Steve Conte Interview
Sometimes, some people just seem to be built to be involved in Rock N Roll and Steve Conte is certainly one of those. It takes a pretty special guy to step in to one of the greatest rock n roll bands ever. Steve not only did this when he joined the legendary New York Dolls but more importantly he brought something new to the band, that helped them have a whole new lease of life. Given his talent and love for what he does it is no surprise that he has a rock n roll black book full of hugely talented people. He has put this to good effect to create a fantastic new album, which includes some great guest appearances. We were therefore delighted to get the chance to interview Steve to find out more about what he has been up to.
You released your last album, Steve Conte NYC, via the pledge music scheme, what was the thinking behind that?
Pledgemusic is a great way to involve the people who are into your music by offering them unique experiences and special packages. I offered house concerts, an unreleased Covers EP, handwritten lyric sheets, custom recorded songs, “get your name in the credits” and things like that. My pal and former Michael Monroe band mate Ginger Wildheart, turned me on to the whole pledge thing. He had done really well with his campaign, raising 555% of his original goal so I thought if I could even do HALF as well as him I’d be doing pretty good. At the time I had no idea how big and wide reaching my fan base was but in the end I got up to 352% of my original goal so I did even better than I had hoped for. I got the album mixed and mastered thanks to my generous pledgers.
Are there any plans for a full release for those that missed out?
Yes, and in fact it’s out there now. In March, I did a “soft release” – putting it out myself on iTunes, Amazon and CDbaby – because so many people that had missed the chance to pledge wanted to buy the album. So while I explore different options for worldwide distribution at least people who are directly in touch with me through Facebook, Twitter, my email list and website can get it now. For the readers who aren’t connected with me, here are the links:
CDbaby.com (CDs & downloads)
Many guitarists tend to go down a singer songwriter style on a solo album, whilst yours is a full on rock n roll album (which is a relief!), was this a deliberate decision?
Funny that you say that because I thought it was more of a singer-songwriter album, myself! Well, it’s certainly more reflective and lyrical than my last dirty Noo Yawk release, “Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth”. Many of the songs are acoustic based due to the story-telling nature of their lyrics. My decision was based on the fact that I had one weekend to cut tracks in NYC (I was living in The Netherlands at the time) but I had no band and would have no time for any preproduction rehearsals. So it was really about choosing the simplest songs and the right players who could nail it quickly. I would run the tune down a few times in the studio with the bass player and drummer and then we’d hit the “record” button. Doing that kept things fresh and avoided the performances being too slick, because the band wasn’t “over rehearsed”.
There is an amazing array of talent on the album, how did it feel to work with so many great artists?
It was a fantastic experience. I realized that all I had to do was ask people and they would say yes. I have a bunch of really good and talented friends…it must be the mutual admiration society…haha!
Is there anyone you would still love to work with?
Sure. I have other friends that I wasn’t able to get on this album that I’d love to get on the next one…hopefully Jimmy Ashurst from the Ju Ju Hounds, Glen Matlock of the Pistols, Doug Gillard of Guided By Voices, among many others. And there are artists I don’t know personally but have a connection to that I’d love to work with as well…starting at the top (and why not?) Robert Plant, Ronnie Wood, Iggy…hell, I’d love to play in THEIR bands!!
You reference Johnny Thunders in the very first song, having been the guitarist in the New York Dolls do you feel like his shadow hangs over you?
Nah. And I never did. With all due respect, I wasn’t a Thunders disciple…but I was a Chuck Berry and Keith Richards disciple, which is why The Dolls gig was a good fit for me.
What was it like being a member of such a legendary band?
It was awesome. I mean, how many legendary bands can a guitar player just step into these days? When the call came in, it was perfect; they were from New York and the original guitar player wasn’t around any more – so somebody had to get the gig. It was amazing to be in the band when Arthur Killer Kane was there and we played the first reunion shows at Royal Festival Hall in London. I felt on top of the world and thought it couldn’t get any better. But then David Jo asked me for some music to write words to and we started writing together and making albums. That is truly a rare position to step into – not only playing in a legendary band, but also writing songs and making records with them. And getting to see parts of the world I had never been to because back in the day the Dolls had never played those places like China, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, Russia…
Did you ever get any grief from the hardcore Dolls fans?
