When it comes to music, do we want to be instructed on how to feel as we listen, or do we want to have the chance to decide for ourselves? Delicate Steve, an electric, instrumental four-piece rock outfit from New Jersey, ask us, their listeners, to decide this as we take them in, and that is rare. I think a lot of musicians hope to do this, but they come off pushy in either direction, because simply put: it’s hard not to. When you create something, and then share it, it inevitably comes from your scope, so leaving the audience in charge of how they feel about it all…can be a challenge.
The age old question: Does human nature insist on direction in specificity, or inversely, do people desire freedom in their feelings and decision- making? Even with music. Because, you know, people say they prefer the latter, but look at advertising. Print and TV clips advising services and purchases that will save someone from themselves — don’t worry about the side-effects of those diet pills, you’ll look real hot in your casket when your heart explodes. I mean, if people didn’t want to be told what to do, why would ad-execs be making the big bucks, and WHY would this product exist? Some people are just not sure, crippled by anxiety or the unknown, and just need to be told what to do. For them, it is easier to be led. It’s easier to flip to a pop-radio station, perhaps.
Or, maybe the idea is to make people feel like they’re making their own choices, when they were really actually guided there unknowingly or subconsciously by someone else.
There are, of course, rebels, who out-lie our original hypothesis. Advise/demand one thing, and they do the other; the masters of reversing your reverse-psychology, even if it’s kind of dumb, like the dude who ate those stupid death-berries in Into the Wild. Fighting against societal norms to… develop your own uneducated death-plot? Mighta been better off just getting a job at OfficeMax or whatever…but who’s to know. No one really knows. But, nonetheless, there are the rebels. The rebels that do know at least one thing- that they won’t do what you told them. The rebels…who cheat, lie, sneak, snake, and traipse on tip-toes…all for what? To avoid following direction? Just to say, “I can and will do what I want. Not what you want. So there.” Sticking out their tongues in action and cantankerous hoopla, like wearing white patent leather after Labor Day (gasp). I mean, I guess when we follow instruction, we feel like maybe we are a product of someone else’s vision; that the path we are pointed towards was devised by someone else’s compass. And why shan’t my compass, equally pointing north in rest, take me to my own path?
Is there a happy medium? Through art we seek solace in interpretation and subjectivity. You can decide in music if you’d like to hear “Strawberry Fields Forever,” or if you’d prefer in reverse, “Paul is Dead,” or even how to interpret the Princess of Pop’s song title, “If You Seek Amy,” (read it out loud)…but the awesome thing is that you have the option. YOU can choose.
This interpretive dreamstate is even more prevalent in songs without lyrics. Which brings me back to Delicate Steve. I am incredibly biased that they hold the future of rock music within their humble aptitude. Like the Labyrinth’s crystal ball, Delicate Steve’s Steve Marion really held up my dreams in his hands from the moment I was first exposed. At a crossroads in my personal evolution, they saved me in a major way, or I guess, rather, inspired me to save myself, and I’m not sure what I’d have done without them. We all need a little help and inspiration sometimes, and I am consistently grateful for their creative output and what they have done for guitar-music, even at the “early stages” of their career as a touring band. I wrote them this thank-you four months ago that reviews both of their albums (Wondervisions (2011 ) Positive Force (2012)), and experienced them live for the first time the very next day at Subterranean, and I can’t gush enough at their talent, charisma, on-stage presence, comfortable crowd-work, and impeccable sovereignty from mainstream blah.
I could continue , dissecting every single note that they have woven into the warmest blanket, but I shall digress into this Q & A with DS’s Steve Marion he so kindly granted me over the Independence Day holiday earlier this month. The band will be playing a free show (suggested $5 donation) at Wicker Park Fest this weekend, Saturday, at 6:40 PM on the North Stage. Not trying to tie you down with their lyrics, perhaps the most notable Delicate Steve innovation is that Marion utilizes the main guitar melody to replace what normally would-be lyrics, so that you can really decide to interpret their creations however you decide. I’ve never heard a band so successfully purport the strength of a melody through instrumentals; it’s like you can hear the words to the songs, when there aren’t any at all, and the person standing next to you can too, but it can be their own words. Whatever words they want them to be. Or need them to be. Then, or later, or anytime, they can change. You can Choose Your Own Adventure. And that is the most freeballin’ thing in the whole world. Please. Just go Saturday. I might cry joy tears. Here’s Steve.
