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Interview: Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones return to the place where it all began: Charlotte, NC

 By Dan Cava

Cover photo: Daniel Coston

February 19, 2019

St. Paul and the Broken Bones packed out The Fillmore in Charlotte. At most concerts, a sizable number of attendees will stroll in just in time for the headliner but, well before singer Paul Janeway and his eight-piece band took the stage, the standing-room-only venue had few places left to stand. And, from the first of Janeway’s legendary notes, the Uptown crowd was completely in sync.

Don’t be surprised. For one thing, the soul/funk/R&B band’s top-shelf melodies and hip-shaking grooves are highly sought out by partygoers across the country. But more to the point, when we spoke to Janeway a few days before the show, we found out the Queen City has been there for St. Paul and the Broken Bones from the very beginning.

In our conversation, we talked about the new album, the roots of Janeway’s theatricality, and his complicated relationship with his homeland: The American South.

March 21, 2014 at The Chop Shop. Photo: Daniel Coston for CLTure

CLTure: Glad you guys are back in Charlotte.

Paul Janeway: I’m excited. Charlotte was one of the first places that we really got out of Alabama. I think we played at a place called the Chop Shop. I don’t think it’s around anymore. It was one the first places we played, really, when our first record came out.

How’d that show go?

It was awesome. I mean, we went back! Of course back then we would have gone back anywhere. But I remember it being a really fun show.

The first album had a clear soul inspiration but as you guys have evolved, this new one, Young Sick Camelia, has a strong integration apart from any specific influence. Going into the album, did you have a sonic goal?

Working with producer Jack Splash [Alicia Keys, Anthony Hamilton, Kendrick Lamar], you knew his production style. You know it was different than anything we had done previously. We didn’t feel very handcuffed at that point. We did what felt, and we felt right at the time. You really get to flex the musical muscles of the band and see what all avenues they can go.

Obviously, it’s a more modern twist. He’s kind of a modern, old school guy. There’s gonna some sub frequencies on the bass. The bass and drums are gonna be simple but really focused. When you listen, you’re not gonna not notice.

Album cover for ‘Young Sick Camelia’ by St. Paul and the Broken Bones

In the presentation of the band, there’s a lot of energy, a lot of joy, and honestly a certain flamboyance with the gold shows and the, like, plastic feather suit. Where does that stuff spring from?

For me, it’s a show. I want to try different things, I want to try different costumes. For this record, I was like, “I’m done with the suits.” So, there’s a designer on Nashville named Andrew who has a company named Any Old Iron. He just does all this kind of crazy, crazy stuff. I told him what I looking for, and he found this material, and I was like, “this sounds great.” And on [the first leg] of the tour, it was like, “what works, what doesn’t work.” It was a lot of fun.

It’s interesting how naturally it vibes with what you guys do.

Yeah, I’m with you. I mean, the guys are still wearing suits, but honestly I don’t even know what to call it. I call it a cape but it’s not a cape! [laughs] A draping? A muumuu?

Some of that showmanship — and this is something I was really interested in talking with you about — I personally have roots in those Alabama churches you famously grew up in, and there’s a theatricality to that world.

Oh, a hundred percent. There’s definitely a lot of theatre involved. That’s definitely had some influence on me and what I do. And always will at the root of it.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Photo: McNair Evans

Looking at your lyrics and your albums, there’s a real renegotiation in your relationship with that whole tableau.

Yeah, definitely. It’s a complicated thing for me. There are still things there that I do find some joy in, maybe some peace. But there’s just some stuff that I’m not into.  It’s always a complicated relationship with that and with faith in general. But at the end of the day I still have a great time, still enjoy it.

Is it something that inspires your writing?

The imagery is always something that will leak it’s way in. I don’t know if I ever sing about this or that. The imagery is kind of always there. But that’s what I know. And honestly because that’s probably the most meaningful stuff.

Have you ever read any Flannery O’Connor?

Oh yeah!

That’s what I thought of when I listened to your music.

Absolutely. There’s a darkness in Southern Gothic. There’s a kind of darkness to everything I write. And that always, to me, comes through.

You live in Alabama, right?

Right!

St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Photo: McNair Evans

What’s your relationship like with the region now, in the Trump era?

It’s complicated. It’s home, but there’s obviously things I disagree with. But at the end of the day it’s home. And If feel a certain comfort in that. There’s things that you go, “Ugh!” You roll your eyes at and you go, “really?” But it teaches you to kind of deal with that stuff, and live with that.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a Picasso biography.

What are you listening to?

I just listened to the most recent Sharon Van Etten record. I don’t know if I like it, but I did just listen to the new James Blake record.

What are you watching right now?

I like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. [laughs] I watched True Detective. I’m up-to-date on the most recent season.

Well, thanks for spending some time with me. We’re really excited about seeing you in a few days.

Thank you! I’m excited to get up there.

Check out the 2019 tour dates for St. Paul and the Broken Bones.  

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