The last time I saw Paul Janeway, he was rolling around on the floor in a purple floral blazer on a stage at ACL, which apparently is not uncommon for the soulful Alabamian and front man of St. Paul & The Broken Bones. Amid the physical leaps, bounds, crawls, and rolls, Janeway was successfully belting something between a gospel hymn and Prince remix, all while several of the other members of his band blasted brass instruments, taking the audience even further back in time.
That was two years ago. Janeway and his octet have been touring basically nonstop, gaining more praise, and improvising even more elaborate performance stunts along the way. With their third funky record, Young Sick Camelia, under their belts, St. Paul will kick off its latest tour this week, wrapping up at Houston’s House of Blues on Saturday before heading north. We talked with Janeway, a fine Southern gentleman, before he hit the road about where he finds his energy and a trilogy he’s working on.
How’s preparation for the tour going?
We are off right now for a little bit. I’m at home, so that is nice, and we’re doing rehearsals for the new show. We are doing a San Antonio, Houston, Austin run right there, and that’s where we’re going to premier the full-blown show. I don't know how that’s going to work yet, but it’s a lot of fun. We don’t have seasonal tour. We just have tour. We’re kinda grizzled. We’re almost veterans at this point we have been doing it so much.
Have you spent a lot of time in Texas?
I have a bit. My experience in Texas has been good. I’m a big Mark Rothko fan. So, in Houston there is the Rothko Chapel, and I like to go there. We have had some really good shows, obviously in Austin—but Austin is almost getting too big now—and in Houston. When I first went to Houston I was like, “I don't know how I feel about this place.” But we have gotten to go there more often, and I actually kind of dig it.
You're crazy energetic in your shows. Where do you find that energy?
For me, shows are my 45 minutes to an hour and a half time of therapy. It’s my time to exorcise those demons in a way. I don't have a lot of routines before a show. I try and find a quiet place and get my head straight and try to warm up a little bit and make sure all the guys are okay and are not worried about anything else but the show. That’s just always how I have been. If I am going to do something, I don’t see why I would half-ass it. I don’t want anyone to ever see our show and say, “Well, they phoned it in tonight.” I feel like I am cheating myself, and I am cheating the audience. I think that translates. [The audience] may not like the show, but they say they certainly cared. That’s really, ultimately, what I want to be said.
When did you discover your style and your voice?
I have sang since I was 4 years old. I sang solos in church and grew up singing in church. Singing in church, there is always this kind of sense of urgency, and I think that is really what I am influenced by, and it’s what I come from. But my performance style has evolved over time. It’s a mix from Iggy and the Stooges to James Brown. There are so many influences into what we do and what I do personally. I think it’s a subconscious thing because you kind of just do what you do and feel the moment. There are little things that start to get a really good reaction, and you think, “Okay, maybe I will do that again.” But I also like spontaneity. We have a song in the set where I will crawl under drum risers, or I will climb on stuff. At Bonaroo, we have this large carpet, and I crawled the carpet while I crowd surfed, and the crowd held up the carpet. That part of the show, there is a spontaneity where I don't know what’s going to happen. It could be dangerous, but it’s exhilarating.
How would you describe the dynamic within your octet?
It’s like being part of an extended family, honestly. I obviously get to be the face and the voice and the CEO of all of this, but their opinions are just as valid and they are listened to. I am not too concerned about being the smartest guy in the room, but I want the smartest people around me. I think that’s the approach for this band that I have taken: try and come in it being truthful with yourself and being ego-free.
Your new album also seems to be centered on family. What's behind that?
We got done with Sea and Noise, our second record, and I immediately knew what I wanted to do as far as the direction and themes throughout the next record. We initially were going to do was three different EPs—one was going to be my father, [one] my grandfather, and [one] me, and exploring those relationships. Bizarrely, I had this desire to have this spoken word piece with my grandfather. I remember the conversation. I was actually in Houston or somewhere in Texas because we were opening up for Hall & Oates. We were in the parking lot, and I recorded a conversation between me and my Pa-Paw and I told him what I was doing and what the idea was. It was kind of a normal day.
About two months later, he got diagnosed with lung cancer, and he passed away. You know when you do something and you go, ‘Alright, that’s why I did that’—like the universe is telling you something? It just grew and we realized we had to do three albums. So this is part one of a trilogy in my mind. This is me and is taking the lens of myself and reflects my personality and explore those relationships. Right now, it feels somewhat incomplete to me.
That’s interesting that you are already thinking two albums ahead.
I think that is always the issue: Are you going to find creative inspiration? And in my mind I am like, 'Yes.' We are already going to start working on the next one in the winter.
What should we expect from your Houston show?
It will be a lot of the new record. For the first time ever, because this is now album number three, I don't think we are going to play every song off the record, which is rare for us. Every other time we have had to play all the songs because we don’t have enough to fill in an hour and a half, but now that we have three records under our belt, we will be doing an array of songs. But the fun part is that we are making a new show.
St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sept. 15. Tickets from $30. House of Blues, 1204 Caroline St. 888-402-5837. Tickets available at livenation.com.