Bare-knuckled blues is hollered hoarsely over a sensual mixture of fifties doo-wop, madcap French burlesque and straightforward rock on his latest, 100 Midnights. He is Lizard King, Delta bluesman and goose-stepping polka leader wrapped in a throbbing package.
It’s no surprise that he is celebrated in his native land for the storytelling nature of his songs and his passionate live shows. The influences and references in his music are dizzying, touching on everything from the Rolling Stones to the Pogues, Nick Cave to the Clash and Johnny Thunders to Johnny Cash.
100 Midnights is a star studded affair that includes the Pogues’ Cait O’Riordan and Shane MacGowan, the latter lending his graveyard wheeze to further haunt Townes Van Zandt’s spooky “Waitin’ Around to Die.”
The Mighty Stef drove raves this past March in an appearance at Austin’s famed SxSW festival, and in opening act gigs with trad punk band Flogging Molly.
He is coming to the U.S. for a small acoustic tour that includes a stop in Manhattan’s Piano Bar on October 15, and we were able to catch him right before he got on the plane. Here’s how our conversation went.
This music is so original I can’t imagine how you are going to pull it off with just you and a guitar.
I’m just going to try to create as much atmosphere and drama that I can using vocals and a guitar. You can still coax a bit of burlesque from an acoustic instrument.
I actually like how I am touring lately. I play with a five-piece band and then I do these solo acoustic shows. It definitely makes it a challenge.
How did you stumble on cabaret and burlesque influences that crept into your music? Was it something you got in Ireland?
I had always listened to Tom Waits and Nick Cave, and they have had the burlesque thing in the music. I actually applied it to my own music when I recorded my first album in Montreal. That European cabaret vibe is very much alive in there, and of course that city is known for its strip clubs and burlesque.
I think those influences just bled into what I was doing at the time, and it continued into my second album. I like the sing-along qualities that burlesque melodies give to the music, and as a songwriter and live performer you’re always trying to get people to sing along with you.
There is something very literate about your music. Are you an avid reader and, if so, are there authors that have influenced you?
I’m not a big reader, to be honest with you. I have always made up my own stories to keep myself amused and entertained. I don’t think these stories have literature references as much as pure fantasy in them.
I would imagine a unique voice such as yours would do well in this resurgence of singer songwriters that Dublin is producing at the moment.
Very much so. I am a huge fan of a lot of these artists. I absolutely love Damien Dempsey. Guys like him and Glen Hansard (the Frames) and Damien Rice have been really good about taking up and coming singer songwriters on the road with them when they come to America, so the scene is very supportive, I think. It’s also nice to have audiences in Dublin open to hear the lyrics, so that is really good as well.
The Mighty Stef will be playing at the Piano Room on October 15. The show begins around 11 p.m. He will also play JD McGillacuddys in Philadelphia.
For a full listing, check out myspace.com/themightystefband.
More U2 on the Horizon
Bono at the U2 show in Croke Park over the summer.
ROLLING Stone magazine features Bono and The Edge on the cover of its latest issue, which takes readers inside what’s shaping up to be the biggest tour in rock history. During the interviews, the lads discuss their future plans, which should be music to the ears of their minions.
“We're sort of spoiled for choice right now, because there's a bunch of amazing pieces that we didn't finish from the work we did in Fez (one of the recording sites during the making of No Line on the Horizon), and there's the songs we started with Rick Rubin, some of which are amazing songs that I'd love to get back to at some point (the producer began work on their album until it was decided that old standbys Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno should birth their latest record),” says The Edge in the article.
“Bono and I also have this Spider-Man (musical) project, which we're very happy about. So there are a lot of things on the stove, and they're all very exciting.
“The one thing is we'd love to follow this album up sooner rather than later -- I don't think we'll have over three years or whatever it was between the last two records. There will be a Spider-Man album, but whether it's us or the cast, that's the sort of thing we're not sure about. There are some amazing tunes.”
Wouldn’t we all want to be a fly on the wall for those conversations between the four musicians? If one reads between the tea leaves, it would seem that there is some debate as to whether Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton want to sign on board to have anything to do with Spider-Man, a project started by Bono and The Edge.
“If we're going to do another rock record, I want to do Spider-Man,” says Bono. “I just haven't talked Adam and Larry into that.”
The band appears to be set to revisit some of the songs on their expansive cutting room floor, which in the past they have released as B-sides and as parts of commemorative editions of their older albums. Being the intuitive and shrewd business people that they are, they seem keen to keep the momentum going on this tour.
“I definitely think we should do something good as soon as we possibly can, as opposed to quickly,” says Mullen. “I'm feeling that it's the unfinished songs from this record that we should be concentrating on.
“I think there's a part two of this record. That would be my instinct, would be to complete this. I think there is slower, meditative stuff on there, but I think there are other things as well, and I don't think it will end up being that kind of record. I think it will end up being a mixture of a few different things.”
After airing dozens of hits that have also become classic rock staples, U2 seem keen on not becoming a nostalgic act.
“I would like to think that we would have a song that would end up on the radio,” says Bono in the Rolling Stone piece. “We certainly don't want to go away for a few years.
“I would like to have one of our songs on the pop charts. It's my only disappointment (with No Line on the Horizon). People love, love the album it's had rave reviews, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. But I would like a few pop songs on it. I would like to come back with a new single in the spring.”
With all of these great opportunities and a record setting tour, is it any wonder that they named their album, “No Line on the Horizon?”