Everything You Know About This Band Is Wrong : The Record A stunt, a joke or a big lie? There was nothing special in the story behind the New Jersey-based band Delicate Steve. A press release used to promote the band, on the other hand, was something altogether more fantastic.
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Everything You Know About This Band Is Wrong

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Everything You Know About This Band Is Wrong

Everything You Know About This Band Is Wrong

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We end this hour with a story about press releases, those pleas that journalists get from publicists, encouraging them to cover their client's latest record or book or movie, you name it. We get hundreds of them every day.

But NPR's Frannie Kelley got one recently that seemed kind of weird.

FRANNIE KELLEY: I got this email from a publicist and started to look through it because I'd heard some of the band's music. It's all instrumental.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLEY: But I didn't know anything about Delicate Steve. So I'm reading through, and there is a sentence that doesn't make a whole lot of sense: The critics unilaterally concur: Delicate Steve is a band who creates music.

I'm like, what? I keep going, and then I get to, like a hydroelectric Mothra rising from the ashes of an African village burned to the ground by post-rock minotaurs.

Then there's this line about Delicate Steve sounding like the band My Bloody Valentine, but without the guitars. This is what My Bloody Valentine sounds like.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLEY: All guitars. Then I hit a name I recognized. The press release says the band was discovered by Luaka Bop's A&R man, Wills Glasspiegel. I know that guy.

Mr. WILLS GLASSPIEGEL (Producer, Afropop Worldwide): It says that I'm their A&R man, but I'm not.

KELLEY: He tells me the whole thing is fake, concocted by music writer Chuck Klosterman, the Chuck Klosterman who worked at Spin magazine in the 1990s, who wrote a memoir about loving hair metal, and a book about driving across the country to see the sites of rock and roll's most famous deaths.

Mr. CHUCK KLOSTERMAN (Writer): I describe Steve as sort of this really intense perfectionist, who, like, has dedicated entire swaths of time to working on, like, one chord he heard on a Jandek record.

KELLEY: He also says Steve is a polymath who plays over 40 instruments. I called Steve Marion, who's on tour right now. We spoke while he was standing in front of Bruce Lee's grave in Seattle. I asked him how many instruments he plays.

Mr. STEVE MARION (Producer, Delicate Steve): Probably not 40. I couldn't even name 40 musical instruments. I don't even know if there are 40 musical instruments.

KELLEY: Can Delicate Steve become the wordless New Jersey U2? asks Chuck Klosterman. Turns out this whole thing wasn't even his idea. That honor belongs to one Yale Evelev, who runs the label Luaka Bop.

Mr. YALE EVELEV (Co-Owner, Luaka Bop): Since I'm really tired of bios for bands, I thought, wouldn't it be great just to tell Chuck to write whatever the hell he wanted? I wrote him an email and I said, Chuck, would you do a bio for Delicate Steve? You don't have to talk to the band, and you don't even have to hear the record.

And he wrote me back, I don't do bios. And then two minutes later, he wrote back again, wait a minute. Do you mean I don't have to talk to the band or listen to the record? That's awesome. Okay, I'll do it.

KELLEY: A few music writers thought it was awesome too. They wrote about how funny the bio is. A lot of music writers ignored it, as they do most press releases. But many of the rock clubs and venues that booked Delicate Steve published the release, in full, on their websites, no questions asked. And some people that cover music got taken, including NPR. We sell for the 40 instruments line. So were we all just lazy?

Mr. KLOSTERMAN: The whole idea of public relations is to stop journalism.

KELLEY: Chuck Klosterman.

Mr. KLOSTERMAN: It's to basically give journalists an opportunity to write something without really asking any critical questions. So that's why doing this, I mean, I wouldn't say it's like a media hoax or something because no one in the media really cared.

KELLEY: I care. And I bet all the other writers and people who buy music and tickets to shows out there who fell for this fiction care too.

Mr. KLOSTERMAN: One person asked me, will you feel bad if someone goes to this show or buys this record based on the fact that you wrote this fictional piece? I'll be honest. I don't feel bad. Because to me, I've probably helped the person to learn that you should not make consumer decisions based on some random media message that someone just fabricated.

KELLEY: Right. But one of the reasons Klosterman was able to pull this off in the first place is that we need stories about music, and they really do change how we hear it.

Michael Beckerman is the chair of the music department at New York University. He's done research on this very subject. Five years ago, he invited a group of people to listen to a piece of music in a church in Germany. He gave program notes to half of the audience that told them the piece they were about to hear was written in a concentration camp by a composer who was sent to Auschwitz only days later where he died. He told the other half nothing other than the composer's name.

Professor MICHAEL BECKERMAN (Chairman, Music Department, New York University): Afterwards, we interviewed everybody. And the people who didn't get program notes thought it was sort of a sweet, lovely, folksy, Eastern European piece. And the people who got program notes almost uniformly tended to understand it as one of the great tragic statements of the century.

KELLEY: He plays another example.

Prof. BECKERMAN: You have something like this.

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. BECKERMAN: Now, what role would it play if I told you the title of this was called "Dark Blue World?" And what if I further told you that it was written by a Czech jazz pianist around 1929? And what if I told you that the jazz pianist was himself nearly blind and that "Dark Blue World" became his kind of personal anthem? So...

(Soundbite of music)

Prof. BECKERMAN: Well, you might listen to it differently.

KELLEY: But what if the story behind the music just isn't that interesting?

Mr. MARION: I called it Delicate Steve because I had a recording studio that was called Delicate Studios, and everybody that I played the music with were all really good friends. So that's Delicate Steve. Kind of a boring story, like every other band, I guess.

KELLEY: So somebody came up with a better story, and a few more people listened to the music than maybe would have otherwise. Was it a good-natured prank, or a lie?

Frannie Kelley, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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