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Behind The Curtain: Steve Marriner

By Erin McCallum.

For those who are privy to, or part of, the Blues scene in Canada, Steve Marriner is a name you likely recognize. He is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter who has been steeped in the Blues since he was a teenager, and people may most likely recognize him from his time in the band Monkeyjunk. Marriner is a multiple Maple Blues Award winner in multiple categories, and even boasts a JUNO Award for Blues Album of The Year (2012). In addition to his musicianship, Steve Marriner has also sat in the Producer’s chair. Today, Marriner continues to make music utilizing his talents, and is currently signed with Stony Plaine Records. In this feature, Steve and I take a look behind the curtain and discuss in depth his latest release Hope Dies Last.

Hope Dies Last is a full-length solo effort which clearly shows Marriner in a different light than his work with Monkeyjunk. It offers a definite contrast with respect to song selection and approach to songwriting. This release shows more of a Roots Rock/Americana side of Steve’s writing, and it made sense to investigate that observation first. When asked if that change was intentional, he offered:

“It really wasn’t planned, genre wise. I wanted to make a record where I didn’t have to compromise, as well as work on stuff that I enjoy, and I did that. It was intentional to make an album that was focused on letting all of my influences have their place. I don’t think there is a solo that is longer than 8 bars on most of the songs – nothing is there just to be there. It is very intentional that way.”

It was a fair question to pose to Marriner to ask about how much the instrumentation plays a role in how he constructs or develops a song – as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, it makes sense to ask him about his process; the curiosity was whether or not his vast capacities played a part in his songwriting approach.

“Inspiration can come from all places. Sometimes, I’ll be messing around with the drums and I’ll hear a beat that I like, and a song can develop from that. I mostly write with the guitar, and I often don’t lead with lyrics when I’m writing a song – they’re usually the last to come. On Hope Dies Last I only play the instruments that the song requires. I never, lets say, put in a harmonica solo just because I play harmonica. Serve the song, always. There is a lot of instrumentation on this album, but the songs dictated what they needed with respect to what instruments are on there. Like I say, I really wanted to serve the song.”

In an effort to investigate Hope Dies Last beyond the liner notes and press releases, it made sense to ask Marriner what he felt was the most difficult part of making this album. He responded:

“The hardest part of any creation, for me, is that I’m a perfectionist. That’s a personal thing though. Everyone who played on this album was so committed to the process, and we were so happy to see each other. Everyone was so on board, and everyone really invested themselves in doing a great job, so in that respect, there was nothing difficult about making this album. Nothing really struck me as hard because it was a labour of love. I think you can really hear that when you listen to the record too.”

Knowing that this solo effort is a departure from what many existing fans of Marriner’s work might be used to hearing, he was asked what he does to stay “fresh” as a songwriter. Marriner explains why he thinks he is able to maintain evolving as a songwriter and continue putting out songs that have a consistently different take:

“I’m not a person who constantly writes like so many others do – some people write every day, and it’s an ongoing process. I work best knowing that there’s a specific goal to work towards. I’ll catch songs when I can, of course, but I focus better knowing that there’s something to look forward to. I think the breaks ARE one of the ways I stay fresh as a songwriter – by the time I reach the next project, my life and circumstances will be different, and of course, that will offer me some new inspiration.”

After taking a deeper look into Marriner’s process with respect to creating Hope Dies Last, it is safe to say that he has tapped into a skillset that has always been there, however, this particular offering is one that allows Marriner to utilize those skills in a most well-rounded way. From concept to completion, Steve Marriner shows no compromise on this recording, and the evidence is in what listeners hear: a different tact as a songwriter, with the high level of musicianship that has brought Marriner to his current status.

As this edition of “Behind the Curtain” draws to a close, I trust that readers of all varieties have gained something more about the artist of mention. This article can be found each month as a regular contribution via The Sound Café with the intention of providing a deeper insight into the Canadian Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective.

Touring blues musician, Erin McCallum's formal post-secondary education was in media studies (news, radio), graduating from Humber College in Ontario, she went on to be mentored by Canadian News Hall of Fame inductee, Robert Holiday, and she is a regularly published writer in music and investigative journalism, having focused on music for the last six years.

Erin has an exclusive monthly column in The Sound Cafe featuring musicians from across Canada who perform predominantly in the Blues & Roots genres.

Erin McCallum

Big Voice. Big Sound.

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