The Mighty Stef: A mighty good musician for U.S.


Published Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 11:49 AM

“I would call it streetwise folk music with punk rock, fantasy, and storytelling mixed in,” says the Mighty Stef (a/k/a Stefan Murphy), the charismatic singer and songwriter from Dublin, when asked by this writer to describe his indescribable sound.

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.

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