Q: Hey Steve, thanks for meeting again. Since we are focused on Wicker Park Fest, let’s start there. How many times have you played in Chicago? And is this show related to the last one you performed at SubT? I noticed Subterranean is presenting The North Stage, where you’ll be playing.
A: We have probably played in Chicago six – seven times. We did Lincoln Hall two times, the Millenium Park series, and Subterranean twice… I might be forgetting one. I really really liked the Lincoln Hall shows.
Q: Yes, the sound is really good there. I have heard that both there and Schuba’s are old recording studios, but I’m not sure if that is totally true…or one of those rumors.
A: Actually Schuba’s could have been the other place we played, that sounds really familiar. But ya, the Lincoln Hall shows were really fun. Really, really fun. And as far as the Subterranean stage, I think they are the same guys promoting as our last show. It came through our booking agent. We’re kinda friends with the promoters that have put on our shows in Chicago.
Q: Cool. That never hurts. At a lot of street fests lately (in Chicago) there have been DJ tents, as well as the main stages. As that side of music grows, woudl you ever consider working with a DJ to remix some of your stuff?
A: I would love that. Some acapella tracks of songs mashed up over our instrumentals or something, that would be really cool.
Q: So will you be passing through on a tour?
A: Yes. On our week-long tour, Chicago is midway through. So we leave the East Coast, travel to midwest, play Chicago and then turn back around.
Q: Have you ever made it out West?
A: Yea, we’ve done the West Coast three or four times.
Q: Right on, so you have been all over. As far as the show you will be putting on, can Chicagoans expect something new from this show versus your last appearance?
A: Well, a third album IS being made. It will come out some time next year. There are a couple little songs and remixes that are floating around the internet, but that’s about all I can say, since it’s still being created.
Q: Oh wow, that is really huge news. So let me ask you then, what is up with your band? Who writes your music? I think you do, but I want to clarify, especially with your new album in the works.
A: Well, yes, for the first two records, I wrote all the parts, and recorded them myself.
Q: That is pretty impressive. Then you found a band to tour and play each part with you, or…?
A: Yes the band has changed and evolved into the group it is now, and we are a cohesive…band. A unit. We are all together in this thing. Now the songs we have are a blueprint that we can take wherever we wanna take it with the band. It’s not a “backing band,” or anything like that. It is a breathing thing, and it’s a unit for sure. We’re making all the songs together for the new album.
Q: No way! That probably means it will sound pretty different than your prior work, then?
A: Yes, very different. I can’t speak on it yet, really, but we want to see what develops. Its still developmental. It’s definitely going to be different but it will be… us. I still have pretty high standards and directions about what instrumental music should sound like. You can’t just play anything without words and hold people’s interest, and that will not be forgotten.
Q: So you will stay instrumental. Can you speak on the instrumental vs. lyrics thing? Obviously it’s a pretty standout part of what you do as a band.
A: Well, sure. Basically, I’ve thought that the past three-four years discovering myself as my own artist for the first time, I’ve always known my position to be, “the guitar player in a band,” and the strongest way I could express myself is through instruments rather than my voice. Actually, it may even be a detriment to the album and the band if I was leading with my voice. It was a way for me to do what I thought would be the strongest expression of what I wanted to create. And as for what I listen to, I don’t listen to any instrumental stuff besides jazz or classical, just not really into instrumental bands myself. I love the voice. I think it is the single-most expressive thing we have in music, I just wasn’t born with one that can get the job done. So for me, I feel like I can express myself best with guitar. Sometimes I treat my melody like it’s a vocal track, which leaves the listener able to interpret it in their way.
Q: Yes, I have noticed that and think it’s really difficult to do that. Or it must be, because I can’t think of anyone else who does that, or does it so effectively. It really is unique, and I like that explanation. As a talented artist, it’s humbling to hear you say you’re “not good” at something. Not many people would say that. Instead of trying to improve an area where you feel you struggle, you choose to improve and work on an area where you already shine, which means it can only get better.
