Stevie Wonder

After years of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Stevie Scullion, AKA Malojian, is about to take his rightful place at Northern Irish rock’s top table.

Depending on the mood in the room, it’s sometimes possible to make the case for Stevie Scullion to be considered the North’s best songwriter over the last half decade. Alongside Johnny Toman, Scullion created a body of work for Cat Malojian (two albums and a host of EPs) that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of their more celebrated peers. However, while the gods of creativity rained blessings on the pair; the gods of fortune showered them with something a little more pungent.

For every high profile support slot with Snow Patrol (including the huge 2010 Ward Park gig), there would be a dismaying experience with a label. For every stellar tune, a disheartening gig.

The central irony of Cat Malojian’s career is that while the material came coated in self-confidence, the guys themselves spent much of the time not knowing which way to turn.

So, when last summer the long-promised record deal suddenly loomed into view, and then just as suddenly disappeared again – there was a sad inevitability to the news that they’d split. 

“There’s no animosity or anything like that – we just drifted apart,” reveals Stevie. “We’d had a few too many set-backs, and I think Johnny lost heart. He was always a folk purist and he started working on another project that concentrated on that. I just started writing my own stuff. It was sad but the time had come.”

Considering the pair had known one another for over a decade, Stevie could not have been blamed for taking a break to plan his next step. But no sooner had the band split, than (with one half of the name tucked under his arm) he’d set off along a new direction. One lit by another gifted maverick with a knack for knock-down choruses.

“I heard Pat Dam Smyth’s album The Great Divide one day, and it blew me away,” Stevie admits. “I had never really listened to much local music, but I couldn’t believe how great it was. It’s a genius record. It sounded how I always wanted to sound: loose, spontaneous. Cat Malojian records took ages to make. There was a big element of perfectionism there. But when I started writing songs, I used to bang them out on a four-track. And I wanted to go back to that. I looked to see who produced Pat’s album, and found out it was Barrett Lahey. I think I listened to the album for the first time on the Saturday, and by the Monday I’d booked studio time with Barrett.”

If hooking up with Barrett didn’t signpost his love for The Great Divide enough, Stevie chose to highlight and put his admiration in bold by calling on the services of the musicians who backed Pat.

It proved a liberating experience – connecting him to a music scene that he’d previously kept at arm’s length.

“There was something about Cat Malojian,” he says. “We used to make a big deal about not being part of the local music scene, and I think maybe people took it the wrong way. I was talking to Barrett about it and he said he’d never imagined working with us because we didn’t seem that approachable. That wasn’t something we did deliberately, but we were a bit wary about things, because we didn’t really hang out and go to gigs. Ward Park was a big eye-opener on that front. It wasn’t full of scenesters, just a lot of decent people – a lot of like-minded people too.”

Anyone wondering what impact this has had on Stevie’s songwriting, won’t have long to wait. Next month, as Malojian, he is releasing his debut solo EP, The Broken Deer.

And it’s splendid. Yes, it’s a bit looser and more contemporary sounding than his CM material, but with the disarming choruses and lovely melodies still very much intact, these songs are clearly descended from the same blood-line.

“When the band split, I got it into my head that I should change my approach,” he laughs. “Set myself a challenge to only write songs that I could play on an acoustic. But it didn’t last long. I’ll just carry on doing what I’ve always done. Writing the kind of songs that I always write. The melody is the master, really.”

And long may it reign.

 

The Broken Deer EP will be launched on the February 25 at No Alibis, Belfast.

 

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