Malojian: 'Mention of the Troubles puts off radio producers'
With his second album ready to go, Chris Jones talks to Lurgan singer Stevie Scullion about Bob Harris, kung fu, and how his children play a big part in his music.
The Malojian story so far is one of slow-burning success. The Lurgan singer-songwriter, real name Stevie Scullion, first came to the attention of local music fans with his band Cat Malojian before taking the second part of the name and breaking out on his own with debut album The Deer's Cry in 2012.
With new album Southlands ready for release following a successful Pledge campaign - he can count Gary Lightbody and Lauren Laverne among his fans - he says the highlight so far was doing a BBC Radio 2 session for Bob Harris, whose unique "whispering" voice left quite an impression. "Swear to god, you wouldn't believe his voice," he laughs. "Everybody's looking at each other, going 'what the f***?'."
More trips across the water are in the offing, as the sparkling single Communion Girls is winning friends and fans.
"Cerys Matthews has played it on 6 Music, and Ricky Ross on BBC Scotland," he says, adding that both have invited him in for a session. In particular, former Deacon Blue frontman Ross's patronage means a lot.
Communion Girls is typical of Scullion's broad appeal. It's a gorgeous song that combines the soft and sensitive lilt of indie-pop favourites like Elliott Smith, and the kind of punchy songwriting that sounds completely at home on Radio 2. Listen closely, too, and you'll find an arresting lyric with references to "saving the congregation from paramilitary fools". What inspired the song?
"It's very literal - things I was thinking when I was a kid," he says. "I used to think someone would burst into the chapel and shoot everyone, and I would start fantasising that I would jump up and save everyone with a bit of kung fu."
The song deserves a wide audience (as does the fantastic animated video by Antrim man Rich Davis) but Scullion admits that its Troubles-referencing subject matter is holding it back a little - despite its innocence.
"I just found out that a load of radio producers have shied away from it because of the content," he says. "I think it's a shame - at least open a bit of debate about it? It talks about it from a child's point of view."
Scullion says that the album is highly personal, and that fatherhood (Scullion has two children - Eve, seven-and-a-half and Henry, 18-months-old) has had a profound effect on his music-making, to the extent that the endearing Bathtub Blues was inspired by his daughter, he says.
"The only time I was able to practice when my wee girl was younger was when she was in the bath. I'd fill up the bath, sit on the toilet and play songs for her and she must have got fed up with me playing the same old songs, so she asked me to write one about the bath. That's where the song came from."
If there's a bucolic, homely feel to the record, that might be because of how - and where - it was recorded. Millbank Studios near Lisburn, run by Michael Mormecha of Mojo Fury fame, is on a working farm, which Scullion says lent an interesting flavour to the entire process. "It's class!" he says. "You're out in the countryside and it's chilled out and doesn't feel sterile like a studio, but it's got all the gear set up. It's the best of both worlds."
Next up for Malojian are two tiny album launch shows in No Alibis bookshop on Belfast's Botanic Avenue. Despite the radio sessions and the patronage from big names, it's typical of this unassuming songwriter that he should do things in such a low-key, intimate way.
Malojian releases a new album, Southlands, on May 18 and plays No Alibis, Belfast on May 29 and May 30