A few weeks ago, retro-soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones let their Facebook fans know that their single “Call Me,” off last year’s Half the City, had been featured in the infamous movie Fifty Shades of Grey. Being that the Alabama band was born and bred in the Bible belt, you can imagine the response when a few heard about their appearance in a flick some consider to be soft porn. But vocalist Paul Janeway thought the movie was a rom-com, sort of.
“It said in the contract that the song would appear in a non-sexual scene, which I thought was kind of weird that a contract said that,” Janeway laughs. “And so I was wrong. I saw the trailer for the movie and there were like chains and whips and shit, and I was like, ‘Oh God, what have I done?’ But I thought it was funny. I mean, do the Rolling Stones get grief? Of course not.”
The Stones were actually the reason Janeway went ahead with the deal. Knowing his band would be in the company of Beyonce, the Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra — all of whom are also on the soundtrack — he figured they were all right. And the compilation is a top seller. “When something sells over 100,000 copies, you’re like, ‘Maybe it ain’t so bad,'” Janeway says. And it’s not so bad, considering that about a week before this goes to print, St. Paul and company were asked to open for the Stones on two U.S. dates — not a shabby 2015.
In this musical climate, bands have to take what they can to survive — so long as they don’t sell their souls. “As long as it’s about the music,” he says. “If you start writing really shitty songs just to be on pop radio, then I think that’s shitty.”
The opportunity for “Call Me” to appear in a PG scene of the risqué blockbuster Fifty Shades came about because of the band’s buddy, Elton John. The last time we spoke with Janeway back in the fall, he’d just received a call from the Rocketman himself and was still in a state of shock. Since then, Janeway has caught him in concert in Alabama. “We were home, which was rare, and we went to one of his concerts,” Janeway says. “He was nice, you know? And we’re email buddies now … I actually need to email him today or sometime this week — don’t mind hearing his record-deal advice.”
Somehow, between touring Europe, the States, and a recent slot at Coachella, the band has managed to squeeze in some writing time for their next release. They recently rented out a house in San Bernardino National Park in California and spent a week composing new material. “We’re still very much in the preliminary stages of it,” Janeway says. “We also rented out a warehouse in Birmingham, and we’ll continue to write there. From there we’ll have a better idea of where we’re headed.”
Although Janeway says they’re not venturing too far from retro-soul, their sound will certainly evolve a bit. “It’s gonna be different from the first record — that I do know,” he says. “We’re not losing our horns or anything like that. I just think it’s gonna be a progression. I think the palette’s gonna be spread a little wider. It’s just different, but we’re not making a heavy metal record or anything.”
For Janeway, the change means digging deep to see how far he can take his vocals, and what else they can do. “The last record, I showed up and we had a month to write it and five days to record it,” he says. “And so I wasn’t able to explore, and now I’m exploring some harmonies, things like that.”
One of the biggest inspirations for the new songs so far has been Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. “And I think Prince has been an influence, and I think also some D’Angelo has been an influence,” Janeway says. “And there’s definitely a song that sounds like Al Green.”
The band’s still deciding on the right studio to record the collection. Janeway says it could be in Muscle Shoals (where Half the City was made), Nashville, or Birmingham. “I’m 90 percent sure it’ll be in the South,” he says, “which is good for me and good for my wife.”
As for whether or not he’ll ever see his band’s scene in Fifty Shades of Grey, those chances are pretty slim. “I’ll be honest,” Janeway says. “I haven’t seen it. I’ll probably never see it.”
He’s come close, though. “I actually was in Reno and was walking by a theater and heard it for like a split second, and that was really funny,” Janeway says. “I was kind of laughing, ’cause I was like, ‘Nobody has a damn clue who I am in this theater, but that’s my voice coming over that movie.'”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones will headline the Spoleto Finale this weekend at 8:30 p.m., and the annual firework display will follow.