It didn’t happen on accident. For Stephen “Mojo” Mougin’s career trajectory, it was fate. Part of the fate commenced with a good omen when Bill Monroe signed Stephen Mougin’s mandolin at the Peaceful Valley Bluegrass Festival in summer 1988, and then used it in a workshop. Now Stephen Mougin is one of the most respected Jack-of-All-Trades in acoustic music. A compassionate teacher, compelling touring guitarist, natural songwriter, sought after producer, and gifted sound engineer. Stephen Mougin is the go-to guy for pretty much anything under the musical sun.
Mougin is most naturally a vocal teacher, having earned a degree in music education with a vocal focus from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Mougin teaches voice through workshops and lessons, with individual student lessons or in group form. He also teaches guitar and mandolin, and offers zeroed-in focus on each student’s work. “Bluegrass voice teaching is about knowing which rules you can break or bend to make it sound authentic,” he says. Mougin’s proven method starts with the fundamentals, and then he works with the student on developing their own style.
After finishing a five year program in four years at Amherst, Mougin taught music from grades 7-12, reviving the musical department at the school. Stephen had gotten a job from an educator who had watched him perform in high school. That fate happenstance leads to Mougin’s advice, “Always do your best, because you never know who is watching.”
Mougin has released instructional CDs through his label Dark Shadow Recording on baritone and tenor harmony vocals, with help from Russell Moore and Ronnie Bowman, and a comprehensive fiddler CD featuring Megan Lynch. “Of all the things I am, the thing I do best is teach. The results are tangible, and it’s where I have the most confidence,” Mougin says.
Taking a leap into the world of playing music professionally, Mougin moved from the East Coast to Nashville in 2002 to play mandolin with Valerie Smith, but soon switched to playing guitar. In 2006, Mougin began his role as Sam Bush’s main guitar man in the Sam Bush Band. “The music is wonderful, and the people are wonderful,” Mougin says. “Sam Bush has taught me a lot about band leadership and how things work.”
Playing with a supportive band leader made Mougin feel more empowered in his career, which lead him to pursue other creative outlets like Nedski and Mojo, his duo with banjo player Ned Luberecki.
Luberecki is a broadcaster for SiriusXM Bluegrass Junction, and plays banjo in Chris Jones and the Night Drivers. Nedski and Mojo tour together in the off-season and hold workshops on the road for banjo, vocal, duets and harmony. The pair was clearly meant to play together, as their artistic chemistry and genuine friendship shine through their music, leaving them a much sought-after duo.
Through playing professionally in Nashville in the early 2000s, Mougin was intrigued and encouraged to learn more about producing and sound engineering. In 2005, he launched Dark Shadow Recording, a studio out of his home, named from the title of a song he wrote called “Dark Shadows.” Now, the record label is booming with four acts to its name: The Rigneys, Nedski & Mojo, himself, and newly-signed Becky Buller.
“Stephen is an excellent producer with very musical ideas. He brings with him years of road experience with the Sam Bush Band and others, as well as a degree in vocal pedagogy. He's committed to keeping every session fun and stress free and he knows just the right mic to make my fiddle sound like dark chocolate mousse with sprinkles and cream on top. I love working with him!” said Becky Buller, artist.Dark Shadow Recording serves as a recording space, record label, production studio, and produces instructional recordings.
Mougin is also a songwriter. He has several songs to his name recorded by Bluegrass artists like The Infamous Stringdusters, Melanie Cannon, Fragment, The Bankesters, Terry Baucom, Cages Bend, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, The Rigneys, Missy Werner, Kristi Cox, and Nedski and Mojo.
Mougin is married to Jana Dolakova Mougin, a native of Slovokia, and singer and bass player of the European Bluegrass band, Fragment. Jana owns Blue Danube Bakery, out of Nashville. They have a son, Sammy, who is 4.
Stephen Mougin exemplifies a renaissance man for the music world. He is always seeking new ways to create, explore, grow, and develop, all for the sake of making music and helping others. For all his credits and accolades, you’d be surprised at his humble, friendly, trustworthy, and approachable demeanor.