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Bonnaroo 2014 interview: Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones

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You won't find many bands on the Bonnaroo 2014 lineup who have risen as far as fast as St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Formed in 2012, the band has seen immense success in the past year, with features on NPR, CBS Sunday Morning, and numerous magazines. Their debut album, “Half the City” reached #3 on the Itunes Top Albums Charts. Now they're topping it off with what vocalist Paul Janeway calls “one of our major goals as a band”, a performance at Bonnaroo 2014. We caught up with Paul Janeway by phone today to discuss the band's Bonnaroo performance, the Alabama music scene, and their short but spectacular career as a group.

You guys are getting ready to play Bonnaroo in just a couple of days now, Friday at 12:30 p.m. What's going through your mind?

I'm nervous! I'm not going to lie to you. I'm a little nervous. It's one of the goals. When we first started this, our manager asked what some of our goals were and one of my goals was playing Bonnaroo. And now we're about to do it. So a little nervous but mostly excited. I just want to put on a hell of a show for everyone.

You guys have only been together a couple of years, right?

It'll be two years in July.

So already playing Bonnaroo is a pretty big accomplishment!

-laugh- We're pretty spoiled. There's no doubt about that.

You guys have gotten a reputation for a pretty dynamic live show. For folks who may not know you, what can they expect at your Bonnaroo performance?

You're going to see some pretty great musicians play their instruments, trying to get into the groove. You'll see me dancing around, getting on my knees crying. It's an emotional roller coaster. There are songs where you'll dance and there are songs where you might shed a tear. That's kind of how we like to do it. I know for me and for the rest of the guys we put all of our heart and soul into these shows. Whether we're playing to 5 people or 5000 people, we try to give everyone the best time we possibly can.

As a fellow Southerner, what I'm hearing sounds a lot like a secular tent revival.

Yeah... Yeah! I would definitely say that it gets a little churchy, a little tent revival. Which I like. I like that aspect of it. We've played a lot of tents, we're playing one at Bonnaroo. We always try to make it feel like that, with a little tent revival feeling to it.

Your new album was partially recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, right? That must have been pretty special walking in there.

We recorded the album at Nutthouse in Sheffield but then we mixed it at Fame. Stepping in that place was a magic feeling. They haven't changed much about it since the '70s. All these people that I look up to, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, guys like that stood in that room. All those guys that I respect.

It seems like in the past couple of years with the recent documentary and guys like Jason Isbell and John Paul White coming out of there, there's been a renewed appreciation of the music that is coming out of that region.

Yeah. I think so. I think people are kind of gravitating back toward that area. We recorded the album with Ben Tanner of Alabama Shakes, he's from there. John Paul White, Jason Isbell, The Truckers, so many guys from there. The great thing is you can't act like a big deal there. You've got people like David Hood and Spooner Oldham who recorded on all those classic tracks and it's kind of like “what are you gonna do to compare with that?” You have to stay focused on the music.

What do you think it is about that Central Alabama area that has cultivated such a strong music scene?

There's nothing else to do! -laugh- Really. I don't think there's anything else to do! Honestly, it's a very communal place. Everyone is very supportive. A lot of cities are really competitive but there it's just about making good music. And as I always say, there's something in the water! But it's a lot about being able to kind of get away too. Nobody's going to bother you there.

Are you guys going to be able to stick around for any of the weekend to check out the shows?

It's funny. I'm going to stick around on Friday, but we play in Alexander City, AL on Saturday night. I'm thrilled to be playing in our home state but, man, would I have loved to be able to stick around and check out Elton John and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. But I'm going to be there Friday so I can check out Kanye and Janelle Monae and some of that stuff. It's all part of the gig.

What do you guys have going on the rest of the year after you finish up with Bonnaroo?

We're going to go back to Europe, do Paris and London and Belgium and Germany and places like that. And then we're finally going to get to play Birmingham in the Fall. I'm excited about that. We've kind of stayed out of Birmingham recently so I'm glad to be back. Then we're going to start writing.

You've got a show at The Ryman with Jason Isbell in October as well.

Yeah. That was another goal. One was playing Bonnaroo and another was playing The Ryman. I'm so excited for that and we're appreciative of Jason for having us along.

Sounds like you guys need some new goals!

-laugh- Well, we've got a bunch of damn nerds in this band so they decided our next goal was to play on the moon. That one might be a little harder to do! Honestly and truly, we're very blessed, very lucky. If it stopped now I could look at it and it would be something I could tell my grandkids about. I'm just thrilled.

You guys might get a little preview of The Ryman in September since you're nominated for an Americana Music Award for Best Emerging Artist.

I think we're going to get to perform at that. It's kind of funny, we're looking forward to Jason's show getting us to the Ryman and then we get the nomination for the award and there you go. It's a great honor. I didn't even know what we did was called Americana. -laugh- But I'll take it!

St. Paul and The Broken Bones will play Bonnaroo 2014 on June 13 at 12:30 p.m. in The Other Tent. Bonnaroo 2014 will be held June 12-15 in Manchester, Tn. In addition to St. Paul and The Broken Bones, performers include Jack White, Lionel Richie, and Ice Cube.

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