Followers of the Northern Irish artist Malojian were surprised and delighted when his fifth studio album Humm was released months ahead of schedule. In a note to fans, Malojian (aka Stevie Scullion), said, “if it brings you even a few minutes of distraction during these strange times then happy days”.
The 11-track album follows on from 2016’s This Is Nowhere, recorded with Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Pixies), and 2017’s Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home. This time, Scullion worked with Jason Lytle of Granddaddy to produce a stunning record which has already taken on a life of its own.
“Jason is a genius,” he says of Lytle. “I had recorded a lot before I contacted Jason to get involved. Some of the tracks, Jason just came in at the end and added parts. Every song was different, there are some I don’t play on and I only sing. Golden Age I just sing on, it was a co-write which came out of a piano melody Jason sent to me.”
Scullion made his raw piano and vocal tracks from the album’s closer Singularity available to download, meaning fans and other musicians have been able to produce their own versions of his song and share them online. He says hearing other people’s take on his track is “a really nice project to have been involved in.”
“For people who have got into it, it has provided a few hours of escapism, and then they’re sending them back to me. It’s nice to do it and for everybody to have something to take their minds off what’s going on in the world.
“Jason suggested we use his edited tracks to give to people, but that editing is part of what Jason does, so everyone else should do that too. They can polish the vocal and the piano and everything themselves. I put in the raw vocal so that everyone could see what’s happening with it. There’s a million ways to skin a cat, and that’s what’s been so cool about Singularity.”
Scullion’s brims with enthusiasm as he discusses Humm and the impact Singularity is having, laughing as he tells of a friend who “had a microphone up to a washing machine” to get audio for their attempt. “His girlfriend thought he’d lost it!”
Initially, he plays down the experience of recording with Steve Albini. Scullion explains that curiosity took him to the legendary producer’s website where, to his surprise, he found Albini was available to work with. An application for funding was successful and, following some intense practising and pre-production, before he knew it he was recording with the man who had worked with Nirvana and The Pixies. Having that experience under his belt helped when it came to approaching Jason Lytle for Humm and Joey Waronker, who also played on Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.
“I never gave myself credit for that, I just kept trying to move forward,” he says. “It’s only recently I’ve started to appreciate that I’ve got a back catalogue and a body of work behind me. When I first contacted Joey, after a couple of emails he was asking about Albini. Same with Jason, he said he went down a Malojian rabbit hole when we began to chat. Now that Humm is out I already have a couple of ideas for the next album. One of those would be really stripped back, and now I would have the confidence to put something like that out. I’m at a stage where I can do what I want as long as the level of quality is there and I’m confident and happy in it myself. I’ve got a better perspective now, I think.”
That new perspective is being applied in his growing work as a producer. As well as recording much of his own music, Scullion has branched out into recording for other artists. He draws on the experience of recording with Steve Albini in his work for other artists.
“It’s been really rewarding, a really good learning curve,” he says. “Everybody thinks Albini is this hardcore “it’s only what it sounds like in the room” guy. He’s not, he’s cool and he likes playing with sounds. It’s more, if something’s not right, rerecord it instead of digitally fixing it. Computers are great when they’re used right, but things can quickly get out of control and it kills the vibe for me.”
Working with other artists from the producer’s chair is also helping him develop his own songwriting.
“I’m obsessed with writing, that’s my main thing. It’s only recently enough though that I’m finally happy to consider myself a songwriter, and have the confidence to think it and say it out loud. Learning how to structure songs has come from producing and co-writes. Getting an idea and working out how it’ll progress. Now I can do that with my own song, I know when it needs to go somewhere else. I wouldn’t be the most confident performer, but when I write I go inside myself and I don’t need anything else. It’s a lovely vocation to have. I love it.”
In late February 2020 Malojian embarked on a seven-show tour of the UK. It was initially intended to be Humm’s release tour, but Scullion realised the album wouldn’t be finished in time and carried on to give fans a taster of the album to come. True to form, he did things a little differently and swapped a tour bus for the train.
“It was something I always wanted to do, but people had always put me off,” he laughs. “It was unreal though, doing that tour was a lovely experience. I had my two kids out with me because it lined up with the school mid-term holidays. It’s poison touring by car, it costs a fortune. The longest journey was Edinburgh to London and it was lovely. You see the countryside. I love going into cities by train seeing the industrial turn to suburban. It’s something I’ll definitely do again in the future.”
While the Covid19 pandemic accelerated the release of his album, it’s put a stop to much of Scullion’s other work. Having donated a kidney several years ago, he feels he could be at high risk from the virus and hasn’t left the house except for essentials in over a week. Like many he’s worried about how things will change over the coming months, but if the release of Singularity is anything to go by, if someone can find a positive in all this it’s Stevie Scullion.
“It’ll be interesting to see how people use tech to communicate and achieve that minimum level of contact people need. I’m going to use this to spend some quality time with the kids. It’s early days yet, but putting the album out early could have been financially very risky. I’m glad I could do it though and didn’t have a label telling me to wait until it suits them. There’s a long way to go yet, we’ll see…
“There’s people out there who are in awful shape at the minute. I could be worse off. I count myself very lucky.”