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Delicate Steve Wants to Bring Joy to the World

We talk to the guitar maestro about his new LP 'This Is Steve,' plus watch the premiere of his video for "Winners."

If ever you're loitering around Williamsburg or Greenpoint in Brooklyn and you see a man in thigh revealing shorts, playing Exile on Main Street on speakerphone, jogging for joy, then that's probably Delicate Steve. Or Steve Marion as his mom knows him. The last time we heard from the Fredon, New Jersey-born guitar maestro in any official capacity was back in 2012 when he released his second record, Positive Force. What's he been up to since then? Touring Europe, opening for Tame Impala, touring with Cass McCombs, experimenting, playing with another band called Saint Rich.

"You know I stayed busy," says Steve. "One time Paul Simon called me up and said play guitar on this song. Did that." Casual. But not that surprising. Steve truly excels when wailing on his axe, no vocals necessary.

Like his first two albums, his long-awaited third, This Is Steve, is entirely instrumental, not that he would describe his songs as purely instrumental, it's not background music: Steve is an experimental pop songwriter, and the tunes on this record are rangy, loose-limbed, and strange; his influences as diverse as J.J. Cale, ZZ Top, and the aforementioned Rolling Stones. He's a rarity, with great hair, and a tattoo of Zappa's mustache on the back of his left arm.

Below is the premiere of his video for "Winners," a song Steve describes as a little Ween, a little Elton John, a little Gerry Rafferty (wassup "Baker Street"!). In it he takes to the boardwalk at Wildwood in South Jersey. He got his buddy Bob Burton to shoot the whole shabang on a segway. Pretty slick. Watch the video below, plus we catch up with Steve to find out about freestyling his new LP, his thighs, his tattoos, and the importance of joy.

Noisey: It's pretty extraordinary that you went into the studio and just wrote and recorded this LP on the spot in 11 days.
Delicate Steve: I had sketches of a lot of songs, and I had a whole album that I scrapped. I wanted to make this other record that was going to be Thriller part II—just like hit after hit. I wanted people like David Byrne, Win Butler, and all these people. I had so many ideas, and then I just said I'm gonna not use any of those, and I'm gonna go into the studio and just make an album. I went back to this band, which happens to be instrumental because I can't sing, and just made a record that's solid wordless music.

Pretty unusual in this day and age. You're a weird anomaly.
Yeah. But I don't think this is an instrumental band. It's pop, but there just isn't any singing. And it's about songwriting. I think a lot of artists that have lyrics don't necessarily focus a lot on songwriting. Songwriting is the thing that's an anomaly in some ways to me nowadays—people don't focus on songwriting enough. Songs. Save the songs!

What does it sound like when you sing?
Um, I don't know. I don't, I'm not good enough to sing. I have high standards. Delicate Steve's cool because in some way without having lyrics it's more egoless—in a way you're hearing a person through the music but not through what they're saying. You're not focusing on the words so in that way maybe it has a little more of a universal appeal. Which I think is the one plus side to not singing.

Given that the record has no lyrics, is it possible for the album to have themes?
This record has a theme to me: I'm trying to showcase me. I really want to make art that when you check it out, you feel like you're getting to know me, and then also because you feel that you know me, you can appreciate the art in maybe a bigger way. I think there's a trend now to be a little more vague or impressionistic or mysterious. This is Steve, that's my name and all of these songs. It's like Meet the Beatles, or Harry Belafonte Sings, or the Miriam Makeba - The Voice of Africa, where it's an introduction to like a person or a group. And, you know on those old records by Nina Simone where they would cover different songs from around the world, and you would feel like you got to know them by how broad the scope of the music was.  So this, this record, although it's instrumental, has a bunch of different genres within the album. So that's the theme: I'm kind of exploring different musical ideas. And hopefully, because you listen to all of those, you get to have a bigger, better picture of Delicate Steve.

So, the previous two records were not Steve?
The previous two records were more worlds, it wasn't as focused on getting to know Delicate Steve, whatever Delicate Steve is. It was more of these worlds that existed and were self-contained.

Delicate Steve shot by Guy Eppel

Delicate Steve shot by Guy Eppel

Interesting. I really love the cover.
Going big. So you're getting an unfettered Steve on the cover.

Your thighs are so powerful that they had to be showcased somehow on the cover.
Wait until you see those thighs, people.

It's not even a proper squat, you 're actually just hovering. Like extreme thigh strength. Maybe I'll teach people how to do the Steve pose. If you guys come to a concert, and you want to learn how to do the Steve squat, talk to me after the show.

So, you have songs called "Swimming" and "Driving," but not running. But you love to run.
I do. I love to run. I don't actually like to swim, swimming is hard as an exercise. But I love to swim in the ocean for fun. 

I like that your guitar sometimes sounds like a kazoo, like on the album opener "Animals."
Cool! That's high praise. I am deeply honored. I dance that song out. When I play the album for friends I interpretive dance the whole song. The guitar on the first track is a little chickeny. A kazoo, a chicken, anything, but a guitar I'm honored to sound like.

What is the most delicate thing about you?
My, I don't know. Couldn't say. Pass.

What is the longest distance you've run?
I think maybe 15, 16 miles. I did a couple half marathons and then I think that one other time I ran further than that. That, I do know.

Is the Zappa tat your only one?
I have another small tattoo on my right foot. It's a small black dot. It symbolizes something. The girl that gave me the tattoo—her bandmate was on FaceTime with her right before I got the tattoo, and he's the leader of the band, and he was asking her for advice because another band member had a problem with him. It was like the other band member thinks this person is a dick, but meanwhile he's compassionately trying to get advice and figure out how to navigate the situation. And I could see his nostrils like very up close, because he was holding the FaceTime so close to his nose. So I said I'm gonna get his right nostril on my toe. And I did.

That's beautiful. Which song is about me then?
Oh, the odd numbered ones.

That's a lot of songs to write about me. I feel so happy.
I know. Hey, you're welcome. 

What is your biggest non-musical influence?
Joyfulness.

Where do you get your joy from?
That's a good question. Friends, and living, and exercising, and relationships, and experiences. That's what inspires me the most to pick up a guitar. When I get depressed or sad about something that doesn't necessarily make me want to create. I'm inspired to create when I feel that feeling of just joy.

That's so nice, Steve!
I know, it's pretty cool.

So what do you do when you're sad?
Hang out, drink. Go see a show. Try to get inspired.

Mostly musicians are most productive they're feeing deeply dark.
I mean that would probably be helpful, in those times. But my brain doesn't turn on in those moments. I wanna add something into the world.

Delicate Steve Tour Dates 

2/3 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
2/4 Boston, MA @ Middle East (Upstairs)
2/5 Burlington, VT @ ArtsRiot
2/6 Montreal, QC @ Vitrola
2/7 Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground
2/8 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
2/9 Detroit, MI @ El Club
2/10 Buffalo, NY @ Nietzche's
2/11 Hudson, NY@ The Half Moon
 
3/9 Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts Black Box
3/10 Baltimore, MD @ The Metro Gallery
3/11 Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle
3/12 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
3/13 Nashville, TN @ The High Watt
3/14 New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
3/15-18 Austin, TX @ SXSW
3/20 Albuquerque, NM @ Sister Bar
3/23 Boise, ID @ Treefort Festival
3/24 Boise, ID @ Treefort Festival
3/25 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
3/28 Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
3/30 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
4/1 Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom
4/4 Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse
4/6 Denver, CO @ Moe's
4/7 Omaha, NE @ Reverb Lounge
4/8 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
4/9 Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
4/10 Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe

This Is Steve is out on ANTI- on January 27.