Delicate Steve -- it’s a great band name (actually, kinda brilliant), but it’s also fitting. Steve Marion’s music is delicate, and that’s saying something, considering it’s mostly driven by layers of clean and distorted guitars, overdubbed onto tribal grooves and occasionally surrounded by wordless vocal harmonies.
“At the time of making the first record, there was no infrastructure surrounding what Delicate Steve has become,” Marion said by phone from his home in Fredon, N.J. “I made it all in one month and self-released it. It was totally different than anything I had done before that.”
The recording also came at a transitional moment in Marion’s life. “I had some health problems and heart problems,” he said. “I was an athlete, and I couldn’t do that anymore. I was in the hospital -- this was all before Delicate Steve.” Marion said emerged feeling clear-headed, conscious and present; a couple of months later, he began recording Wondervisions, riding a new wave of creativity.
“I felt connected to this inspiration I had never felt before,” he said. “I felt that when I was recording it, never before and never after. I was daydreaming about handing this record to all these people I really liked, but I was more excited about finishing it.”
After the album was released, Delicate Steve became the subject of an industry-wide re-examination of the nature of press releases and journalism, after writer Chuck Klosterman agreed to write a band press release -- without ever hearing the album. (An excerpt: “Like a hydro-electric Mothra rising from the ashes of an African village burned to the ground by post-rock minotaurs, the music of Delicate Steve will literally make you the happiest person who has never lived.) It was a clever stunt, and it landed Delicate Steve some press from NPR and other prominent media sources.
But the album was good enough on its own to merit the critical attention, channeling Stevie Wonder/Michael Jackson-era Motown (the album’s called Wondervisions, after all, and the cover mirrors the front of Wonder’s 1973 album Innervisions), King Sunny Ade and Uncle Meat-era Frank Zappa. While guitar solos and virtuosity almost always sound out of place -- or outdated, let’s say -- in contemporary music, Marion manages to re-introduce his instrument, to somehow make it indie-rock appropriate.
“I just always grew up playing the guitar to whatever I was playing in the room, trying to mimic the vocal style,” Marion said. “I was really impressed by Michael Jackson’s tight, speedy vocal attack. I guess that’s the perspective I’m coming from. Instead of just trying to solo on the guitar, I’m trying to emulate non-guitar sounds on the guitar.”
Early on, through playing in bands and meeting other musicians, Marion became interested in recording, and soon he was known as a “guitar player/producer-arranger guy.” “For me personally,” Marion said, “I’ve always been, even before Delicate Steve, the guitar player in the high school band, the band around town. That was my instrument... I was in a kind of progressive rock band in high school -- improvising, developing my sound through that. I always thought I was the least competent part of the group.” For a person who spends so much time playing guitar, Marion isn’t a typical guitar collector/nut. In fact, he still plays the first guitar he ever received from his parents. “My first electric guitar was a Fender Strat, and as a teenager getting into alternative music I was getting more into different instruments,” Marion says. “Then, I remember buying a metal-style guitar. Now I’m back to playing the first ever guitar again, that first Strat.”
For the new Delicate Steve record, Positive Force, which will be released on July 10, Marion said he tried to stay from territory he already visited on Wondervisions. The first single, “Afria Talks To You,” layers bottleneck guitar and ’80s synth pads over a slow-jam beat. “I didn’t just want to make a record with all these whammy sounds,” Marion said. “I was trying to avoid certain sounds that I had used on the first... This one is just me again. A couple of the guys who are my friends came over and we all sang on some stuff together. But it was just me, and it was recorded and composed in between this past year of being on tour.”
Marion’s currently touring with tUnE-yArDs; the pair performs at the Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton on June 14. After that, he’ll tour with Yeasayer for the rest of June.
“It’s been incredible,” Marion said. “They are all my favorite and most inspiring musicians. It’s a trip to be on the same bill, to watch these people I love every night, just constantly feeling like being grateful for what’s happened to me.”
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