Steely Decosta: Knocking at the Door

by Traci Nubalo

Metaverse Tribune - March 31, 2012

“I just worked this one out last week. I saw it on a video and I love the song. It’s called ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’”. Steely Decosta is talking to his audience at Key West Resort & Marina. It’s his debut at the mega-popular Second Life music venue and I can tell that he’s brought his A-Game. He launches into the Crowded House piece and within several measures his musicianship and sense of the song begins to show through. I’ve been hanging with Steely for a few gigs this week and I’m beginning to see how he’s landed here, finally knocking at the door of success in this amazing and highly-competitive SL live music scene.

To begin with he has developed a beautiful sound - full and present; the guitar is crisp and sparkling and sets up his smooth, easy vocal tones perfectly. He’s managed to tweak his live sound to almost-perfect calibration for the working singer/songwriter; the frequencies of the guitar and the vocals are cleanly separated allowing each "voice" to be heard beautifully and cleanly. I asked him about it.

** ** **

Traci Nubalo: I’d like to fill the Metaverse Tribune readers in on this amazing clean sound of yours, Steely. Let’s open with a little Tech Talk. What guitar are you playing in Second Life these days?
Steely Decosta: It’s a Line Six Variax. It has twenty-five guitar sounds built in with the flip of a switch. The guitar sound I’m using in SL is a Gibson acoustic. Then I use a Boss Me 70 effects board. So I run guitar to board to looper, then to a Behringer mixer.
TN: Which vocal mic do you prefer?
SD: A Shure SM58.
TN: The old standby.
SD: Haha. You know it.
TN: Let me ask about your guitar style. You seem to combine strumming with finger-picking. It's like strumming with runs and fills added in. Very effective. I know it’s probably Chet Atkins-based, but is there a name for that style?
SD: Not sure; it’s kind of developed as I’ve played. I get a better feel for the notes that way. More touch. I also use the back of my fingernail for the crisper sound, for the strum sound.
TN: Ahh. Then the pads of the fingers for the hammers and pulloffs.
SD: Yes, the pads for pulling and combining strings in small chords.

Back at the gig our guy has just revealed the opening notes of Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels”, and the audience is loving it. That unique guitar style is on full display as the Louisville, KY resident backs his wistfully-sweet vocals with that picked/strummed guitar from underneath. It gives a very full sound without intruding on the simple beauty of the song. Over subsequent hearings this rendition of “Watching The Wheels” has surfaced as one of my favorite live Steely songs - for now.

He follows that one up with another unexpected-but-right-on choice, “Dock of the Bay”, the classic Otis Redding/Steve Cropper ballad that flew to the top in early 1968, just weeks after Redding’s death. Decosta’s sterling vocal treatment, married to a wonderfully-expressive guitar break, retains the longing and angst of the original but, as with most of his live offerings, he “Steelyfies” it and makes it all his.

Revealing yet another wise-veteran song choice he moves the crowd effortlessly to “Wildflowers”, the straightforward singer/songwriter title track that so sweetly graced Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ superb 1994 album. Again, Steely demonstrates exceptional finger-picking, driven by a right hand that’s rock steady yet inventive at the same time.

TN: So, when did you arrive in SL?
SD: April, 2007. I had seen an episode of CSI where they came in to SL to solve a murder. It piqued my interest.
TN: Were you gigging in RL at that point?
SD: Hmmm probably not. Maybe just jamming around with old band mates and such.
TN: Gotcha. The reason I ask is that your SL live set is often very intelligently and logically put together, flow-wise. Usually that's a sign of someone with a bunch of live gigging under their belt.
SD: Thank you. I try. I also try to get a feel from the audience about which one to call next.
TN: Were you a strong vocalist in your early groups?
SD: Yes, when I was in a band we all sang three- or four-part harmonies.
TN: Yes, I notice that you have a very strong hold on your upper-register vocals. Did that come from all the harmonies you did?
SD: Yes, I always did the high parts. And I was very comfortable in the band situation. Playing on my own in SL was the first time I played with just me and my guitar. I’ve always respected the guys who could just set and play.
TN: A good example: "Wildflowers" - good call. It’s not the typical Petty to cover.
SD: You like that one? It’s a nice song isn’t it? I play it with the capo on the 5th fret.
TN: Great choice and well-suited for your skill set. You demonstrate some really creative picking work on that one.
SD: That one is fun to play.

By the time he breaks into Clapton’s “Bellbottom Blues” it feels as if the venue and the audience in it have risen to a higher level as the crowd floods open chat with a singalong.

Then, there’s the looper. I’ll go on record as saying that Decosta seems to be defining his own turf in the growth of original loop pedal work in SL. Steely uses the looper in a transparent fashion; the effect serves the song. Over top of the layered rhythms he’s capable of slicing in with an excellent electric guitar solo, then letting it all morph improvisationally. He's strong enough musically to give the notoriously-difficult live looping process an identity of its own.

Overall, I’m looking for great things in the future from Steely Decosta. He’s original, he’s talented and he’s at the door - knocking.

(c) Copyright 2012
Traci Nubalo.
All rights reserved.


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