putting your head down and grinding it out. In music, you do have to do that, but I get that it can look a little bit more luxurious than it actually is. My mum plays piano and grew up singing so she likes that I'm doing the musical stuff, although she doesn't like some of the language. My dad took a little bit longer to get on board, but when you open up for The Stones, what more can you say?"

These days, Janeway is spending a little bit more time in Alabama and got married recently too. "I didn't play at my wedding. It was the one request from my wife. We didn't have any band play there; we had vinyl records playing instead. I'm kinda picky, so it was like 'What band do you pick that you can afford?' This way it was just a lot easier."

If money were no object? "I'd get fucking Prince."