When Paul Janeway and his band St Paul and the Broken Bones opened for the Rolling Stones at their June tour opener in Chicago at Soldier Field, it was musical bliss.
“It was amazing,” Janeway said during a recent interview. “I mean, it's something that not very many people can say that they did. And getting to play in front of 60,000 people is always kind of fun…I don't think it gets much bigger than that.”
The band headlines a show at The Sylvee on Labor Day at 8 p.m., with Iowa singer-songwriter Elizabeth Moen opening.
The past year has been full of special memories. Another was playing with Elton John.
“He had been a fan, and we played his Oscar party,” said Janeway. “He came out and did a song with us, which was pretty amazing. I mean, it's something you never think that you would ever do in your life. And he was wonderful.
"And he said, ‘Don't sell your masters.’”
The band is also celebrating the one-year anniversary of their latest album, "Young Sick Camellia."
“I think the songs have kind of grown sonically,” Janeway said. “Having my grandfather on some spoken word tracks on there, he passed during that (recording of the album), so it’s kind of made it a little bit more haunting for me. They kind of took on a new meaning.”
Producer Jack Splash helped the band further socially balance their genre hopping ways on the album, with the band expertly weaving between soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and funk.
“He really helped bring out what was kind of the best of the band,” Janeway said. “When you have eight people in a band, it's always hard to kind of navigate what part's this, and what part's that. He was really great about being super positive and really making us kind of reach our full potential. And he was just a great presence to have in the studio.”
“Obviously my voice is always going to kind of be the center of it,” he continued. “And musically, we can kind of go wherever we want to go. And so, he was definitely like, ‘Hey, let's explore that.’ But also, it's just coming up with your sound, whatever that is. And I think that he did a really good job about channeling that.”
Lyrically, Janeway wanted to write songs that took a look at family dynamics and how different we all are. It was spurned on by living in politically divisive times in America.
“I think in the Trump era it definitely makes you more self-reflective,” Janeway said. “And I think for me, you just feel like sometimes it's so different. I think that it was just really important to analyze that, and to really look at that.
"And I think subconsciously that's what was drawn out, kind of my relationship with my father and his relationship with his father. To explore those things, something I hadn't really done. And I thought I had to kind of get it out of my system.”
The album’s title is a reference to the painting "Young Sick Bacchus" by Caravaggio, which Janeway says is “really a self-portrait.” Camellia references the state flower of the band’s home state of Alabama.
“I thought, well this is kind of a self-portrait album,” Janeway said. “It deals with kind of things at home, which is Alabama. And so, I thought, ‘Well, this is kind of a self-reflective record, so maybe I’ll use that (title) as a twist on that.’”
There’s a complicated balance between honoring family and creating your own identity, Janeway said.
“I think that's the complication with all of it, is that you have to explore that, and it is kind of ugly, and not so cut-and-dry,” he said. “And I think that's kind of what I want to explore.”
The process was enjoyable but also scary.
“I think you get really scared when you do things like that,” he said. “I think when you make yourself so vulnerable, you're kind of like, ‘Oh God. Are people going to like it? What happens if someone hates it?’ And you think about that maybe a little bit more than maybe previous records. And so, it is a little scarier.”
Fortunately, his experience as a songwriter gives him more of a clearer path through.
“I think you've got to go with what you feel,” Janeway said. “What's really moving you at the time. And if there's nothing moving you then don't write. But I think having a little bit more experience under your belt, you kind of know what makes you click. What makes you go.”
Janeway is excited how the new songs have made the live shows even more energetic.
“To me the live show has been definitely a step up,” he said. “I feel like with the new record, it's definitely taken on a new life, which is nice. It explored a lot of territory, which has been a lot of fun. I think the show's better than it's ever been.”