Feature: Delicate Steve
December 8, 2014
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“They saw the Positive Force record in a record store, picked it up and--without knowing what it was--bought it on a whim," Steve Marion explains from the belly of Oakland's Fox Theater. "They ended up getting into it and becoming fans. And then asked us to come out on tour." The "they" is Australia's Tame Impala, arguably one of the world's most popular new rock bands whose live show Pitchfork founder Ryan Schreiber called the "best fucking live show" of his life. As the soundcheck of "Be Above It" pours down the 86 year old halls of Fox Theater, Steve continues. "I talked to them a bunch about it. They’re really into picking who they want to open for them. And they wanted us." The "us" is Steve's music project Delicate Steve. With 2011's Wondervisions album and 2012's Positive Force, Delicate Steve have enjoyed several national tours and collected new fans along the way. However, this tour offers a new opportunity as they open for thousands of people each night. "We try to get as ready as we can for each tour, no matter what it is. You’re just trying to make the songs sound as good as possible. Headlining tours are always really fun because if there’s ten people in the room, they’re all there to see you. It’s a cool energy to have. We did a headlining show in LA at the Satellite, two days after playing with Tame Impala two days after playing the Shrine. The Shrine show was 6,000 people. The Satellite show was just about 200. And it just felt so good to have 200 people come. It’s a good energy. But I like both." Steve smiles and adds, “it’s been really fun. It’s been the best. Including the catering," then takes a bite of his pre-show prime rib.
In an era of blog bait, hype spirals and internet fame, Steve's path to our conversation is extremely refreshing. Rewinding the tape, Steve is from Fredon, NJ, a small town about 60 miles west of NYC. Quick Google searches will often link Delicate Steve to acclaimed NYC acts like Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer, Mac DeMarco, Ra Ra Riot and more. That was no accident. "I was trying actively to get close to them because they were my musical heroes at the time. I was trying to be friends with them. I would give them all records if I saw them at a show or someone else’s show," Steve reflects. "I thought they would actually like it. And that would be the biggest satisfaction for me, to give them this piece of art that I made that they directly inspired....and to have them enjoy it. It’s the way to say 'Thank you! I don't think you’re ever going to listen to it. But I hope you like it. You inspired it. So THANK YOU!'" Fortunately for Steve, they did listen to it. "They were feelin' it for sure. I don’t really know what to say. I daydreamed about them listening to the music and us being friends…and then it actually happened. So that was crazy.” Perhaps the most interesting portion of Delicate Steve's tale is that these "musical heroes" would not only befriend Steve, they would quite literally come to influence the music they inspired. "One time I drove by myself from New Jersey to Baltimore and gave Dustin Wong [Ponytail] a record. Because Ponytail was a huge life-changing band for me. Eventually, Dustin and I made a song called “Flying High” together. Now the song I gave to him was not finished at the time, but I didn’t know that yet. He gave me the lead melody. Adding that lead melody, which came from Dustin telling me to go there, once I made that melody on top of the music, that was a formative thing. I realized 'this is what Delicate Steve is'. I really respect that he could’ve just said 'this sounds good.' But he chose to use his power of influence to push me. It was totally circular." The Dirty Projectors Dave Longstreth would also play a formative role for Delicate Steve. "Dave gave me inspiration, for example, to mix Positive Force myself. After mixing with someone else and not being totally happy with it, he’s said 'you gotta realize that everyone is an engineer when it comes down to it. Just because someone says they are and you’re not…you might not know all the technical details, but you’re just as qualified to make a statement.' He gave me the courage to do what." And so, those who inspired Delicate Steve shaped, contributed to and helped release Steve's new music.
“I just saw the words LIFE BALANCE. I like that,” Steve says as he points to my notes. Spend a few minutes around Steve and you'll realize those two words most definitely ring a bell. When I first met Delicate Steve at the inaugural Treefort Fest in 2012, the band raved about their Grand Canyon hikes during tour. I've heard Steve is no stranger to hundred mile bike rides (his steed is "an old steel frame road bike. But I don't know what kind.") And he's a runner. “I definitely been running a whole lot this year. You gotta do it.” This upbeat energy and forward motion most assuredly spills over into Delicate Steve's jams. Album titles like Positive Force and Wondervisions become even more fitting. Personally, I find it impressive he's able to balance those passions with the music pursuits. Especially so when you consider the rigors of constant touring and recording for young bands. “When it’s on, it’s on. But I'm always trying to lead a balanced lifestyle. That’s interesting to me. I try to do that no matter what’s going on." Steve is notified it's go-time. Upstairs, during the show, Delicate Steve will modestly take the stage and immediately jump into their groove. It's a stark contrast between Tame Impala entering to an electronic remix of The Lion King theme and strobe lights, blowing kisses and bowing to a screaming, adoring sold out crowd. Yet it reminds me of Tame Impala's own Kevin Parker sheepishly, shyly entering the stage at Outside Lands just two years ago, before Lonerism dropped. As Steve tells me there's new material on the way, I can’t help to wonder where we will find Delicate Steve Marion in the near future.