Steve Marion isn’t delicate. Wiry, would be a better word maybe, but the name fits once you’ve heard the overwhelming tenderness and wide-eyed joy that comes through in the music Marion makes under the name Delicate Steve. Today, Marion is releasing his third full-length album, entitled properly and earnestly, This Is Steve, and though it’s not his debut, it is his first release for Anti Records, a step up in scale at least, from his earlier records on David Byrne’s world-music-centric Luaka Bop label. Though he’s a Jersey native, Marion has incorporated African rhythms into his instrumental compositions, which are tempered with along with kind of the fuzzed-out, twisted melodies invoked by bands like Dirty Projectors and Deerhoof, who he cites as inspirations.
Today Uproxx is premiering the video for a “Tomorrow,” a song that comes right about halfway through This Is Steve. Though it’s completely instrumental — like the rest of his oeuvre so far — “Tomorrow” sticks in your head with a melody so catchy it truly sounds like a guitar in love singing directly to you, flirting with the object of its affections. Yes, I’m pretending a guitar has a crush on me — because that’s what it sounds like. Speaking on the clip, Steve had this to say: “Tomorrow is the future. It represents dreams and ambitions and unrealized potential and procrastination and distraction. We are all going to get there some day. And then, what?”
In the clip, an enterprising young man rides a segway all over the US, starting in San Francisco and traveling through Las Vegas and gorgeous landscape of Nevada, periodically stopping to eat ice cream cones, until he finally rides off into the horizon over the sea, floating above the waves. This isn’t the end though, the video promises his story will be continued, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Watch it below.
When Delicate Steve first emerged back in 2010, Luaka Bop records president Yale Evelev heard Marion’s music and knew it was something special. So he pulled a stunt to get the guy talked about, and asked Chuck Klosterman to pen an over-the-top, outrageous fake bio to introduce Delicate Steve to the world. Of course, music writers love nothing more than that kind of kerfuffle, and while it did help get Steve attention, his music is what has really captivated audiences across the last seven years.
Starting with Wondervisions in 2011 and Positive Force in 2012, Steve took his time for his third release, which comes a full five years after his last. Fittingly, This Is Steve is his most expansive record to date, spanning different moods and themes on almost every single track, while still evoking an overwhelming sense of childlike wonder and unabashed excitement. There is no standoffishness to be found anywhere near a Delicate Steve record. Stream This Is Steve — which is out today — below, and in the meantime check out the conversation Steve and I had a conversation about working without words, collaborating with Paul Simon, and how he hopes Wes Anderson will finally realize his movies need a Delicate Steve soundtrack.
You produced and played every sound that’s on the record — that’s pretty rare. Can you talk about why you wanted to do that? How does writing a song work for you, when you know all the parts are coming from you?
It’s natural for me at this point in my life. I’ve been alive for almost 30 years, and have only been in one really, really sick band when I was a teenager. Other than that it’s been projects, collaborations, and learning how to make music by myself. Being a fan of all sides of the music-making process — writing, performing, recording, producing, mixing — it can be very fun to make a record by yourself. I know what is required of me to create an album. I mean that on a practical level, I know how to set a goal to create an album and follow through with that goal. That can be the hardest part.
I’ve got respect for Kevin Parker. On the last Tame Impala record, what impressed me the most was that he mixed it too. I had to reach out to him and say ‘Respect’ for that, because that’s one of the hardest parts for me, is mixing. You’re trying to get this thing right that you were really excited about initially, but you’ve heard it so many times by that point. Mixing this last record was pretty easy and fun for me though, comparatively.
Your style is significantly different from the direction rock is going in now, when did you first start feeling out what you wanted to be musically? What were your major influences or formative experiences as a young musician?
Where is rock music going right now? I’m not really sure. The music I grew up listening to is still what inspires me. That’s not to say I’m not inspired by what’s going on today as well. But my core dudes, the music I grew up on was a lot of soul music and rock music and pop music –Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Alice Coltrane.
Delicate Steve started out of necessity though because Nat Baldwin from the Dirty Projectors asked me if I had a band after one of their shows. I didn’t and I just wanted to give him something, give him music that he inspired me to make. So [literally] the next day I started recording what would become the first Delicate Steve album. The bands that influenced me the most at that point in my life were all new bands — Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, Ponytail, Deerhoof.
