This article was first published on CLUAS in November 2005
Interview with Mighty Stef
Might he? Might he not? Darragh has the questions...
Daragh Murray caught up with Mighty Stef to discuss past, present and future before his weekly acoustic gig in Eamon Dorans.
You've been without a regular band for a while now, how does it feel to
be plugged in again?
One of the biggest problems I've had has been not having a regular setup, and even now, I've been playing with the same people for the last 4 months or so and it's been going really well, but not every one in that set up is 100% committed to me. It feels great to have people but I always know that I have to keep an eye out for back-up in case anything ever goes wrong.
So is the idea of a Mighty Stef band here to stay, or will you be continuing on with the solo thing?
Well the last incarnation of the band we used to play very full on electric, and the way it is now it's much more rocky and much more punky in parts. So a lot of the more laid back and mellow country and blues stuff has fallen by the wayside. I would like to bring that element back into it, it's just that when I got the four lads that we have now together, myself included, it was under pressure, so we've essentially been playing the same set we started off with plus a few new tunes but forgetting about 20 or 30 songs that have gone before. I'd like time to have a band that basically do everything, the slow stuff, the fast stuff, the heavier stuff, the softer stuff.
And now when you write tunes, do you write them with the band or??
No. Well? there have been two new songs that have come up, that we did, but they have been my compositions. It's always been like that though; no matter who I've played with they've always had their say. I'd sit at home and write the tunes before coming into the studio, I've never been one for coming into the studio and trying to jam out something, but at the same time I'm learning to do that as well. Usually though I just come up with the lyrics, melody and chords and we take it from there. The direction it goes after that depends on the lads who are playing with me.
There seems to be a bit of a scene developing at the moment, Psycho Fest being a prime example of its potential. How do you feel about the mainstream medias lack of attention, does it frustrate you?
To me, the whole Psycho Fest thing was a perfect example of a lot of bands who aren't waiting for a pat on the back or a starting pistol from any sources be it the audience, the media, record labels or anything like that. These are just bands that believe they write good tunes, are well capable of finding the resources to go out and record them and put them out. A lot of the people who played at that I know personally and there's always been something bubbling under the surface and maybe it's coming to the top now, but for us to sit around and wait for people to take notice of that would be foolish. I think if everyone keeps on going the way they are, someone will eventually take notice.
Do you think you can keep on going here, or would you need to move out of Dublin, say to London?
I wouldn't say move to London. Eh, I've thought about that one a lot, Dublin is obviously limited in what you can do here, well Ireland is limited to what you can do here. Humanzi did an Irish tour last week, five venues, only four or five towns; Cork, Belfast, Galway, Dundalk and Dublin. The only two places they got a crowd were Dublin and Galway, and they've been played on MTV. So what hope would there be for the likes of me say putting all my resources into touring Ireland? It's a hard one to call, I mean I'm very proud to be from Dublin and I'm very proud to be a musician in Dublin. But I suppose you have to spread your wings outside of the country, I don't know where the best place to go to would be though. It may not all happen for you here though.
I am considering going away from Ireland to record my first album. More for the reason that I actually want to go away for a little while, maybe a couple of months, and also that there's no distractions. Hopefully? I could come out with a load of shite, play it to someone I know when I come home and they could say "what the fuck have you been doing for two months?" But I could come out with something good, and that's a risk I'm willing to take at this stage.
You say you're proud to be from Dublin, would you listen to some of the great Irish people that have gone before you, people like Shane McGowan and Luke Kelly and maybe draw influence from them?
I do yeah, that would be where I'm coming from. I've been hugely influenced by listening to the likes of Shane McGowan and Luke Kelly. I've loved the Pogues since I was a kid, and my father was a huge fan of the Dubliners, so we'd always have all those old records in the gaff. I'm mad into Irish folk, I love listening to Christy Moore, Planxty, and The Pogues and I would consider it some of the most edgy punk music ever written.
When you write a tune, do you write it to say something? Or is the interest more in a nice hook and a catchy melody?
Well, it always stems from lyrics. That's why I always criticize myself, I don't try and branch out in terms of being a guitar player or anything else as much as I should, it's all about the lyrical idea. Well the melody as well, but lyrics and melody usually come together for me. It's never like, come up with a riff, and try fit lyrics around it. I'm not musical enough to work like that, I have to have a good lyric and a good melody and that will excite me enough to go in whichever direction I need to go.
What other music inspires you and maybe influences you?
Eh I dunno, that's a hard one. Like on the way in to town on the bus earlier on I was listening to a mix CD I made, and it had the likes of that new song by the Artic Monkeys, "I bet you look good on the dance floor" that's a fucking classic tune. That's lyrical genius played to good contemporary rock and roll music, and on the same CD was the likes of Iggy Pop from the Lust For Life period and that was also extremely edgy for its time? but also soulful, the godfather of punk singing really soulfully. When I listen to Chemical Brothers or Underworld I always think I would have loved to have been there when they came up with that idea. I listen to loads of different music but can't think of one concrete example of a tune I wish I wrote.
