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Interview: Steve Marion (Delicate Steve) discusses his many musical projects and working with Paul Simon

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Delicate Steve plays the Mill on March 31 as part of the Mission Creek Festival. — photo by Jeremy Conant via Flickr Creative Commons

Amen Dunes w. Delicate Steve, Black Bull Nova

The Mill — Tuesday, March 31 at 9 p.m.

In one of the first memories I have of Steve Marion, I nearly take his head off with my bedroom door. It’s 2011 and his band, Delicate Steve, is on their first U.S. tour, supporting Akron/Family. It had been a late night, but Marion isn’t sleeping in like the rest of his band; instead I find him in the middle of some complex inverted yoga pose in the only space available in my cramped college apartment.

Marion’s yoga habits are perhaps analogous to his musical career: He fits as much in as he can. It’s been three years since the last proper Delicate Steve record, but in that time there’s hardly been a dull moment. He recorded an album and toured extensively with his other band, Saint Rich, and also had countless collaborations with other artists including Yeasayer and Paul Simon.

For a short period of time after the band formed, the only information available about Delicate Steve was from a hilarious, but totally bogus press release. It later came to light that Marion’s label (David Byrne’s Luaka Bop) hired essayist Chuck Klosterman to write up the bio, having never met the band nor heard their music. Marion has said that the silly PR stunt, “served its purpose”, and while Klosterman’s words are entertaining, the real story of Delicate Steve is equally as exciting.

Little Village: You’re in two very active bands. There’s pretty heavy touring with both Saint Rich and Delicate Steve. Is there ever any conflict? How do you guys split up your time on the road and how do you decide what you’re going to work on?

Steve Marion: I would say both bands are active in spurts. I’ve been super active with a lot of other musical projects, so it’s almost as if Delicate Steve and Saint Rich are now two of the many things I’m a part of. When I’m home, I’m involved in a lot of different projects. I think the touring we’ve been doing with both bands over the past year has been strategic so that we’re not out on the road for longer than we need to be.

Can you tell me about any of the other projects you’re working on?

I’ve been producing music and recording bands in New Jersey for over 10 years now. That’s how I met everyone in Delicate Steve. When I moved to New York, which was official as of this January (although I had been living there for pretty much the past year before), I kind of had the itch to get into that again — producing and getting into co-writing.

I started a band with a friend of mine. It’s this cool punk group that we’re still working on. We’ve played a couple shows in town. I started another thing with a friend that’s really more pop stuff and it’s just the two of us. It’s kind of a Neptunes-y style thing where we’re just making pop songs.

I co-wrote a song with a friend’s band called Wet and their album is coming out soon. I also did a song with my friend Cassandra Jenkins. We covered “Wild World” by Cat Stevens for some promo for a TV show. Only 10 seconds of it got used but all these people on the internet have been like “who did this song?” so we put that out on Bandcamp. It’s been cool. Everyday is a new thing. I’ve just been really busy.

You recently dropped a live album on Bandcamp. How did you decide that a live album was a thing you wanted to put out? You don’t often see bands do that these days.

I think the idea of a live band is dying out in a way. It’s not something that’s as important as it once was — to still be a successful artist that tours and puts on shows. We have a lot of pride in the group and what it means to be a really powerful live band. That’s something we try to do and work on, and over four to five years we’ve gotten the band to a certain point. It feels good to have a little document of where the band’s currently at sonically.

It’s been three years since your last studio release, Positive Force came out. Any plans for another studio album?

Yes. I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to materialize and unfold. There’s a lot of different stuff in the works. Some of it includes new music that’s been worked on with the band in the studio, but it’s still a bit too early to say what’s going to happen to it at this point. We’re keeping it a little bit secret at the moment, but the short answer is yes: There will be new music. We’re actually playing a new song live on tour – something in the meantime that we can do with this current formation with the live band.

You like to let your influences be known. Your album Wondervisions is a nod to Stevie Wonder; the song “Afria Talks to You” is a curious misspelling of a Sly Stone song; and “Wally Wilder” is an homage to friend/collaborator Anand Wilder (Yeasayer). In the new record — if you can say — what should we look out for?

That’s a great question. I really like that question. I’ll preface this by saying that the music I’m talking about might not be “the new record” per se, but it might come out in different ways. In November 2012 we had just come off of a really intense four-to-five week tour all around the country. The day we got home, we went to our drummer’s family’s house up in the Berkshire region of Western Massachusetts.

We brought all of the recording gear up there and started recording music. I had gotten sick of playing guitar and really got into learning a lot of songs on the piano. I became re-obsessed with The Beatles which always comes up every couple years, so I learned all of these beatles songs on the piano.

I sort of knew the chords, but I didn’t have the inversions anywhere near accurate. It was really eye opening just to see what made these songs great. A lot of the songs we were working on were influenced by Beatles chords, Beatles inversions and me not wanting to put a lead guitar on any of the songs…

Whoa…

…Yeah this collection of songs are so different. That’s why it’s taking a long time to figure out what it’s meant to be. I wanted to have people singing on all of the songs and no high pitched lead guitar. Delicate Steve started as a total curveball to anything I had previously done up until that point.

It had such a distinct sound, and it became creatively stifling to keep making music in such a narrow focused project. I’m finding it easier to balance that now that I’m making more music outside of Delicate Steve and with other projects. Back then Delicate Steve was my only thing, so I was like, “There’s no way I want another guitar record, I want it to be something else.”

Since starting to work on that record I’ve gotten so many opportunities to do all these other types of music that now it’s more inspiring me to want to make another instrumental record. It’s this weird phase I’m in right now. I’m waiting for the dust to settle so I can see what this record that we’ve been working on is supposed to be.

There’s one last thing that I have to ask about, and maybe you know what I’m going to say…

I think I do…

What can you say about that photo I’ve been seeing with you in the studio with Paul Simon?

I thought you’d never ask. I have a lot to say about it, but in short, I’m playing guitar on one of his new songs that he’s working on for his upcoming record. That was from the day I got to go up there and play some slide. We worked together on that and it was awesome, as you’d imagine. That’s just the short side of the story. It was…it was um…very very cool.

Sounds like things are going really well.

Yeah it’s been good. We’re excited to be at the festival. We’ll come after lots of driving, so we’re excited to just be on the ground and be in the scene. Maybe we can get a bike ride in or something.


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