I think the “Cartoon Rock” video really set the tone for the album, a carefree and tongue-in-cheek energy that is pretty rare to find these days. Can you talk about the concept/that song as indicative of the rest of the album?
It’s hard to say. For me, Cartoon Rock is only a part of the record, that was my mood on that day, it could’ve been a Tuesday. But say Wednesday I wrote the song “Tomorrow” which is a whole different mood. To me each song on the record is coming from a different place.
I saw that you worked with Paul Simon recently, can you tell me about that experience? How did you guys get connected?
I could tell the full story but it would take up the whole article. It goes back as far as my parents seeing him on the Graceland tour before I was even born. We connected through his son Adrian, who is a friend of mine. We have a good rapport. There were jokes that day, you had to be there. He’s a funny man, I’m a funny man.
This Is Steve is not your first record, but it is your first with the more higher-profile label Anti. how do you explain your sound and aesthetic to people who are just getting to know your work?
If you play rugby you might like Delicate Steve. If you have a cousin you might like Delicate Steve. If you like this or you like that, you might also like Delicate Steve. To me Delicate Steve is more elusive than a simple summary or explanation of the ‘kind’ of music it is. That’s not to say somebody else can’t call it “instrumental rock music,” but to me it’s more than that. You always hear people saying things like “I only like blues rock” or “I like all styles of music but rap and country” but you never hear that kind of separation about parts of a house. Like “I only like basements” or “I like bathrooms and kitchens but not dining rooms.” Why is it that so many people want to separate music into these styles and talk about them with blanket statements?
I love how you say that these are instrumentals that everyone will sing along with, what do you think gives them that element? Why do you think our culture has such a hard time with music that doesn’t have lyrics?
I think most instrumental music isn’t very exciting. It isn’t very pop. Maybe it’s even boring or pretentious. Singers are the best. My heroes are Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and Nina Simone and Michael Jackson, so that’s where I’m coming from. I’m not on a crusade to make the guitar cool. Maybe I’m doing so in the process but it’s because I’m not thinking about it like a guitar player.
Why have you decided to go without lyrics for most of your artistic career? Would you ever add them in and why/why not?
There was no definitive moment where I said I wasn’t going to have lyrics. I’ve dabbled over the years. I’m just not as good as I want to be and I haven’t pursued songwriting with lyrics like I’ve pursued the guitar. It’s like, I’ve never decided that I’m not going to be a skateboarder either. I never made a hard decision to not ever skateboard. But when I was a teenager I tried a few times and it was hard and so I haven’t gotten back on one yet. But maybe tomorrow.
I know this isn’t from your new record, but I have to say that “Positive Force” the title track off your second album is a song that has gotten me through so so many negative times in my own life. could you talk a little bit about the story behind writing that one?
That song went through many different points of view while creating (simultaneously writing and recording) it. It started off as a much stronger, muscular, more powerful version of the song. Slowly I think I started to feel the one-dimensionality of calling the song “Positive Force” and having it sound like Superman and started to strip those elements away. I think the version on the album feels like it’s coming from the place of the underdog. The little man.
There is such a theme of positivity, and joy even, running throughout your music. Is that intentional and where does that come from?
Me! And my influences, and my friends and my daily life. In the times of darkness and depression for me I am not very creative or inspired. I’m normally creating because I have an excess of energy, so that’s where most of the music comes from.
Let’s touch on the fake bio fiasco briefly — would you do it again? Does it bother you or do you enjoy the chaos it caused?
I’m all for transcending. If a fantastical bio gets you to think differently about the music in a way that enhances the music or the vision, then why not? I was ahead of the game. Look at our president now. At least my bio never harmed anyone.
In your ideal world, what happens with your career after this album?
Wilco found Nels just like The Stones found Mick and Modest Mouse found Johnny Marr. I look forward to the day where I get to join one of my favorite bands. Touring the world on a bigger stage, while being able to continue creating with Delicate Steve. Producing records in between all of that. Wes Anderson will start calling me up once he realizes my songs would be good in his films.