Music » Features

Instrumentalist Delicate Steve is the king of the eminently hummable — and he doesn't even use lyrics

Vibe Is the Thing



Steve Marion — singer-guitarist and previously the sole songwriting and recording entity behind Delicate Steve — is on the phone with the Scene, and our brains are about to explode.

"We had a break in between January and March touring," says Marion, "and we all got together in our drummer's parents' school house in Western Massachusetts and started to work on songs."

It is one thing to find out that a favorite act is working on a new record — it's an entirely different thing to find out that Delicate Steve is making a new record. And not "Delicate Steve" the bedroom recording studio wiz who created Positive Force (one of the most lyrical and beautiful instrumental records of 2012), but Delicate Steve the ensemble. For all of the wonder of Positive Force, the songs truly reach their zeniths when the band members get their hands on them in a live context. So the idea that this band will be getting in on the ground floor of the next batch of songs is ... well, it's really good news.

"It's kind of like the ending of this whole chapter, and the beginning of a new chapter," says Marion.

The chapter that is coming to a close was a mighty fine one. Since the 2011 release of Wondervisions on David Byrne's legendary Luaka Bop label, Marion has toured the world — in fact, the Scene caught up with him at the tail-end of his first extended break in ages — and become a critical darling. He's gone from making avant-world grooves in his bedroom to being a widely respected songwriter and instrumentalist — so much so that Michael Azerrad, the vaunted author of such must-own indie tomes as Our Band Could Be Your Life, wrote his band bio. But more than anything, this chapter has seen Marion's song craft grow and evolve, taking on greater complexity; his guitar playing has become more fluid, with live performances growing more electrifying with each swing through town. The next record may still be in the gestational state — it's barely a zygote at this point — but the possibilities are intoxicating.

"It's something we're kind of sketching this summer," Marion adds. "I'm back home, back in my room where I made both of these [prior] records. ... I think it's in the best interest of the album if I can find the right space, where I can bring everything and work it out. It feels like the bedroom is done, that I'm beyond the point of waking up and getting to work in my room. I'm wanting to get out of my room to work."

This restlessness — the need to change the process — has always been a part of Delicate Steve's sound. There is a wandering spirit at the heart of Wondervisions, in the soul of Positive Force, that leads the listeners in new directions, and makes the progressive pop tones seem otherworldly even if they are rooted very much in our contemporary, globalist reality. Delicate Steve's music touches the four corners of the world, drawing from traditions as far-flung as San Francisco prog-rock and Ghanaian highlife, earning the world-music tag by creating a world unto itself. That Marion seeks to expand his world, move beyond the bedroom and into bigger rooms, is as natural a move as one could hope for — another step in journey that shows no signs of ending. Marion is moving beyond his noted guitar-driven sound — the schoolhouse experiments were more piano- and keyboard-focused, and the strictly instrumental songwriting is giving way to more vocals.

While Marion never implies that he's seeking greater commercial appeal — in all our conversations with him over the years, he's never struck us as the kind of guy who cares about that sort of thing — it's hard not to imagine it happening. The man is a master of melody, a musician who creates the kind of eminently hummable, Paul Simon-worthy earworms that stay lodged in your noggin for days — and that's without lyrics.

"Vibe I think is the thing," says Marion. "It doesn't matter where it's made as long as it's got something you can feel and pull from."



Add a comment