When you listen to say the Chemical Brothers and you hear a cool beat, or a 60s tune with a crazy organ in the background, do you ever think hmmm, that could be good in a tune?
The thing that gives me the feeling for a song is the lyrics. If I was to eliminate lyrics from the equation then I would have to take something else that would do that for me in a tune. So maybe it would be a Moog, or a bass or guitar line. I think if I was put in the situation where, "Stef, you have to make a kickin' dance tune with no lyrics, but you still have to make it sound like something" I could probably adapt what I already know to the unknown, cos I am a big fan of dance music. All the music I listen to doesn't have to have lyrics, stuff like The Redneck Manifesto who I've gotten into in the last two or three years. Their songs have really witty titles, and verses and choruses without any sort of lyrics. I love that.
Your music is definitely steeped in a kind of punk ethos. Do you think music still has the power to change, to draw attention to real things, the way say the anti-war protesters did in the 60's or the punks did with the Queen's jubilee in the 70s?
Well I don't know if anyone really hinges any importance on aggressive confrontational in your face music. I mean Damien Dempsey says some great things in his songs, very anti-establishment, stuff to make the general punter on the street live their lives, which is what the likes of the Clash were trying to do back in the day. But in terms of punk now, it's all fairly dressed up. Say Greenday have just released their most political album "American Idiot" but it's all so well produced and packaged, and they've all taken to stylists and make up, that it kind of cancels itself out. I'm all on for bands looking good and having an image but it's just a shame that when they had nothing to say, when they were singing about "going to a whore 'cos they felt their life was a bore" that then they were perceived as cool by the underground sect, whereas now they gone too far beyond that. And it's a shame because lyrically what they're writing about is the likes of what Bruce Springsteen was writing about, anti-war ballads? but set against over produced punk rock.
You put out a single recently, are there any plans to record any more material?
Well the plan is, and it's not finalised yet, but I'm hoping to go away from Dublin for February and March, and pre-produce, and record my album. I'll bring in the necessary people from here when the time is right to record the actual material, and there are a few people in Montreal as well, where I have gotten good rates for a studio. To be honest though, I can't really talk about it yet because nothing is finalised, but I definitely plan to have an album recorded by the end of March.
How does it feel to play at show case gigs like HWCH or SXSW? As a punter there is definitely a different vibe at the gigs, too may critics in the audience maybe.
Well, I've done the HWCH thing three years in a row, so for me to do a fourth year would be a bit pointless, I'd rather move aside and let someone else in. But it is a great gig. I did it the first year with my old band The Subtonics and it's one of the best gigs that we as a band ever did, we got the best reception of any gig. Last year with the HWCH Colm and Gary from Humanzi were still in the band, and that was their last proper gig with me before they went on to the Humanzi thing full time, so that was a special gig, and this year it was Bren our guitar players first gig with only two rehearsals. So it was always under a lot of pressure, and we've always had a brilliant time. I have nothing but good things to say about HWCH, from my own perspective. SXSW? I went and had an amazing time, but it didn't further my career.
Were you expecting it to, or even HWCH?
No. I think HWCH maybe, if it keeps going the way it is it will start to attract the right kind of people and it will start to maybe help the careers of the people its aiming to help. I'm just happy to be part of it at ground level, I'm happy that I've played 3 years and its still going, and hopefully it will lead on to people getting spotted and things like that. I don't think that so far it has really done that, maybe it will though. I don't fucking know. A lot of people would say it's a load of shite, but I'm not one of those people, I'm just not negative enough to be able to do that. It has its flaws alright, and it's a good thing. It's a festival for people who don't get invited to festivals.
What do you hope to get out of music; I know it's a hard question to answer, but?
Well for me it's actually pretty easy. I hope to be able to continuously tick over, and keep making little inroads, and to one day be able to make a little bit of a living out of it. Not even a comfortable living, I scrape by now and I hope that as the years get on and as I get older and more stupid, I'd be able to do that continually. I'd love record deals and all that kind of stuff, and hopefully someday? but my ambitions are really basic, just to be able to live off it. I don't think there's any point in thinking I'll regret it, I just have to follow it. If I could just get one foot on the ladder? I'm definitely in it for the long haul.
What's the most important thing at a gig for you? Yours or some one else's.
Me, I just love the crowd. Say if I went to a gig with a friend who was into a certain band, and I didn't know who the fuck they were, and everyone was singing along, I could buzz of that. When I'm playing myself or I'm at a gig, I just buzz off the crowd. I went to the Frames once and the crowd were so mad into it that I thought "Jesus Christ this is entertaining in itself." I wouldn't know anything about the Frames, it's none of my business, but that was great. I went to see the Flaming Lips a few years ago and Wayne Coyne made a point that it wasn't them that's entertaining us, but that we were there to entertain each other. So they didn't play any music, just a visual, and when one particular part of the visual happened, a rocket being launched, we were all to start clapping. Then the music would start playing, and the clapping got louder, and everyone was going bleeding mental. This was on a Tuesday night, I was sober, and he's dead right. It's just people being together, that's what the buzz is.
Interview was conducted by Daragh Murray
Check out the CLUAS review of Mighty Stef live in Dublin in August 2005.