Credit: David McClister

St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the eight-piece soul outfit out of Birmingham, Alabama, first broke out while touring in support of their 2014 debut, Half the City. The album’s 12 tracks bleed throwback-charisma, but it was their live set — a soul-rock revival led by perpetually impassioned frontman Paul Janeway – that catapulted the group from a niche, roots and Americana fandom to the mainstream. By last year, they had bookings at festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza. And this September, they’ll release their sophomore set, Sea of Noise. Today, EW is excited to premiere the collection’s first single, “All I Ever Wonder,” below.

“I wanted to rip off a little bit of that retro tag a little bit,” Janeway tells EW of the goals he had for the new batch of tunes. “And I was like, ‘I can’t make another record about heartbreak and sadness because I’m a happily married man.’ I wanted new sounds and ideas.” Last spring, as the band holed up in San Bernardino Valley between Coachella weekends, he found both.

Noise takes the pulse of society: From re-considering gender norms to railing against our constant over-stimulation or lamenting shortened attention spans, it’s a compelling and challenging commentary, tied together by Janeway’s striking vocals.

The potential controversy that might come with some of these tunes doesn’t have the singer sweating. “I warned the band with this record: There are going to be people that don’t like it, especially where we’re from,” he recalls. “I mean, even within my family. But you have to write what’s on your heart, and if it ruins family Christmas, then it ruins family Christmas.”

On “Wonder,” the group challenges apathy. “I find myself being apathetic towards a lot of things,” Janeway admits, discussing the tune’s inspiration, “thinking nothing’s ever going to change and no one’s ever going to be happy. It’s easy to live in that haze, [but] the song’s about how that’s not the best idea. You’ve got to stand for something.”

And while his voice will always call to mind greats like Otis Redding and James Brown, the single boasts an irresistible pop structure and a new, choral backing — a result of the Janeway’s study of another genre. “In opera, a choir [represents] the voices of angels, and a solo is the voice of human nature, that could reach out and make you cry,” he explains. “I used that, having the choir be that heavenly voice and the solo stuff be the brokenness of human nature.” That may seem lofty, but it works.

“All I Ever Wonder” is streaming below. Sea of Noise is due to release September 9 and is currently available for pre-order.