A: Thank you. That’s it.
Q: You mentioned what you don’t listen to; what are you listening to right now?
A: I’m really listening to the new Queens of the Stone Age album (Like Clockwork). I love that album. I love how rocking and rolling it is as an album. It’s mainstream, and it’s like…in your face in a way that indie music misses the boat on…how it can not be fully-formed, or boring. I haven’t listened to mainstream rock in a long, long time, and it’s really a breath of fresh air, coming back to it with this album. Other than that… definitely Thundercat’s Apocalypse.
Q: Queens! That album is pretty rockin’. You keep surprising me, though… I didn’t expect that, or that you’d want to do a DJ collaboration. Pretty cool. What do you expect from your crowds at a live show? What types of feelings or moods do you hope to evoke?
A: I mean, I definitely want people to feel like they’re totally engaged and even overwhelmed maybe. It’s geared towards that, not towards recreating a song that is on a record, you know? We want to create an experience and the crowd can feel however they want to feel.
Q: That’s freeing. On social media, you often say you’d rather live an athlete’s schedule than a rock star’s, and post a lot of pictures of nature, family, and bike rides you take. I guess, as far as social media, what is your purpose there; to connect with fans, or just to express yourself? And also, as far as your athleticism, do you bike on the road? And what’s the best bike ride you’ve ever taken?
A: As far as social media, it’s a little of both. As a band, I can interact with people, and it’s an extension of my main art form, music. I can pay attention to a picture, and how I’m shaping it, and kind of make it look however I want. It’s really cool. I do try to bike on the road. A friend sold me a fold-up bike for cheap, which kinda gets the job done when I need to use my legs. As far as a favorite bike ride… it’s hard to say. None/Nothing I guess is my answer. Tucson was beautiful with my cousin, we had a couple great mountain bike rides there, and a couple great road rides too. And, Northern New Jersey, where I live, is endlessly beautiful up there, every road I take.
Q: Are you a vegan/vegetarian?
Q: How do you choose what to eat on the road?
A: We base it off trying to find the best-reviewed place on Yelp whereever we are, that is decently priced of course. We just try to make sure we’re eating well on the road.
Q: Well- you have to try the Smokedaddy brisket at Wicker Park Fest. They are one of the sponsors, and it’s super delicious.
A: Oh nice! We will have to give it a try.
Q: Please do. Last question— What’s up with the name, Delicate Steve? Anything behind that?
A: “Delicate Steve” is open to interpretation. It’s fun to say, and has plenty of different meanings, I guess. it’s like all these other things, you know? It’s a good band name.
That it is. As usual, Steve Marion is a talented gentleman who is as humble as the day is long. I’m really looking forward to Saturday, not only for a new show from the band regarding past songs they have performed, but to also see what kind of new tricks they might have up their sleeve from the new album. With Delicate Steve, I really think you can Choose Your Own Adventure. You can make it what you want it to be. It’s like you’re creating something with the band; like the experience Marion mentioned…they’re not just regurgitating studio work, they want you to be a part of the show, and walk away with feelings. You have a part in creating that, and that’s really special. I really hope you’ll take the opportunity to feel overwhelmed with gratitude, love, and open-minded instrumental interpretation this weekend. Thanks to Wicker Park Fest for a tremendous lineup, great food, and of course, Coors Light! The Silver Bullet will be sponsoring the event. If you know me, you know that Delicate Steve + Smokedaddy brisket + Coors Light is basically like my wedding day to myself… so just let me have this one, guys. See you there. 6:45 PM. THIS SATURDAY. JULY 27. Don’t be late, but please, be Delicate.
Delicate Steve is: Steve Marion (guitar) Christian Peslak (guitar/keyboards) Adam Pumilia (bass) Jeremy Gustin (drums).
Wicker Park Fest: Saturday & Sunday July 27th & 28th; Milwaukee Avenue from North to Paulina. 12pm-10pm
$5 Donation supports Local Schools, Non-profits and Businesses
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