Yeah, there were a few situations where old school Dolls fans had the attitude, “He’s not Johnny” or “He’s a Johnny wanna-be” – but of course I’m not Johnny, I’m me. And I never tried to be him, I just happen to also be Italian with a big nose and lots of hair and play Gibsons very aggressively. The differences between us are pretty extreme; Thunders was a self-taught, raw player and singer with much of his strength being his attitude and performance – plus he had the whole junkie personality. And he was a creative artist, which is a trait I’d like to think I share with him. But me, although early on I was self taught and had my own chemical romances, I opted to stop living on the edge and trade my destructive obsessions for studying music. It became my passion. Not only did I continue to listen to and pick apart my favourite records for solos and chord structures on my own, I took lessons with some great jazz teachers to develop my fret board knowledge, musical ear, theory and harmony. It’s a real feat to be a niche player with your own sound and vibe like Johnny, but if you don’t “make it” to a certain level you could end up an old guy who has to get a real job. I never wanted to work a real job so I made sure that I knew music and could communicate with all kinds of players.
You are also part of the Michael Monroe band, what is that like?
Like the Dolls, Michael comes from a legendary band that became cult heroes around the world, so again, to be able to step into that position of writing and making records as well as touring together was a great thing. Michael is certainly the greatest rock n roll front man I’ve ever worked with, if not the best in the business! It’s a full-on punk energy experience, not much room for subtlety there… and I can totally get into that! It’s also good to work in another situation with Sami Yaffa and getting to collaborate with such talented guitarist-songwriters as Ginger, Dregen and Rich Jones. Drummer Karl Rockfist ain’t too shabby either…animal!!
I reviewed Horns and Halos and I thought it was one of the best solo albums Michael has done, how involved were you in the writing?
Without getting too specific let’s just say I wrote 2/3 of the Horns And Halos album (that’s what my royalty statements tell me anyway). Of the 14 songs original songs we recorded I wrote 3 completely on my own. The rest of the songs were born out of riffs and chord progressions by Sami and Dregen, to which I added the vocal melodies, lyrics and some sections of music. Michael also contributed some lyrics and vocal melodies here and there. I was truly honoured to have such an iconic front man as Michael Monroe singing my lyrics and melodies! But the thing is, no matter what it says on paper it really was a group effort and sound. I couldn’t have written what I did without those guys and their ideas – and they wouldn’t have those songs and that album without my contributions. So it was a win-win situation!
Do you prefer being part of a band or being a solo artist?
I like both for different reasons. As a solo artist I like being in control and directing the vibe and sound of a record, but that also has its drawbacks because all the pressure is on me to do everything. It’s great being in a band because the energy and ideas come from all the members and you feed off of each other…but then there are also compromises that you have to deal with which you don’t have when it’s your own project.
What has happened to your former band The Crazy Truth?
It’s on the back burner for the moment but we’ll be back! This new album of mine was supposed to be a Crazy Truth record but our drummer Phil Stewart wasn’t available during the time that I was scheduled to be in NYC to record so I had to change the plan and do a different kind of album.
What does the rest of 2014 hold in store for Steve Conte?
I’m currently auditioning members for the Steve Conte NYC band in New York and will do some live shows soon. I’m working on a couple of videos for the new album and after I get a proper worldwide release for it I have another recording in the can that will come out – “Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth: International Cover EP” with some of my favourite songs by Willy DeVille, Eddie Cochran, Keith Richards, Tom Waits and more. There will be continued touring with the Monroe band and now that I’m in NYC full time again I’ll get back to work there – in the studio, on other artist’s records, film and TV soundtracks, doing live gigs and co-writing songs. I’m also looking to produce other artists and possibly give some master classes on guitar playing and song writing. I’ve also been working on mixing a live EP with my brother from our band The Contes, and we have unreleased studio tracks that we want to put out from our band Crown Jewels. I do have songs ready for another Steve Conte NYC record and a Crazy Truth record, though I may not get to that before the end of the year.
Any plans to visit the UK again soon?
I sure hope so! It’s always been a blast for me to tour there with my own bands. Now that I’m fully based back in NYC it will be more of a challenge to get over there especially since I will have a bigger band this time out, but I’m looking into some “creative solutions’ for that…
Thanks for reading everybody! Please connect with me online via these fine sites below…Cheers!
SC * NYC
You really need to check out those links and if you’re a fan of great rock n roll music then you really need to check out his album. It’s an absolutely brilliant album which demonstrates not only Steve’s fantastic talent but also his position as a true rock n roll star. The album was only originally available to pledgers so we should be grateful that we can all now get hold of it. We certainly need to make sure that we do absolutely anything we can do to get him back over to the UK as soon as possible.