Irish Mythen is an Irish-born Canadian contemporary folk singer/songwriter.
Her last two shows in the northern rivers were embraced by crowds who were quickly converted by the Mythen magic. She’s a powerfully engaged and passionate player who puts the fierce and fabulous back into folk.
It wasn’t easy for an Irish girl to play folk. When Mythen started out there was pressure from all around to do some different. To follow the pulse of popular culture. But Mythen is a woman who walks to her own beat. That’s a big part of her charm.
‘I stuck to my guns,’ she says. ‘I had a lot of people saying Irish music is really sexy at the moment. Just drop what you are doing, and go the trad vibe. At the time River Dance had just come out, and the Corrs and the Cranberries. But I didn’t want to stray from what I was doing. No-one grows up saying ‘I want to be a folk musician and super rich… and a folk singer!’
In the beginning Mythen was fired up on teenage angst.
‘I was singing some nonsense up there. My lyrics changed quickly; I told more stories. It was amazing though, because I realised it was possible to hold an audience captive. Once you do that you want to do a few things. Number 1 – you hope you’re entertaining them musically; number 2 – some of my songs are quite heavy, they deal with heavy things (I don’t write about sexy things either) – I have songs about the elderly and Alzheimer’s.’
Mythen likes to talk.
‘Between the songs I have a chance to talk about things and it was important, but not a part of my music, but privately – my sexuality… I was going up against a lot of people in the business. It was not only tougher for me because I was a woman and, being a lesbian, there is a really fine line. I don’t want people thinking, Jesus there’s a full-on lesbian up there! I think I did a good job of that; people go I see what you do there – that’s my chance to try to make them laugh and cry…’
As a lesbian, Mythen is outspoken about the issues facing the LGBTIQ community, and she’s very active, speaking onstage, on the page and in schools. Her birth country Ireland has stepped forward with marriage equality; Australia’s failure to step up is not lost on Mythen.
‘When you have a country such as Ireland, when they voted YES and, two decades before that, homosexuality was decriminalised; two decades later they were the first country for the referendum; it pushed people out into the open.
‘I do a lot of work in schools and I go around and I give a lot of panels about pride and the thing is generally when you have a child that’s great – they get the love at home, and you see that they struggle outside the home so what you do is you think you are doing the right thing to get them help, but inevitably because it’s a ‘new thing’ he/she will be looking across the table at someone 45-plus in age – generally a straight white person. And yeah it’s great to talk but they don’t have a clue. You need to create a safe space where peers can get together. Show their vulnerability and their strength. That helps turn people’s lives around.’
As a genre, folk music seems like an unusual choice for Mythen.
‘My genre is extremely white and extremely male oriented,’ she says.
‘It has been since day one when it became a genre. Not actual folk music. Folk music has always been the music of the people; I am talking about folk music as a genre that came out of 60s. The thing that gets me is that you are singing about people’s sexuality but you don’t have a gay or lesbian in the narrative, you’re singing about a black person but you are not in there.’
‘I like to sing a song and I let the audience settle down into it, and then right after it’s finished I tell them what it’s about: it’s a song about love. Folk songs are usually songs about a white man and white woman, struggle is a farmer in the outback, not a Syrian refugee leaving everything behind looking for freedom. For me my music gives me a chance to slap the audience in the face, make them comfortable, and then give them the squirm in the seat; you put people in that place. You have a responsibility as a songwriter when you are on the stage. There are some artists who go song thank you song thank you, but I don’t do that – I try to give a balanced show of song and story. It’s the folk musician in the oldest form of the troubadour.’
Mythen is spontaneous. No two shows are the same.
‘I never do a set list – for me it changes… I am a solo performer.
I love the edge that you don’t know what is going to happen.’
Sitting in Canada, Mythen is acutely aware of what happens in the US, in particular the diminishing rights of women.
‘What kind of a person decides what rights another person can have?’ she asks. ‘You are holding a lot of power there. There has been more debate about abortion, but it is nobody’s business. How do they yield the power of what a woman does to her body? Why aren’t they charging men every time they have wank?’
Irish Mythen performs at Byron Bluesfest this Easter. For tickets and program information go to bluesfest.com.au.