Notes from the Underground

Whacking Weeds With Delicate Steve

Whacking Weeds With Delicate Steve

This is a weird interview because the subject, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion (aka Delicate Steve, who you’d know for his solo work and his work with Amen Dunes, Mac DeMarco, Kimbra, Built to Spill, The Black Keys, Yeasayer, Dirty Projectors, Lee Ranaldo, Dr. Dog, Miley Cyrus, and Paul goddamn Simon to name but eleven), was actually running while we spoke. I guess that’s not so weird for a magazine about running, but if you’ve ever been on the phone with someone who’s out on a run, you’ll know what I mean.


Another weird-but-not-really-weird aspect of the interview, Steve kept passing people blowing leaves and whacking weeds, so the audio would be interrupted by gardening sounds, thus breaking the flow of conversation. Overall, though, I think it went well. Let’s meet Delicate Steve!

'I was in this band that had a record deal with a major label in the US... And I think because I found running at that time, that was my drug, in a way, and I didn’t get into all that other stuff...' 

Hello, Steve?

Hey, man.

Wait... Are you running right now?

Yeah, I’m running right now. Can you hear me okay?

Yeah, perfect. 

Let me know if it cuts out.

Will do. Where are you?

I’m at a park near my spot in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.

Cool... Actually, this is weird. I’ve never interviewed someone while they were running.

Well, you know with running and the whole heart rate thing, how you should be able to have a conversation with someone while you’re doing it?

Yeah.

Yeah, so I find that it’s good practice to actually be on the phone while I’m running. It lets me know if I’m going too fast or not.

What came first for you, music or running?

Definitely music... Well, if the question was music or athletics, the answer would have been athletics because when I was growing up, I played baseball and basketball. But then, as a teenager, I traded out the shorts for blue jeans and got into guitar and being a full-time music guy. But then, when I was about 19 or 20, my cousins, who were big cross-country runners, kinda got me back into exercise: running, cycling, working-out, bodyweight stuff... So, that was kinda my journey.

So, unlike a lot of musicians, you didn’t come to running because you needed something to replace the partying?

No, I kinda looked at where I was at 18 or 19, and I was in this band that had a record deal with a major label in the US... And I think because I found running at that time, that was my drug, in a way, and I didn’t get into all that other stuff that I probably would have gotten into had I been more of a couch potato.

That’s great. So, you sidestepped the whole self-destructive rock star cliché.

Yeah.

'...that was kind of the vibe of the band: We don’t all listen to whatever the driver puts on—instead, we had no music, so everyone could kinda be in their own world. And that was transcendent.' 

When you’re running, do you find yourself arranging musical ideas or brainstorming?

Not at the moment. Right now, I’m just trying to get a minimum of three hours a week with this low-intensity pace, which should be easy to do. There’s never a day where you can’t run because it’s so low intensity; you’re never sore. It’s more of a mental thing. The goal is more about self-discipline for me, and that self-discipline and the goal of making sure I do three hours a week, that kind of rubs off on music, too. It keeps me in the right head space... Wait, here’s a leaf-blower guy. I’m running by him right now. You might not be able to hear me.

I can’t hear you... 

Can you hear me now?

Okay, yep. I can hear you again. Do you listen to music while you run?

Well, I got into this zone 2, low-heartrate, high-volume thing in 2020, and I was in a band called Amen Dunes and... Oh, here’s another landscaping guy. Hold on... There’s a lot of landscaping going on out here.


[laughter]

I can hear you.

Can you hear me?

Yeah, yeah.

So, I was in a band called Amen Dunes, and we had this album out called Freedom (2018) that we were touring, and we had, like, six to eight hours a day in the van. And that was the first tour I did where 99.999% of the time there was no music being played, and it was kind of a revelation.

You mean no music in the van?

Yeah, that was kind of the vibe of the band: We don’t all listen to whatever the driver puts on—instead, we had no music, so everyone could kinda be in their own world. And that was transcendent. And the times where we did put on a record, that was just beyond, you know, like, finally hearing music again. So, ever since then, I’ve listened to a lot less music in general. But I’ll go through phases where I listen to a favorite record or artist... Recently, I listened to some Miles Davis... But you know, it depends. Ever since that tour, I’ve listened to a lot less music. I’ve become very intentional when I put music on.

Do you have any weird running rituals or superstitions?

Not really... I would say no.

Do you have any superstitions or rituals around music?

That’s a good question. I probably do... I can’t really think of any right now. I mean, I definitely have some, but I’d also probably have a lot more if I had the luxury of being able to have them.

How do you mean?

You know, just being on the scrappy side of things, you’re used to being in less-than-ideal situations on tour where you don’t have enough time before the show or whatever... You just learn how to make it happen no matter the circumstances. So, yeah, maybe I don’t have many superstitions.

But if you were as big as, say, Springsteen, you could afford to have a bunch of them—is that what you mean?

[laughter]


Well, I wonder... Maybe. Like, I don’t really get stage fright; sometimes I’ll get a little nervous or anxious before a show, but that’s about it. I played with The Black Keys in front of 10,000 people, and I never got that nervous; it was just really fun. But that said, if my band got to a level where we were playing to 10,000 people every night, you know... I’ve heard stories from some bands, friends of mine, who became overnight sensations, and a few of them had to get hypnotherapy to cure their stage fright.

Oh, wow.

