"It may have been the morning that David Bowie died, my flat mate was going off to make a record, and I said to myself that I need to start doing something new because someone's going to have to take over and continue making weird music," Stefan Murphy says over the phone from his home in Atlanta.
It hasn't taken long for Murphy to settle back into his groove. At 39 years old, he combines a classic baritone with epic songs that spin tales of lovers, pirates, and sinners. Murphy is best known as front man of Irish rockers The Mighty Stef, a band that released several magnificent albums, and had a residency at Sheridan's Pub in Rochester during the summer of 2014. The band connected well with audiences during its local gigs; when the quartet opened for Flogging Molly in Niagara Falls a few months later, there was a tour bus filled with Rochesterians to attend the show.
After a decade of performing, The Mighty Stef called it quits this year, and Murphy and his family have relocated from Ireland to the Peach State, where he is building a studio and launching a record label.
Murphy's new music project is called Count Vaseline. "I don't really know what a Count is, but I think it has very noble connotations. I think Vaseline has very cheap and sleazy connotations. I thought the two things sounded nice together," he says.
It's a solo act -- Murphy plays all the instruments on tunes that can best be described as DIY alternative rock with a pop skeleton -- with an analog tape machine supplying the backing tracks. He has only performed a handful of shows as Count Vaseline, and he plans to make the project's Rochester debut on Friday, September 30, an album release party.
The album is called "Yo No Soy Marinero," which is translated as "I am not a sailor," a line taken from the classic song, "La Bamba."
Murphy plans to distribute all of his music digitally and as limited edition cassettes on OCDC (Olive Color Dream Cassettes), his new label named after his daughter; he cites the cost prohibitions associated with the production of vinyl for lesser-name artists. The next album, "Cascade," drops in late November on his birthday, while an unnamed third release consisting of covers is planned for January.
It may seem like a Herculean task to get fans to buy into tape, but Murphy is undaunted. He loves the look of it, the feel of it, and the sound of it. "And if anybody doesn't have a cassette player and is using that as an excuse not to buy my albums, I'm going to sell them a cassette player," he says.
Murphy grew up in a suburb of Dublin to a "classic" working class family and listened to bands including Sonic Youth. Then in his 30's he discovered Armand Schaubroeck Steals -- which is fronted by House of Guitars co-owner Armand Schaubroeck.
A friend had turned Murphy on to the band's "Ratf***er" album. "I was amazed when I found out he was from Rochester, and how I found this out was I went into the House of Guitars one day, " Murphy says. "Meeting Armand Schaubroeck the last time we were in Rochester was one of the rock and roll highlights of my life."
There's a mutual respect. "Stefan is a talented songwriter," Schaubroeck says. "The Mighty Stef's 'Year of the Horse' CD is a masterpiece." When The Mighty Stef did an in-store performance, Schaubroeck asked the band to perform its song "Stella" twice, and he was among those who followed the band from club to club that summer when the quartet made Rochester its headquarters.
Murphy is currently taking the longest break from touring he's had in more than a decade before setting off again. A show at the Mercury Lounge in New York City and the show at Abilene are tune-up gigs for upcoming tours in Ireland, Europe, and Australia in January.
"I love touring," he says. "I'm learning to try and do it without the excesses that are associated with it. With Count Vaseline I feel like I'm beginning again and that excites me."