TRY SAYING ‘Shut Up, Dylan’, the title of Steven Sharpe & The Broke Straight Boys' debut album, either in your head or out load, and it’s near impossible to deliver it without the inflections, patterns, and tones with which Steven would say it himself.
It’s a mark of how big and flamboyant a personality he is, how distinctive a singer, storyteller, comedian, and above all, an individual he is. There really is no one else like Steven Sharpe - a true one-off, and one of the most exciting singer-songwriters to emerge from the Galway music scene in a very long time.
Steven and his band launch Shut Up Dylan at the Róísín Dubh on Friday May 5 at 9pm. It's nine tracks, especially ‘Hot Mess’, ‘WORK!’, ‘Tipperary Song’, and ‘Be My Husband’ have become firm favourites with audiences and are, definitive Steven Sharpe in their mix of muscular blues-rock with more acoustic driven elements, and witty, hilarious, poignant, and pointedly unidealised portraits of contemporary gay life.
“Some of those songs are nine years old,” muses Steven, during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “Some are three or four years old, but they were all songs I needed to get out of my system.” Yet Steven is quite nervous about it. “No one has heard it yet, or written about it. I just hope it’s good enough! I’m proud of it though. Me and the band knew we wanted it to sound like we do live, and it’s a fair reflection of how I wanted it to sound."
He need not worry. Shut Up Dylan is a strong, confident work, which knows when to rock hard, when to be intimate and vulnerable, when to laugh at itself. It can explore non-traditional song structures, and remain accessible and inviting. It’s likely to be the best album to come out of Galway this year.
Steven can sings the blues, he can holler them. He has a falsetto that reaches not just high notes, but creates an atmosphere of intense intimacy. His voice is pure and versatile. He can be a comedian, heartbroken, a joker, or the guy who has seen it all. In the Broke Straight Boys he has a secret weapon in guitarist Dylan Murphy and a first rate rhythm section in David Shaughnessy (drums ) and Shane O'Malley (bass ). “I never knew I’d get a band as good as this," says Steven. "It would not be the same without Dylan, Shane, and David. They're irreplaceable!”
Shut Up Dylan takes the listener on a journey from heartbreak, the awkwardness and messiness of your twenties, and nights of squalid sex regretted the morning after, to the revelation and transformative powers of falling deeply in love (the sublime ‘Waterlady’ ), and life finally hitting a good course, the one it’s meant to be on. The opening songs - ‘WORK!’, ‘All Men Are Bastards’, ’Sitting On A Coffin’, ‘Who’s The Man?’ - are hilarious and witty tales of gay life, but also paint a picture of a social and emotional minefield stressful to cross.
“Oh my God, Yes! I’m so glad that comes across!” Steven declares. “A lot of gay life is idealised as Neil Patrick Harris and his beautiful husband, and their two lovely children, and that everything is polished, we all know about fashion, we know every Beyoncé song, but it’s not like that. There are many great things about being gay, but there’s a lot of shite as well, so let’s get some balance when we’re talking about this.”
Steven also subverts the break-up song in ‘Sitting On A Coffin’, a rocking, funky, cautionary tale of a young man not coping well after the break-up with his boyfriend, and the excruciatingly embarrassing situations this lands him in - gloriously summed up when Steven, in an exasperated, incredulous, voice declares: “I texted him…I f*****g texted him!!!”
“We’ve all been there…” says Steven. “What was I doing texting him at 5.30am in the morning? What did I expect to get out of that? That whole section wasn’t in the original song. That came from playing live. I just improvised that bit one night, saw the reaction it got at one table, and thought, ‘Yeah, I’m keeping this!’. So many break-up songs are about ‘I’m doing fine’, ‘I’m above it’, but often you’re not. It’s OK to admit things aren’t going well, and that you need to think about your actions.”
‘Who’s The Man?’ is another highlight, and like the best songs here, is as poignant as it is funny, as Steven recounts coming out to his father and his father’s questions about homosexuality. “My dad knows the song's about him,” says Steven. “It’s not entirely autobiographical, but it is mostly, and the punchline is 100 per cent true. You have to remember my dad is form a certain generation, but the thing is, he doesn’t remember having the conversation with me. ‘I never said that!’ My mother remembers though!”
The attitude behind the question of who in a gay male relationship is ‘the man’ is subverted by Steven and the band’s thrilling take on the old blues number, ‘Be My Husband’, where Steven embraces the feminine on a song that musically and vocally is ferociously macho and testosterone fuelled.
“You can feminise yourself in a macho way and no one can touch you,” says Steven. “Men insult other men by calling them a woman, but we’re subverting it in this song. When I was younger I had long hair and I was called a girl. I didn’t play football and I was called a girl, but girls are awesome, so what’s the problem?”
Steven has spoken in other interviews about how his father has ultimately been very supportive and proud of his son,. Other tracks, like ‘Tipperary Song’ reflect the reality of growing up in small town Ireland where difference is seen as something to be feared.
“I remember going into this privilege workshop for young LGBTs in university," says Steven. "They were all aged about 18 and I was 29 at the time. They would talk about their 'privilege', I remember one saying his privilege was to have gone to a school where his coming out and being gay made him more popular. Well my privilege was that school and Tipperary turned me into a bitchy queen who knows what it’s like to be victimised, and to be 16 and called ‘Faggot! consistently on a daily basis - you do get a chip on your shoulder, and you rise above it. You know what it’s like to have to work for equality, to be an activist for it.
“I’ve been living in Galway for six years, and Galway is really funny. In Cork or Dublin people look at me with suspicion. They can’t work out of I’m a comedian or a singer. They don’t know what to do with you. In Galway, they’re not sure either, but it’s ‘I don’t know what he is, but he’s great!” In other places they want to market you. In Galway, they don’t care about money, they want you to be creative, entertaining, and different.”
Admission to the gig is free. Shut Up Dylan will be available to buy on Bandcamp (physical and digital ) and iTunes, and to stream on Spotify. CD copies will be available at the show.