READY TO ROLL

Paul Janeway is a dy­namic front­man who doesn’t mind get­ting his hands — and clothes — dirty, writes Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Blues­fest 2017

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

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