The Mighty Stef has long been heralded as one of Ireland’s finest emerging troubadours, something his latest album ‘TMS & The Baptists’ has placed in stone. Here he speaks to Barry Healy.
LookLeft needed no excuse for a chat with Stef before the Newbridge leg of his Irish Tour. We sought sanctuary in the corner of the bar away from the pre-show hustle and bustle. The positive reactions to his new record and the numbers braving the snow to make it to his gigs had a genuinely humbling effect on him.
To date his work has been characterised by a fiery folk-punk attitude and a predilection for the darker side of life especially in the early days “I think I was deliberately aiming for the more morose themes” and “there’s some pretty dark stuff on the new album, mixed with two or three uplifting tracks”.
The album title evokes religious connotations which manifest themselves dealing with issues of sin and redemption during songs ‘John the Baptist Parts 1 & 2’. Accompanied by a wry smile he explains the thinking, “John the Baptist (Part 1) is almost a tongue in cheek gospel song asking for whomever it is that hands out forgiveness to have mercy on us all, in particular me and the other five lads in the band. I’m not a deeply religious person”, preferring instead to keep it simple and “believe in right and wrong”. The introduction of his new band ‘The Baptists’ has pushed him from his comfort zone, making things “slightly different. They didn’t let me be nonchalant or lazy as I would normally be”.
However, one ever-present ingredient to his work is heart and soul, always a big part but never so fervently as his latest single, ‘We Want Blood’. The song, a universal song of disgust at the powers that be is “not so much a call to arms. I’m not a violent person. I’m not even a political person. It’s apparent to me that the people responsible for the economic downturn aren’t the people who are gonna be held accountable, it will be me, you and all the other good working class people”. The song has received many plaudits for how timely it is but he points out that it’s always the right time because “these points are always relevant, even in the supposedly good times the government were still a shower of c**ts and the banks were still a shower of greedy bastards, excuse the language.” “I wrote this over a year and half ago and it was as relevant then as it is now. It mightn’t go far enough in what it’s saying.”
Music has acted as a catalyst for change in the past but Stef isn’t sure if he’s “politically savvy enough to write a protest album or anything like that”. There’s a feeling music can “even by accident, change things. When rock’ n roll first hit America, Christian rightwing groups said it was the work of the devil but it changed people’s perspectives.
When I think of rock n roll having the power to change things I always think of Bob Dylan or Joe Strummer, neither of whom wanted to be spokespersons for their generation but did by default and they did change things for a lot of people.”
This is his third album to be released via his ‘The First Born is Dead’ label and being an independent artist is something he’s happy with, “I’ve managed to make a very modest living but the money isn’t the important thing to me, its playing music”. He points out that it can be “as hard as you make it. If I was to limit myself to gig around Ireland I would force myself into a corner pretty quickly. I try to get outside [Ireland] a bit. I love doing this so much, I would never complain about how difficult it is because it’s an absolute privilege and pleasure to do it”.
The internet is an intrinsic weapon in his arsenal and he is dismissive of the major labels’ and industry heads’ attitudes that the internet is killing music. On the contrary it seems to be a great leveller; “it might have spoiled the party for a lot of people who have had it really good for a very long time. If you look down the food chain to the likes of myself, I’d be nowhere without the internet. It allows me to go off on tour, play small venues and for people to be able to find out who I am and interact with people about the music”.
In an industry that constantly presents individuals obsessed with fame, self-importance and money but low on talent, to find a musician so honest and full of love for music is a refreshing change.