It soars, shivers, and slides. It squeaks around the edges, wraps around you head, and winds itself up into you ears. Unrestrained in its innocence, it's joyous and intimate. So much so that it can surprise you at first. Steve Marion's guitar whispers and howls at the same time.
Marion's psychedelic, surfy, afrobeat-infused instrumental project Delicate Steve rose from his New Jersey bedroom to stages shared with acts like The Dirty Projectors and Sigur Ros. Wondervisions, Delicate Steve's first LP, was recorded and mixed entirely by Marion. The album garnered significant attention upon release, and its accompanying fake band bio surrounded the group with a hyped-up haze of public speculation and fascination. Critics drooled over the description of Delicate Steve as "a hydro-electric Mothra rising from the ashes of an African village burned to the ground by post-rock minotaurs." The right words, regardless of their truthiness, can work wonders for any new band, but particularly so for a band sans lyrics. Delicate Steve released their sophomore LP Positive Force to more critical acclaim around the time of their raucous Eclectic show two years ago. Since then, the band has hit the studio to work on a new album that Marion describes as a collaboration filled-project that will "blow everyone's minds."
After Delicate Steve sound-checked with some Zeppelin noodlings and their giddy tune Wally Wilder, I sat down with Marion in the Buddhist House library. He's soft-spoken with a laid-back and vigorous air. Marion's muscled lank and tousled mop of hair gives him the appearance of a guy who climbs mountains to howl at the top.
You describe yourself as an "Athlete Musician." How do these two identities mesh for you?
It tells you kinda what clothes to wear, you know. You can wear sneakers when you play music, and you can wear jeans when you play baseball.
How does the music of Delicate Steve come about? How much of it is you and how much is the collaborative work of the band?
The first record was mostly me in my room. Christian, [who sings and plays guitar and keys in Delicate Steve,] and I wrote two songs together. The second record was another thing that I just did. And the third that we're working on we all spent about a month recording in Massachusetts, during the time of that last show [at Wesleyan]. That was more of a collaboration that started the new record. And then I've been working on it since and some other people have been working on it, so it's definitely more opened up to collaborations of all kinds.
Can you tell us anything more about Delicate Steve's new album?
It's gonna blow everyone's minds.
What tunes have you been listening to recently?
The new Glass Ghosts record. It's incredible. They're all really incredible. Mike, the drummer, played with the Dirty Projectors the past year. Great band.
[A BuHo resident walks into the library where Delicate Steve is hanging out...]
-- Yo what's good. What's your name man?
-- Oh, you're the... the delicate one.
-- Just one of 'em.
[Bong-hospitality is offered and we continue the interview.]
You've collaborated with a range of musicians live or in the studio. What collaborations have stuck out to you the most and why?
I'm trying to think of the ones that were the most challenging...The first one was Dustin Wong, we made the last song on Wondervisions together, Flying High. That was cool because he was a big hero of mine and we traded recordings over email, and then I thought I had finished something that he would've really liked and he kind of told me that "I think you can take it further," and I was like "woah," I really respect this guy for choosing to influence somebody who really likes him. That was a cool moment. There's been a lot.
You've mentioned that when you were recording your first album you were listening to a lot of the Dirty Projectors, and then you went on tour with them last year. What's it like to be playing alongside artists you've looked up to so much?
It's special to be able to be friends with a lot of people that you... you've been affected by their music. Then you get to the point where you forget that they've changed your life in a way, because after a while you have to kind of drop that. You can't be star-struck all the time, you've gotta just rip. You start to just interact as normal people, then you treat them as normal people. So that was what that tour was kinda like. We'd all been friends for a while, and then getting to see them play was like, oh yea, this is why I know these people and this is why these people changed my life. I got to play guitar with them on one night, which was cool. I dont know how many other people have jammed on stage with them, aside from Bjork and David Burns. That was really fun.
[We talk about the size of our feet for a while. We both have quite large feet.]
Since your songs are instrumental, when and how do you know what the title of a song will be? Do you feel it in the riff that gives birth to the song or in the final product?
At the end of the day, it's all just about trying to give you a feeling. So, not every song with lyrics is composed of the main thing of the chorus, that's not always the song title. So even song titles with words might be from the first line of the song or might not even be in the song, so it's the same way. I think of it in terms of feelings. There's one song, The Ballad of Speck and Pebble, I was like, this feels like it tells a story in some type of way. But... I don't feel like I've written a lot songs that are like, story-telling songs. So it's more like, you give them this name, you give them this artist's name, you give them this album cover, and this is the music from the song and hopefully it all hits you in a way that makes you feel a certain way.
Your guitar has an incredibly distinctive flavor. What advice would you give to musicians trying to find a unique sound for themselves?
It's probably not what you're good at. If you start feeling like 'this is my thing, this is what I'm good at,' I think that limits you more than if you take challenges and go and just make conscious decisions to steer away into unknown territory. And I think that's how you find something. This Delicate Steve thing wasn't the thing I was born with, and this is my style. It happened four years ago or so when I made all these conscious choices to go in this direction. So before that I considered myself a whole different musical being. And I thought I had an identity with that but I don't think I really found it until this project, and it came about, for this one, by trying to implement a lot of things that I thought were cheesy, and I questioned why I thought these things were cheesy, or how could i do them in a way in which the listener has to decide whether or not they think it's funny or they're deeply moved by it. So that was the intention behind that. Even just guitar pedals, pulling old guitar pedals off the shelf I didn't use for seven years before that because I thought, 'that's not a cool pedal.' I think you should always, in a way, second guess what you're doing, because then you get the guitar player or musician that feels like they really know what they're doing, and maybe they don't. It's fun to just work in those ways. Pick up and just do something that you think is stupid.