READY TO ROLL
Paul Janeway is a dynamic frontman who doesn’t mind getting his hands — and clothes — dirty, writes Iain Shedden
Paul Janeway doesn’t like keeping still, which explains why the singer needed to have his suit dry-cleaned after his band, St Paul and the Broken Bones, performed at Bluesfest last year. “I do not stand still, that is true,” says the engaging frontman from Alabama, whose dynamic soul outfit is making a return to the festival in Byron Bay this year over the Easter weekend.
The Broken Bones, who were relative unknowns when they made their Australian debut 12 months ago, proved to be one of the surprise highlights, with word spreading around the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm paddock about the dance-friendly combo with the strutting, cajoling, sharply dressed man out front.
“It’s what happens when I get on a stage,” Janeway says. “I have to get attention, so I roll around or do whatever I gotta do. I like to think it’s this version of soul stuff mixed up with Iggy Pop. I’m not co-ordinated enough to be James Brown. I’m a little more unhinged. What’s funny is that it’s still hard for me to get on stage, but when I get up there, there’s no taking it easy.”
So inspired was he by the crowd reaction that by their third and final Bluesfest show Janeway got a little carried away, hence his unscheduled visit to the dry-cleaners. “My problem is I always feel I have to one-up myself,” he says. “That’s probably why it’s not good for me to do three shows at the same place, because by the third show I’m probably going to set myself on fire.”
He didn’t do that, but “I got out into the crowd and rolled around in the mud for a while”.
St Paul and the Broken Bones, which formed in Birmingham, Alabama, five years ago, is steeped in the 1960s soul music of artists such as Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, but with a rock ’n’ roll veneer that channels Mr Pop and Prince, among others. Also deeply embedded in Janeway’s voice is the gospel music on which he was raised. Before St Paul and the Broken Bones arrived with two self-released EPs in 2013 and their debut album, Half the City, a year later, Janeway’s chief ambition was to become a preacher.
“I never thought I was much of a singer,” he says. “I really wanted to be a preacher. People have said to me, ‘ You’re living the dream’, but actually I dreamed of having my own church. I grew up pretty religious in the south and my mum would only let me listen to gospel music and a little bit of soul music, like Otis Redding and the Stylistics.”
So restricted was his musical upbringing that he had no knowledge of the Beatles’ or the Rolling Stones’ music until he was in his late teens, something he felt resentful about. “When you don’t know Beatles records or Rolling Stones records you feel like you’re playing catch-up,” he says. “Soul stuff I’m pretty good on, but there was a lot I didn’t hear as a kid. What was bizarre is that I didn’t go through the rebellion thing. I just did as I was told. But that had a heavy influence on what I do now.”
The band developed through Janeway’s friendship with bassist Jesse Phillips 10 years ago. Janeway was mainly a guitarist at the time. The pair then decided to start a new band, a last stab, as Janeway puts it, at carving some kind of career from playing music. Glowing reviews for Half the City and a string of television appearances in the US set them on their way and the band consolidated their success with a second album, Sea of Noise, last year. In between there were a few shows in the US with the band Janeway had missed out on hearing in childhood, the Rolling Stones.
“That was incredible,” says Janeway. “That’s something that no one can take away from us. Like your wedding day. If you open for the Stones, it will always be in your biography.
Sea of Noise, featuring an expanded horn section, builds on the retro soul template of their debut and has more of a social conscience lyrically.
“We had a lot of time and a lot of shows in between those two albums,” says Janeway. “We knew it was going to be different to the first one. The second one was a statement about who we are musically. It was about expanding our musical palette. We’re still very much rooted in R & B and analog sounds, but for me it’s about finding things that move me, and that wasn’t going to be the same with the new record. You have to find what sparks you.”
There are plenty of acts to ignite audiences alongside St Paul and the Broken Bones at this year’s Bluesfest, which begins on Thursday, April 13, with performances by them as well as Patti Smith and her band, Mavis Staples, Rhiannon Giddens and another American soul revue-styled outfit, Vintage Trouble.
The five-day festival is awash with interna- tional and local artists, among them Neil Finn, the Lumineers, Madness, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, Rickie Lee Jones, Buddy Guy, Mary J. Blige, the Doobie Brothers and Kasey Chambers, to name a few. Once again St Paul and the Broken Bones have three shows over the festival weekend to look forward to.
“It was a lot of fun last time so we’re excited to be coming back,” Janeway says. “It’ll be the same energy but a different show this time.”
And he’s glad he found music rather than religion as his vocation. That ship has sailed.
“There are probably too many clips of me saying the word ‘f. k’ now anyway,” he jokes. “When I was 18 I was training to be a preacher. That’s what I wanted to do with my life; then I kind of fell out of love with that idea. I’d lost interest in organised religion. I played guitar so I started going to open-mic nights in Birmingham. I felt the desire to be creative. People gave me a look … and it just snowballed from there.” runs from April 13 to 17 at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm near Byron Bay, NSW.
Paul Janeway performing with St Paul and the Broken Bones