For a guy who didn’t necessarily start out thinking he would be a multi-album musician, Steve Marion (known by most as Delicate Steve) is surprisingly adept. His sophomore album, Positive Force, received ample recognition before its release, and that’s surely just the beginning of the hype. With a peppy electronic base and nostalgic slide-guitars, this record gives the album’s title merit.
Marion took my call while riding his bike in rural New Jersey, which strangely seems like a perfect scenario to listen to this album. We discussed how he got started making music, the ironic biography Chuck Klosterman once wrote about him and how one guy can seamlessly weave so many instruments. Take a listen to the album and read the interview below.
Delicate Steve: Positive Force
Did you start making Positive Force without a concept for the album?
Steve Marion: I remember the first thing I recorded for the album was the first track, which was then the last thing that I had worked on before it was transferred to the album. I got rid of the first version of the first track. So I had a theme in the beginning, and then as I developed all the rest of the songs, I kind of took things out and put things in. Overall I was just trying to create something that was melodically strong without sounding complicated or anything like that.
You write and record with a lot of different instruments. Did you learn to play music at an early age?
Marion: I did, yeah. I played piano as a kid, and then I got a plastic guitar for Christmas one year. I thought that was cool, so I started to try to learn that. From there, I got into doing some recording as a kid, and I think all of those things kind of contributed to being around a lot of different musical instruments and picking up stuff when I had the chance.
What was your songwriting process behind Positive Force like?
Marion: Just the fact that it was a conscious decision to make a record after Wondervisions. Wondervisions, before it was called Wondervisions and before there was a Delicate Steve thing, there were just songs I was making in my room over the course of a month. So just the fact that after I had made that and initially self-released it, it was conscious decision to create an album, so from the start things were a little bit different. They’re still based around composing as I was recording, them being hand in hand with each other, because I work at recording a track of something, and then another track that goes off that. It’s sort of a compose-as-I-go type process.
You’ve talked about wanting your music to put out an uplifting or positive vibe. A lot of musicians tend to draw out creativity from sad or negative experiences. Did this just feel more natural to you? Have you always been a pretty optimistic and positive person?
Marion: No. I would say one of the reasons that was the first thing that was along those lines of just expressing a kind of joyous feeling through music. A lot of different things were kind of going on in my life at that time, and I was getting turned onto bands that were doing the same thing. It was definitely almost the opposite of what I was normally into, not to say that I was in a metal band before that, but it was just not along the lines of what I was trying to express through playing music. And then I liked that concept and how that first record came about, so I decided to keep with that being in my music.
How many instruments do you usually write and record with?
Marion: It just depends. I have a little home studio set up so around the time of Wondervisions there were some tom drums that a friend of mine had left in the room without a snare drum, so that’s kind of how the drum sound came about. I had an old ‘80s synthesizer that I had never really played around with before, so I was just experimenting. For this new one—it’s kind of like whatever is around. There’s a piano in my room so I did a little bit with that, and there’s guitar obviously. I got an iPad, so I was fooling around with drum machine sounds—just whatever I can do to keep myself interested and feel like I’m toying around with something new I think is important to me.
So I’m sure people ask you all the time about the fake bio that your label hired Chuck Klosterman to write about you last year. How was that experience for you when that came out? Did you have a sense of humor about the idea?
Marion: It was interesting. At first I wasn’t naturally into the idea, because I didn’t really know anything about industry side of the music business, so I thought that everybody was going to read the band’s bio to really want to learn more about them. Now it just seems like it just gets tossed around, so I really trusted the guys at Luaka Bop, and my manager who had that idea to have Chuck Klosterman write the bio without hearing any of the music or anything. I’m definitely glad I went with them on it, because I think it’s funny too. The little individual member bios actually captured a side of each of us, even though Chuck didn’t actual get a chance to meet us. So it was pretty funny reading those back to everybody. We got a really good laugh from that. There was a hint of truth, he kind of got each of our personalities in a nutshell. He just kind of hit the nail on the head, somehow.
In an NPR story about that fake bio, you were quoted saying that your real life bio would be boring. Do you still think that’s true after all of the success you’ve had in the past year?
Marion:Yeah, although a lot of it kind of sounds like industry jargon or having toured with this band and that band, so for some people that’s interesting or could sound really boring. Some people think it sounds really exciting, I don’t know. I don’t feel like any of it has been boring, even before Chuck got involved, but I could see how people could think me up in my room, working on music is a pretty boring thing to write about.
Your summer tour starts soon, and like you said, you’re going to be playing with Yeasayer, TUnE-yArDs, Dr. Dog. Are you getting excited to hit the road?
Marion: Oh yeah. I’m very excited. I love all of the bands we’re going to be touring with. I’m friends with a lot of those guys, and I am really inspired by all of their music. Yeah, I’m extremely excited.
I bet, and Positive Force comes out today. Are you getting anxious for everybody to hear it?
Marion: I am, yeah. I sent it out to a bunch of my friends. It feels good to have the people that I really am inspired by and feel close with, having had all of those guys hear it and tell me what they think of it. They’re the first wave of people, or maybe the most significant people in my life that I wanted to hear it. I’m glad that they’ve already listened to it, and I’m just excited for everybody else to hear it and for it to be out in the world.
Is there a reason that Delicate Steve is referred to as a band when you write and record all of the music yourself? The only time there are other members is when you tour, right?
Marion: I guess it just depends on how you look at it. When we are a band, practicing, playing shows on tour, or even just off tour but thinking of ourselves as a band, it feels entirely like a unit or a team. We know what we need to do to create the music every night, and it’s something that requires all of us to be really involved with what we’re doing. I don’t really ever look at it as my thing, unless I just happen to be working on music and no one else is around. I don’t really look at it as either or. I guess it’s just kind of whatever I’m doing today, whether it’s playing a show or working on a song.
Yeah, that makes sense. Even if you write and record all of it, you couldn’t tour or play a show without them. They’re essential.
Marion: Right. I think what’s important to me in the songs is a feeling, spontaneity I guess, trying to capture a moment. That’s more of what I’m concerned about with recording than trying to get perfect takes of everything, so it’s really hard to try to create that kind of spontaneity every night when you’re on tour, playing the songs over and over. That’s what’s kind of exciting and requires a higher level of involvement for all of us when we’re all playing the songs.