Initially, Paul Janeway didn’t sense much pressure when assembling his sophomore album with the cross-generational rock and soul troupe St. Paul & the Broken Bones.
But once the resulting record, “Sea of Noise,” hit stores last year and touring itineraries were being confirmed, the sheer growth of the band’s popularity, not to mention its Alabama-rooted soul sound, hit him.
“What happened was we got done with the record and our booking agency sent us a list of the dates they wanted us to play,” Janeway said. “And they were these huge rooms. Hee-uge rooms. In some markets, we were playing almost amphitheater-sized places. That’s when I first started feeling pressure, because I was like, ‘What if nobody likes us? What if we’re playing these big rooms and nobody shows up to hear us?’”
Truth to tell, Janeway and his band needed a little more shoulder room for their live shows. Anyone who caught St. Paul & the Broken Bones back at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway, which was among the group’s first shows after the release of its 2014 debut album “Half the City,” saw how the tiny stage space could barely contain Janeway’s Pentecostal-level performance stamina, his seering soul falsetto and the band’s horn driven charge.
We are not where we are at this point because of one person. It’s not because of the guitarist or because of the bass player or because of me. It’s because of a collective group of people.
Lead singer Paul Janeway
Then again, between the soul-savvy immediacy of “Half the City” and the comparatively turbulent narratives and meditations of “Sea of Noise,” Janeway and crew got to know what a seriously large room sounded like by opening a pair of 2015 stadium shows for the Rolling Stones.
“Yeah, well those were gigantic. We played in Atlanta to about 55,000 people and then Buffalo, which was something like 70,000. Before we went onstage, I remember telling the guys, ‘Enjoy this. A show like this becomes part of a band’s bio. It’s written on their tombstones. When you read about The Meters (the veteran New Orleans funk band) there’s always a little note that says, ‘Opened for the Rolling Stones.’ Public Enemy. Prince. The names of artists that have opened for the Rolling Stones are so amazing that even being in that category is really remarkable. It’s an experience nobody can take away from you. That’s pretty awesome.”
But whether they were rocking out in the living room-size locale of the old Willie’s, the mammoth sprawl of the Stones’ stadium shows or the comfortably spacious confines of a venue like the Lexington Opera House, where St. Paul & the Broken Bones will play a two-night engagement this week, Janeway sees live performance as an affirmation of an audience-artist bond and the reflection of an equally solid band spirit.
“It is a lot like church in that you have this connectivity to people you don’t necessarily know on a personal level,” he said. “But there is something of a common bond there. It’s moments like that that give you hope about the human spirit. You know what I mean? It gives you all these positive feelings. It’s crazy. I think that’s vital for us, especially. I remember seeing Springsteen and it was the same thing. It’s all about creating this common moment. I think that’s what it’s about. The human experience, man — that’s it. That’s the magic.
“But chemistry is also really important for us. If I said, ‘I’m going to make a solo record,’ which could happen someday, it would not be the same thing. We are not where we are at this point because of one person. It’s not because of the guitarist or because of the bass player or because of me. It’s because of a collective group of people. We’ve played close to 700 shows over the last five years. That kind of chemistry is just so hard to get, and I think we all recognize that. We see this as something that’s greater than ourselves, for sure.”
If people just looked at the transition from album one to album three, it would be so jarring that they would be like, ‘Where did this come from?’
As 2017 winds down, Janeway is at work on the third St. Paul & the Broken Bones album, which he hopes will continue the stylistic maturity and breadth of his band.
“If people just looked at the transition from album one to album three, it would be so jarring that they would be like, ‘Where did this come from?’ I do believe if you change things up, it’s better to do that more organically.
“‘Half the City’ was instant gratification, where ‘Sea of Noise’ you had to stick with a little bit. We told our audience we weren’t going to continue to make the same album over and over again, but I don’t think we lost ourselves. All albums, in general, are time capsules of a band.”
If you go
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 15, 16
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $35 (Nov. 15 only; Nov. 16 performance is sold out)