The Real Ste McCabe
by Joshua Klipp
Ste McCabe is a one-man band, aka "Liverpool's pop-punk hero." Relentlessly touring, he comes through San Francisco this Friday March 20. The brilliant, angry, political Englander sat down for an online cross-continental interview.
What's your musical background?
I grew up in working class Liverpool, England, which meant only one thing; Beatles records on rotation by my dad! My first musical obsession was Madonna. I used to skip through dirty streets singing her songs, oblivious to what a sight of campery I was. Years of bullying threw me into the arms of Britpop, Grunge, and later riot grrrl. There was something about angry women screaming about sexism that resonated with me. I wanted to be a working class gay boy version of those inspiring women, and I worked my arse off to make sure I'd do that with my life, no matter what.
Who are your music heroes?
I'm 35 with a beer belly, and I find it really difficult to relate anyone. My heroes are the people who make music because they need to express themselves, who make no money from it, unknowns, those working class and queer musicians who compromise nothing to be who they are and spend year after year playing underground venues away from the mainstream.
What's your process for creating music?
Lyrics used to come first; it was the only reason I made music, but now I find the music comes first and lyrics follow. I have a mental checklist of all of the people I want to verbally destroy, and once I get a tune, the bile just comes pouring out! That's essentially how I work. I could tell you about what instruments etc. I use to make music, but I find that boring. Whatever I get my hands on and is easy and fun, really.
Describe the first time you performed your own music.
My first gig was in 1999 at a music venue in Manchester called Night and Day café. I could barely play guitar and I had never sang in front of anyone, but I had some very angry songs about homophobia, a £30 acoustic guitar and I was desperate to showcase them in Manchester's very-dull straight-boy-acoustic-music-scene. I think most of the audience were laughing at me, but I was laughing at them too. Nowadays, I look for squats, social centres or punk houses. I play regular music venues sometimes, but only if it's a specific queer or political event. I have neither the desire nor a hope in hell of achieving fame, and as such I steer clear of any venue that promotes "next big thing" culture.
How does being queer impact you as an artist?
Being queer underpins everything in my music. If I hadn't have picked up a mic and starting singing when I was 17, I would have went under. It was my way of saying "fuck you" to years of being spat at, punched, and told to kill myself by strangers. That's really how the north of England was for queers in the 1990s. Nowadays, though, I'm as much about class as being queer, because the political culture in the UK has shifted dramatically. Whereas I used to feel like scum for being gay, the political message in the UK now is that working class people are scum. These days I find myself relating to working class straight people as much (or sometimes more than) I relate to middle class queers – at least in the UK. So, identifying as a working class queer impacts on me as an artist, rather than just being queer.
Who usually comes to your shows?
Punks, dykes and anarchists can be found at my shows. I hope that I come across as an everyday person. I want people see that I'm just a fag who comes from nothing, and who frankly is still nothing. I'm 100% proud of being a nothing. I have not one ounce of star quality about me, and I think that's great. I'm the small guy. But I'm the small guy with a vicious tongue.
What are you most afraid of/most excited about when you perform?
I've been playing for 16 years, and I've played hundreds of gigs. I don't get nervous until five minutes before I play, when I have a little panic. The gigs which excite me or scare me (they both tend to happen at exactly the same time) tend to be the gigs that are unlike any others, when the audience or setting is not within my previous experience. As I like to play pretty much anywhere other than typical music venues, it does happen fairly often! I played at a queer festival in the south of France once, which essentially turned into a bona fide lesbian riot. It was insane, all these amazing dykes screaming in French and punching each other! Yes I was a bit nervous that time.Ste McCabe will perform at El Rio on Friday March 20, 10pm. 3158 Mission St. 282-3325. www.ElRioSF.com
Josh Klipp is a writer, choreographer and band leader for local swing band, the Klipptones. www.Klipptones.com