Yeah, it came out of nowhere. And I can see how something like that would happen when it’s your music and you feel like it’s the last thing that could ever happen.

The sudden fame?

Yeah, so I feel lucky to be in the place I’m at. I couldn’t imagine having any more pressure; I’ve already got my own self-imposed pressure, and that’s enough for me.

'He was a skinny-looking guy from the knees up, but his calf muscles were just like the most incredible, throbbing... meatiest things I’d ever seen.'

You must’ve run in some cool place while on tour. What’s been a great place to run?

That’s another good question... I can tell you what was my least favorite tour to run on...


[laughter]

What was it?

It was The Black Keys tour. We were on a bus, and you wake up on the bus four levels underground, under an arena in the worst part of whatever metropolitan city you’re in. And just to get outside the arena is already a pain in the ass, and you don’t really know what the weather is like until you get outside, and then you gotta figure out where you wanna run... It was this thing I’d never really thought of before, like, when you’re in the cool band playing the smaller clubs in the cooler part of town, it can kinda be a better experience in terms of running, and in terms of everything else, really.

What you’re saying is you never want to be huge.

I never want to reach the arena level of rock ‘n’ roll. Not that I’m worried that that will ever happen, but yeah.


[laughter]

Man, well, watch what you don’t wish for. Do you have running goals or things you want to achieve as a runner?

Well, there’s... I’m passing another landscaper; hold on.

Okay.

Can you hear me?

Yeah, I got you.

So, my cousin, Tom, and I have done a couple of half marathons together. He’s about my age, and he always had the philosophy that if he was gonna do a marathon, he was gonna really do it and really train, but I wouldn’t say I’m like that. But my goals right now, I’m just kinda focused on getting my three hours a week every week. That’s success for me.

Cool. Now, before we wrap this up, do you have any weird running-related stories?

I do, actually. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this race, it’s called the Self-Transcendence 3100?

Oh yeah, I’ve heard of it.

So, one summer, a friend and I went to check it out, and we drove to this high school or middle school in the middle of Queens where it was being held. I was expecting to see all this hoopla, you know? A big event, but we got there, and it was dead quiet, and we see this guy running at about two miles an hour. He was a skinny-looking guy from the knees up, but his calf muscles were just like the most incredible, throbbing... meatiest things I’d ever seen.


[laughter]


And then we see this pile, like, up to your head pile of old sneakers that have just been run down. Next, we see this guy with a little tray of almost like shot glasses, like, six little shot glasses, and the guy that’s running by takes a shot of one of them. And we asked the dude what was in them, and he was like, ‘Orange juice, water, beer, yogurt, ice cream...’ They were just trying to get as many calories down this guy as they possibly could.

That’s mad.

Yeah. And being at that race, and feeling the vibe of the four or five volunteers and the six or so runners that were left... It was so weird... We got back in the car and didn’t say a word the whole drive home. It was just one of the most unbelievable things I ever saw, you know?

Yeah, I can’t imagine how intense that race would be. 3100 miles is bananas. 

Yeah! I would never do something like that—oh, here’s another landscaper—wait a minute... I would never do something like that, but that blew my mind, and I became fascinated with the race and, actually, one of the guys who runs it year after year.

Who?

He’s a schoolteacher. I read an interview with him where they asked what kind of music he listened to—because you have to run 50 or 60 miles every day in order to finish the race in the allotted 52 days—and he said he listened to this one Coldplay song on repeat the whole time. And that just blew my mind. What must that be like? What kind of zone are you in when you’re running like that? Running a half-mile loop 6200 times.

6200 times?

Yeah, 6200 laps of a half-mile loop to run a total of 3100 miles during the hottest part of the year in humid New York City—

While listening to a Coldplay song on repeat.

Yeah, if interrogators ever wanted to torture me, I’d start talking pretty quick after that.


[laughter]


But yeah, man, running is weird, but that Self-Transcendence 3100... Nothing could be any weirder. I have a friend who ran a 40-miler when he turned 40, but...

'Running with these kids is amazing, and handing out water the next day at the marathon is just as amazing, just to be around all the runners. But next year, if my cousin does it, I’m gonna run the full marathon.'

Right. I mean, ultras are insane, but those extreme ultra marathons are really beyond comprehension.

I know, I feel like I wanna do one, but I’m nowhere near that level. There’s something psychotic about it that makes me want to run one, but at the same time... I mean, I still have to run a marathon. I might be doing that with my cousin, Tom, next year.

Have you done a half?

A couple, yeah. Tom and my uncle, who I was telling you about, have this organization that works with at-risk kids all across the country [Vision Quest], and every year, they used to take some of the best kids, and we’d all go down to Disney in Florida and run the half marathon. So, I’ve done that a few times. Then, the next day, everybody gets a free pass to Disney.

That’s cool.

Running with these kids is amazing, and handing out water the next day at the marathon is just as amazing, just to be around all the runners. But next year, if my cousin does it, I’m gonna run the full marathon.

That’s amazing, and then after you’ve done that, you can sign up for an ultra.

Yeah, man, well, I’m 36 now, so that sets me up to do 40 at 40, so we’ll see what happens.

Last question: What would you give up if you had to choose one: running or music?

Umm... It would probably have to be running because I don’t think I’d survive never doing music again. I think that need would be a little bit stronger than my need to run, but they’re pretty close.


@delicatesteve

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