Delicate Steve is happy to indulge the guitar geeks
Sometimes a simple description will suffice. If someone says A$AP Rocky makes hip-hop, for instance, it doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s enough to tell you whether or not you’d be interested in taking a listen. Not everything can be summed up quite so readily. Delicate Steve makes guitar-centred instrumental music, but it doesn’t sound anything like the Ventures. Nor, for that matter, does it resemble anything ever played by Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force.
Delicate Steve himself—aka New Jersey–based six-string wizard Steve Marion—says he doesn’t even listen to other instrumental guitar music. And in marked contrast to the likes of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, he’s not out to demonstrate his mastery of his instrument.
“It’s about songwriting,” he says, reached at a Burlington, Vermont, tour stop. “It started just because I wanted to make my own music and I couldn’t sing. It was never a conscious decision to make instrumental guitar music with the guitar being the lead thing. I just started to make songs and didn’t know of a way to finish them without putting the guitar as almost the centre-of-attention track. So that’s how that happened. It was a pretty natural thing. It was never really the intention to try to impress people with the technical ability, but more to try to make the songs feel as catchy as possible to everybody.”
Mind you, Marion has chops to burn, as he proved on the first Delicate Steve album, 2011’s Wondervisions, and on his new Positive Force LP. You can hear that in the speedy hammer-ons that he weaves throughout “Big Time Receiver”, and on “Positive Force” where, over the course of four-and-a-half minutes, he progresses from Bert Jansch-esque acoustic arpeggios to distorted rock ’n’ roll leads before closing with sunset-luau slide work.
It’s only natural that a Delicate Steve show brings the gear-obsessed guitar geeks out of the woodwork. Marion says he’s only too happy to have fellow musicians gawk at his rig and ask him questions about it after the performance. “It’s awesome,” he says. “I was that guy who was asking ‘What kind of pedal are you using?’ to all of my heroes live, so it’s sweet that people want to know, and are interested in all the pedals and all that stuff.”
For the record, the most potent weapon in Marion’s arsenal is a Digitech Whammy pedal, which is what he used to get those mind-twisting high notes in “Wally Wilder” and “Tallest Heights”.
“I don’t use it for the wah-wah function that it has, of shifting up and down with the pedal,” he says. “I just kind of leave it on, like, an octave-up setting and just play with that on. I think that’s a super-important element to make it feel like it’s not wanky guitar stuff, because in that upper register it sounds more like a gospel singer or something, as opposed to like you’re rippin’ on some solo.”
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, it bears mentioning that Marion has an aversion to pointless wankery. That’s something he says he and his touring band—guitarist Christian Peslak, keyboardist Mickey Sanchez, bassist Adam Pumilia, and drummer Jeremy Gustin—take pains to avoid in concert.
“I think we’re always trying to keep it feeling very simple and accessible to people,” Marion says humbly. “We don’t want it to be, like, this crazy thing.”
Delicate Steve plays the Waldorf on Wednesday (November 21).