That Steve Marriner has accomplished as much as he has in the past decade, remains a story that continues to impress on a variety of fronts and for a variety of reasons.
Simply put, it is nothing short of astounding that this Ottawa-raised, Toronto-based musician has driven, guided and participated in so many impressive and acclaimed recording and live performance projects. The multi-instrumentalist, song writing singer sits at, or near the top of the list, as “Canada’s hardest working person in show biz.”
MonkeyJunk, has been a fan and critics favorite since the trio first roared down the track some 13 years ago. The blues-basted trio with whom he sings, writes, and plays ferocious harp, has released six albums. The group has won an impressive number of Juno Awards, and Maple Blues Awards in numerous categories. There’s nothing to suggest that train isn’t going to keep rolling down the track for some time to come.
In addition to having ample opportunities to catch the man with the broad smile and unbridled energy perform with MonkeyJunk, audiences have witnessed Steve play the role of musical foil to Colin James on stage and on the outstanding release Miles To Go. Those same audiences have heard him deliver one tasty lick after another or sing alongside Harry Manx on their 2019 critically acclaimed and chart-topping duo outing, Hellbound for Heaven.
“I like to be on the move. To me, standing still feels the same as walking backwards. Pandemic notwithstanding, I spend at least six months on the road each year. It's been that way for over a decade. Juggling gigs is something I've become fairly adept at. I love it. It energizes me. It keeps things interesting. I started playing harmonica with Colin James in 2016, and I've played guitar for Paul Reddick for about as long. I've occupied the guitar, bass and keyboard seat in Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar at various times over the past five years. I've been producing records and doing session work for a bunch of artists. Not only is it a survival mechanism, but it truly is my passion to have my hands in so many different projects. There's just so much to learn, and it's that learning that sustains me as an artist,” states Marriner, matter-of-factly.
All of this activity and the response to Marriner’s talents combine for the release of his new solo album Hope Dies Last, which he considers to be yet another unique stand-alone departure in his creative journey.
“Hope Dies Last is different than a MonkeyJunk record in a multitude of ways. On MonkeyJunk records, the sounds are created largely by Matt, Tony and myself. On Hope Dies Last, there are 15 other musicians who have lent their extraordinary talents to the creation of this project. Stylistically, I'm exploring some territory closer to Americana that I haven’t visited yet. There's lots of rocking on my new solo record, but there are some pretty tender moments as well and it felt good to get low,” says Marriner before singling out a couple of tunes.
“Somethin' Somethin' is close to my heart. At the end of 2016 I was tired. It had been an exhausting year. I had moved from my hometown of Ottawa to Toronto. I partied really hard. I toured Europe and across Canada twice. I got fired from a job for the first (and only) time. I was plagued by old heartbreak. It was taking its toll. I had booked a session thinking I would have lots of time to write and prepare. Suddenly, it's the day before the session and I've got nothing. As I lay sleepless in my room it occurred to me that my mental health was suffering. The next morning as I dragged myself to my car and drove to the studio, I suddenly had a catchy melody float into my head. I hummed and I hummed and kept repeating "Something Something" every couple beats. I ran into the studio and hardly managed to grunt at the engineer. I sat at the piano and over the next twenty minutes, the whole song fell out of me right there. They don't all come like that, and it's such a gift when they do. Anyway, I spent the entire session playing all the parts to this song and then I called up Samantha Martin and asked her to drop by and bring one of her harmony singers, Mwansa Mwansa. The girls showed up and sang so beautifully. So Hauntingly. They really elevate the whole tune. Aaron Goldstein who engineered the song also plays some wonderfully nasty pedal steel guitar. The result is a song that sounds nearly exactly on tape as it did in my head. It's a heavy listen, but I think it's a song everybody can relate to at one time or another, at least I hope they can.”
Marriner continues by peeling out another tune that was inspired from an entirely different point of reference.
“Petite Danse was written somewhere between the Rogers Pass and Banff. I was driving from Salmon Arm, BC to Calgary in June 2019 and I heard on the radio that Dr. John had died. As I reflected on all the wonderful music he left the world with, I began playing tons of New Orleans music on the stereo; The Meters, Allen Toussaint, Lee Dorsey. I have this great album called "The Best Of New Orleans Funk Vol. 1." It's a killer and features the artists mentioned above, plus some more obscure ones. There's a tune on that album called Handa Wanda by The Wild Magnolia Mardis Gras Band. In this groovy gumbo of a tune there's a bunch of creole lyrics. It got me thinking about writing a song in French. I've toured extensively in Quebec and France and have always enjoyed a strong rapport with those audiences because I am bilingual. So, I got a groove in my head and started mumbling some lyrics out in French. After I had what I thought was a pretty good story, I called up my old friend Roxanne Potvin, whose first language is French. She helped me with the grammar and made sure everything (mostly) made sense. I thought of the funeral parades in the streets and how festive their mourning tradition is. The song is upbeat and light hearted and it's the first song I've ever written in another language and to date everybody I've played it for ends up dancing. That's a good sign.”
True to form, Marriner has found his way through the maze and circumvented the roadblocks that seem to be the signature of the COVID pandemic, when it comes to artistic creation.
“I decided a couple weeks into the pandemic that I would use my new found down time to learn to engineer and mix recordings. It's something that I've always wanted to know how to do. I've sat beside some incredible engineers in my career and as it turns out, I absorbed a ton of what I was witnessing. My 'thesis' project was undertaking the mixing of what became Paul Reddick's Alive In Italia album released last summer. I got my hands on the raw files and after many, many hours of mixing, and re mixing, we had a fully realized live album. The feedback from listeners has been very encouraging and has given me a huge boost and really lit a fire under my ass to keep going. To keep learning.
“Throughout the summer, Jimmy Bowskill and I did a ton of sonic experimenting. Tinkering. Listening. We began in his studio called The Drafting Room and soon he found an incredible space that has since become The Ganaraska Recording Company. Since September we've been doing sessions at least once a week; some casual, some more serious. Five of the songs on Hope Dies Last are the first commercial recordings to be released from The Ganaraska Recording Company, and that's something we're all very proud of,” says Marriner with the kind of rock-solid conviction we’ve come to expect from this extraordinary musician.
Hope Dies Last……guaranteed to lift roots music lovers’ spirits in a time when that is needed more than ever.