Steve Marion was still in high school when he signed his first record deal. When that group dissolved, Marion turned to producing other bands and playing on other people’s records.
“I was producing records in New Jersey and recording my friends and playing guitar for my friends who are singers and making their records,” he says in a recent phone interview from his Brooklyn home. He brings his solo project, Delicate Steve, to the Beachland Tavern on Wednesday, Feb. 8. “I started a record label to release all this music I was in charge of. I became influenced by these up-and-coming bands in New York in 2007, 2008 and 2009 — [indie rock act] the Dirty Projectors and Ponytail and Deerhoof. They were really inspiring to me.”
One day, he saw the Dirty Projectors play for the first time. After the show, he went up to the bass player who asked him if he had his own band. He didn’t have anything to talk about because he was producing songs for his friends.
“The next day, I started making the first album,” he says. “It just happened in this DIY manner. I wanted to go back to my favorite musicians and show them how much I had internalized their own music.”
Recorded at his apartment under the moniker Delicate Steve, that album, 2009’s Wondervisions
, found a home on Luaka Bop, the imprint run by former Talking Heads singer David Byrne.
“One of the guys from the label saw me play at this basement in New York, and it just happened out of that,” says Marion when asked about the record deal. “For the first two records [on Luaka Bop], I did everything in my bedroom. It’s how I grew up, and it was natural for me to do that.”
His manager enlisted cultural critic and renowned author Chuck Klosterman, a former Akronite, who hadn’t heard the album and didn’t interview Marion, to write a fake bio for the debut album. The publicity stunt generated some press for the release.
Klosterman included strange descriptions like the following: "[Delicate Steve sounds] like a hydro-electric Mothra rising from the ashes of an African village burned to the ground by post-rock minotaurs." Several publications took the fictitious bio at face value.
“It was the label and manager behind that idea, but I full supported it,” says Marion.
For his new album, This is Steve
, Marion did even less prep work than he did for previous releases.
“I made this whole album in 11 days in a recording studio,” he says. “I didn’t have any songs before I walked in the door. I walked in and started playing drums and playing guitars. I just wanted something fresh and immediate. It was pretty easy actually. It doesn’t have to be difficult.”
Did he think about putting vocals on the songs?
“No,” he says rather tersely. “I just didn’t feel inspired to do that.”
On the twangy tune “Winners,” his guitar sounds like some kind of electric kazoo as the song features a fun, Tom Petty-like vibe.
“That’s just electric guitar plugged right into a computer, and it’s also plugged into a preamp,” he says. “I’m just playing slide guitar. I’m happy it doesn’t sound like a guitar.”
He says he titled the tune “Winners” to reflect the way in which things aren’t always what they seem.
“The song is very bright on the surface and upbeat and classic-y, and I wanted to create a song like that that had an underbelly to it as well,” he says. “I played with the idea of who are the real winners and what does it mean to be a winner. This is all just my interpretation. I wanted a song that was catchy and fun and happy with a darker underbelly if you listen to it closer. Sometimes, if you look closer at the people or things that seem to be doing really well, you might find that’s not the case.”
The video that’s set on the Jersey shore boardwalk reflects the song's concept as well.
“That’s my childhood friend Bobby who directed it,” he says. “We grew up together and had many different experiences over the years. My aunt has a beach house in New Jersey that we would always go to in the summer. We went to make the music video. I brought my hover board. We went to the boardwalk and didn’t have a plan because the boardwalk is already so magical. He did a great job.”
Marion says he initially started thinking about his next album a couple of months ago when he finished This is Steve
. But he reconsidered and decided to simply focus on the upcoming headlining tour in support of the new album.
“All my creative energy is spent," he says. "It will take me a while to start working on the next album. But I’m really excited about playing the songs from This is Steve
. That’s where my head is at now.”
Delicate Steve, Cereal Banter, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $12, beachlandballroom.com.