He eerily resembles actor Josh Gad and dresses in the flamboyant attire of a 1970s blaxploitation-flick pimp. But when husky Birmingham-bred frontman Paul Janeway steps up to the mic with his retro R&B outfit St. Paul and the Broken Bones, he can raise the rafters like vintage Otis Redding. He sweats classic soul with every note, with a confidence that belies his curious back story: Five years ago, he had virtually given up on music and was preparing to accept a job as an accountant.
“My salary would have been six figures, and I’d met a girl who’s my wife now, so I was ready to start settling down,” he says.
But a handshake pact Janeway made with his bassist buddy Jesse Phillips — they bring the group to Oakland on Friday — changed everything.
After their outfit The Secret Dangers folded, Phillips was heading off to teach in Montana, while Janeway attended school full time, worked part time as a bank teller and played any concerts he could in the interim.
But the duo decided to capture its ephemeral studio rapport in a six-month project, tracking minimal experiments that, at Phillips’ urging, gradually revolved more and more around Janeway’s remarkable voice.
As they began adding musician friends to the mix, including a subtly muscular horn section, the team unexpectedly struck pay dirt.
“I think about halfway through, we started seeing people’s reactions to this, and we thought, ‘Whoa! There’s something happening here, and we might have to let it run its course,’” Janeway says. “Then when someone tried to sign us to a record deal right away, we knew we had to protect this and figure out what was going on. It was worth more than just a few days’ work.”
The fledgling St. Paul and the Broken Bones got snapped up by Single Lock Records, the chic imprint of Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner and ex-Civil Wars anchor John Paul White.
And Janeway’s vision kept growing. St. Paul’s recent third effort, “Young Sick Camellia,” finds him lyrically analyzing the inherent social conflicts he faced growing up as a forward-thinking Southerner, and it’s merely the first volume of a proposed trilogy.
But Janeway’s current gig easily beats the first career he considered: “I’d only been in one other band before, because I grew up singing in church,” he says. “And when I was only 16, they were already letting me do the sermons on Sunday nights, so I never thought I’d become a singer. I always thought I’d be a preacher.”
IF YOU GO
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Where: Fox, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 19
Contact: (510) 302-2250, www.ticketmaster.com