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The Family Blood Of St. Paul & The Broken Bones


St. Paul & the Broken Bones' new album is all about blood - familial blood. The eight-man rock and soul band from Birmingham, Ala., is fronted by Paul Janeway, whose vocal gymnastics have helped earn the band an opening spot with the Rolling Stones and a fan base that extends beyond the deep South. On this new album, Paul Janeway sings about three generations of Alabama men - his grandfather, his father and himself.


ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES: (Singing) Blood is what I can't escape, harbored in our DNA, finger on the trigger now, figuring out just how did we get this far? How did it get so hard?

SIMON: Their album is called "Young Sick Camellia." Paul Janeway joins us now from member station WBHM in Birmingham. Thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL JANEWAY: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: So tell us about your father and grandfather. What made you want to devote so much artistic talent to trying to tell that three-generation story?

JANEWAY: Well, I think, for me it's just one of those things growing up in the South, and I'm born and raised in Alabama and my papaw (ph) and my dad are both from the South. And for me, you know, I think in these kind of times that we're in instead of trying to figure out how you can fix the world's problems and everything, I think you look inward. And for me, it's just kind of that generational - you know, the differences between my dad and the differences between him and his father and kind of exploring that idea. Me and my father, you know, had a complicated relationship up until, you know, I became - I got in my 20s. And him and his father, you know, always had a complicated relationship. And I just - to me that's a theme that I think a lot of people can relate to, but it was something that was hitting me, you know, in the right spots and has kind of been a well of creativity. It's almost therapeutic in a way.

SIMON: Yeah. Your grandfather's voice is even here on the album.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I'm turning 83 here next month. My health is going bad, so I'm thinking about what I'm going to - whom I'm gonna give what (laughter).

JANEWAY: What's crazy about that - and it's even hard for me listening to it because about two months later after I recorded that, he got lung cancer and passed away. And that - the album took a different tone with me than what I initially wanted it to do. And I think it's almost haunting in a way now.

SIMON: Well, it sounds like his life and his passing were part of the creative process for you.

JANEWAY: I think it turned that way. You know, I think you feel like there's something the universe was telling you.

SIMON: Camellia is the Alabama state flower, I understand.

JANEWAY: Yes, it is (laughter).

SIMON: Why "Young Sick Camellia?"

JANEWAY: (Laughter) Well, I know this is crazy to hear from a boy from Alabama, but I love art. I love Caravaggio and...

SIMON: That's not a - now why do you say it's crazy to hear? Of course, it's not. People in Alabama like art.

JANEWAY: That's true. However, where I grew up, it was not the case. But I was obsessed. I got - you know, I got obsessed with Caravaggio and one of his paintings is "Young Sick Bacchus." And, you know, the whole idea behind that is that, you know, it really was a self-portrait of Caravaggio when he was sick and, you know, he'd look in the mirror. So with this record being kind of a self-reflective record, focusing on kind of through my lens and exploring those relationships, it was the idea of "Young Sick Camellia" which, you know, I'm born and raised in the state Alabama. That was the intention behind it.


ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES: (Singing) Southern pride backed by Southern greed. Everybody selling that southern thing. But we can't go, no. Panthers in the pines with their hollow teeth, screaming hallelujah from their factories, but we can't know. Cardboard devils and their megaphones telling all the saints that they were wrong, but they can't know.

SIMON: You seem to have complicated thoughts about being a proud Alabaman.

JANEWAY: I do. I mean, it's one of those things where you're born and raised here. But, I mean, I've said this before, I feel like kind of a broken southerner because while there are things that I love about being from here - I love Alabama football and I love - there's some cultural things, I love the food. But at the same time, you know, on a typical - what the typical politics or train of thought is I disagree with, you know, with a lot of the majority of those things as being someone who probably tends to, as some would categorize it, a little bit more liberal. And it's a struggle because you don't - it's hard to find yourself and be comfortable in your own skin because while there's things you love about the South, there's also certain tenets about the South that you don't love. But I still live here and so I think what happens is a lot of people move away and get away from it but I'm here.


SIMON: Let me ask you about a pretty straightforward and lovely love song. Let's listen to "Apollo."


ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES: (Singing) Telling all the stars her name, hoping they just tell her hey and I love you, baby. I love you, baby. Running all through my brain, wishing that I could stay. Yeah, just to hold you, baby, just to hold you, baby. Broken down from my orbit. Captain, can you get her to call me?

JANEWAY: As I told my wife, this is the closest thing I'm ever going to get to writing a love song for her. It's basically kind of this story of this astronaut who is being cut off in space, and the last thing that he wants the world to know and mentally is that, you know, the one that he loves to make sure that she knows that she's loved or he's loved. You know, those are the kind of people that you hold on to. And so I told her - I was like that's the closest thing I will get to a love song, so just enjoy it.

SIMON: So how do you feel now that the album is out? Is it helping you work things out?

JANEWAY: It feels unfinished at this point because the initial idea was to do three EPs and it be from my perspective, my father's perspective and my grandfather's perspective. And it grew into this thing where it became an album. So this right now feels like part one. This is my perspective. I feel like I almost want to go back to the studio immediately and try to finish part two because there's still a lot of creativity there.

SIMON: Paul Janeway of St. Paul & the Broken Bones - their new album, "Young Sick Camellia." Thanks so much for being with us.

JANEWAY: Thank you for having me.


ST. PAUL AND THE BROKEN BONES: (Singing) Eye in the sky's watching everything that we do. They ain't got no reason but lately our world seems so cruel. Electric girls kissing every one of my wounds. Just for you and me now, trying to figure it all out (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.