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While My Guitar Gently Sings: A Conversation With Delicate Steve

Delicate Steve's latest album is <em>This Is Steve</em> on Anti Records.
Courtesy of the artist
Delicate Steve's latest album is This Is Steve on Anti Records.

Here's something rare these days: an instrumental guitar-rock record that's actually a joy to listen to. This Is Steve is by the artist Delicate Steve, otherwise known as Steve Marion, who plays all the instruments on this incredibly fun (and sometimes funny) album.

On this episode of All Songs Considered, I talk with Delicate Steve about the guitar music he loves, including music from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sly and the Family Stone, as well as the singers who inspire his lyrical guitar styles, which he describes as "cartoon rock."

"I don't know how much of a lover of guitar music I am," Steve Marion tells me. That's surprising, coming from a guy who has made his name making instrumental guitar rock, but it makes some sense, too. He has played guitar with a lot of remarkable musicians, including Paul Simon, Yeasayer, Mac Demarco, David Byrne, Dirty Projectors and so many more, and says he actually draws inspiration more from singers than guitarists.

You can hear the whole interview with the audio link at the top of the page or read edited highlights below.

On the process of writing and recording This Is Steve:

"I went in for 11 days to my friend's studio and said, 'I need to make an album.' Literally the first day I got into the studio, I just plugged in and went, 'Okay [imitates his guitar] bow-wow-chicka-wow-wow.' I basically set up around my laptop with a bunch of different instruments surrounding me: guitars, basses, keyboards and if I swiveled my stool around 180-degrees, I was in front of a drum kit. I'd do whatever I could in as quick an amount of time as possible without getting too precious about anything. Because I have a habit of doing that. A lot of these songs, I didn't know what I was going to do next."

On writing and playing guitar parts like lead vocals:

"I don't know how much of a lover of guitar music I am. I grew up liking guitar music, that's obviously how I became a guitar player. But since about eight years ago, when making this whole Delicate Steve project, I would say it's about 80 percent influenced by singers and the phrasing of different vocalists. When I'm thinking about being a guitar player, I'm normally playing the rhythm guitar of a Delicate Steve song — and with the lead guitar, I'm thinking about being a singer."

On the uncertain future of guitar music:

"I recently saw Kurt Vile and Run the Jewels play at a festival back-to-back, and both were great, but now rap is more mainstream than rock is. [I think] it would take one of the more popular hip-hop or rap artists to reintroduce guitar or make guitar cool again. The idea of just really expressing yourself with a guitar solo I think is mostly lame unless you're doing something really cool, which doesn't happen a lot."

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Bob Boilen
In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.