Glastonbury calling: Malojian talks festival fun and Steve Albini
Led by Stevie Scullion, Malojian are currently one of the north's most acclaimed musical acts. David Roy spoke to the Lurgan singer-songwriter about preparing for their Glastonbury debut next month, the band's soon to be released new album recorded with Steve Albini and his current live collaboration Northern Lights
HAVING marked himself out as a formidable musical talent while one half of acclaimed psychedelic folk duo Cat Malojian, singer/guitarist Stevie Scullion struck out on his own as just plain Malojian with debut LP The Deer's Cry in 2013.
While Scullion's original intention was to pursue a solo project, the band he hooked up with to help make that well-received record – Mojo Fury man Michael Mormecha on drums and Joe McGurgan on the bass – quickly proved indispensable.
Last year's follow-up Southlands benefited from a musical chemistry solidified via much touring, earning the trio further critical acclaim, yet more radio airplay from high profile fans such as Bob Harris and Cerys Matthews and a much deserved NI Music Prize nomination.
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Scullion and co have already recorded the as yet untitled follow-up to Southlands.
Earlier this year, the band spent a week at Chicago's celebrated Electrical Audio studio working with owner/operator Steve Albini, the former Big Black/current Shellac man who engineered classic albums by Nirvana, the Pixies and Ireland's own The Frames.
2016 has also seen the Malojian frontman touring with live side-project Northern Lights, a three-way collaboration between himself and fellow NI singer-songwriters Matt McGinn and Ben Glover that's been earning rave reviews over the past two months.
"We're off to Holland for a few dates and then that's it for the time being," Scullion told me earlier this week of the trio, who've been performing a mix of all three player's material at their shows including last month's sold-out gig at The Black Box in Belfast during the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival.
"Ben and Matt had been friends for years and I've known Matt for a good few years through music too," he explains of how Northern Lights came about.
"Matt played on Southlands and we'd talked about doing something else at some point. Then I then met Ben when I played Nashville last year, as he spends quite a lot of time over there.
"I think those two had been planning something for a while and needed a third person to do it with, so that's how it fell into place. It's been class, we get along real well. It's good craic and we seem to complement each other's music.
"There's talk of us doing more gigs in the Autumn or next year and maybe going to Australia as well. We're also thinking about doing some writing together at some point."
Before all that, however, Stevie and Malojian have a busy summer schedule to contend with.
With appearances confirmed at Irish festivals including Castlepalooza (July 2), Sunflowerfest (August 6) and the Hilden Beer & Music Festival (August 28), there's also dates in Germany next month and the small matter of their Glastonbury Festival debut on June 24 to be getting on with.
"It's mad, the first time I first went to Glastonbury in 1997, I started writing songs about it as soon as I came home," recalls Scullion, who considers the legendary festival a huge inspiration for his fateful move from guitar player to fully fledged singer-songwriter.
"The song King of The Quagmire from the second Cat Malojian album was the first proper song I ever wrote – and that came from Glastonbury," he reveals.
Excitingly, Malojian are also one of just four acts selected by Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis as his 'special guests' to help launch the Bath & West Festival in Bath's new musical element next week.
"A girl who works for him, Aoife Dick, used to book The Ruby Sessions in Dublin," explains Scullion of the vital Irish connection that helped him land these prestigious gigs.
"To be 'special guests' of Michael Eavis is just mental. He's the president of the farming association that runs Bath & West this year and because he's 'Mr Glastonbury' I think they're trying to bring in a musical element."
Thus, Malojian will soon be performing Southlands's Bathtub Blues in Bath, alongside other favourites and new selections from the upcoming album recorded with Steve Albini.
"It was a bit of a whirlwind," says Scullion of the band's week in Chicago at the start of this year.
"I'd been dreaming of making an album in America ever since I started making music. I started thinking about it seriously a few years ago and Albini was a the top of the list. When he came back to me and said he'd do it, I didn't need to contact anyone else."
Famed for his analogue recording skills, reasonable recording rates and a 'hands-off' attitude to the arrangements of the material he documents, all Albini asks is that bands be well rehearsed and ready to rock when they turn up to work at Electrical.
"It was brilliant," the Malojian man tells me of the sessions.
"People have this thing were they think he's going to make you sound like Nirvana and everything's going to be all 'dirty' or whatever – but what he really does is record what you sound like.
"You can spend ages making a record and keep adding in different parts, but the stuff that I like best out of what we've recorded in the past has always been the stuff that sounds more or less live and 'real'.
"I was thinking that I wanted to record at least one album that sounds pretty much exactly what the band sounds like – with Albini in charge, it might be what we sound like on a really good day, but it's still real.
"It's straight to tape and that's it – if there's a mistake you either leave it, or you do it again until you get it right. He's pretty scientific, almost like a lab technician. That gives you confidence that it's going to sound class as long as you play properly."
Having lived with the results for a few months now, Scullion is pleased with how the third Malojian record is sounding.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think there was going to be a wee bit more dirt," he tells me.
"Anyone who's heard it has said 'holy ****, it sounds massive', even though it's just me Joe and Mikey playing. It's an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a drum kit and three voices.
"We're real happy with it and can't wait to get it out."
Malojian play Bath & West Festival on June 2 and Glastonbury on June 24. See Malojian.com for updates on local shows and album release dates