Search This Blog

Thursday, 14 April 2011

El Diablo in conversation with Steve Conte

Steve Conte has a rock and roll CV that most people would need a couple of lifetimes at the coal face of rock to match.
From working with Paul Simon and Willy DeVille to The New York Dolls and Michael Monroe he has been there and bought the t-shirt.
Along with his brother he also brought us the criminally under rated Company of Wolves, Contes and Crown Jewels and then more recently on his own The Crazy Truth.
It would seem fair to say that he has supped from the fountain of prodigious talent and it was a great pleasure for me to meet up with him last December and shoot the breeze.
So without further ado. I give you Mr Steve Conte.

ElD - An extraordinary amount of stuff has happened over the last few years.
SC - Yeah. My record “Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth came out in 2009 and I'm on my second tour of the UK right now. It's going great but very, very cold, and next time I'll tour in the spring or early fall. Not December. Never December again.

ElD - Are you finding it difficult fitting in doing your own thing while doing so much for other people?
SC - Well it's a constant back and forth. I do love to do both. I love to do my own thing. I love to sing, write songs and be the guy, but I also like to play behind other people and let someone else drive and do the worrying, and yeah, just play my guitar.

ElD - I took in one of the shows on the Motorhead tour and I've got to be honest, Motorhead just didn't do it for me this time but the Michael Monroe performance was a definite highlight and it looked like you picked up quite a few new fans.
SC - I think so. I wondered you know. Motorhead fans are so hardcore, like a bunch of heavy dudes with their leathers and black t-shirts...
ElD - and cultivated beer belly's.
SC - Ha, yeah exactly, I thought how's it going to go down with this pretty blonde singer, but Michael is an animal,. An absolute maniac and then I think that when people see him perform they go “ okay, now I know why he's with Motorhead” because he's just a nut.

ElD - Michael's band has just clicked into place. It's like a real super-group.
It actually reminds me of the bands in the seventies when some big names would all get together and form a new group that would blow everyone away, although they rarely did. Yet in this case, with yourself, Sami, Ginger and Karl it works doesn't it.
SC - Yeah. I think so. Wait until you hear the record though. That's going to open some eyes.

ElD - Well I've seen Hanoi Rocks a number of times over the years and I don't think I've heard Hanoi's material being played with the amount of passion or energy that was shown on the Motorhead tour. That's not to belittle ex members as I'm a committed fan. It's just it felt to me that everything was taken to another level when you all approached the material
SC - Well I'd never seen Hanoi play, but the Dolls were on a festival with them once and you hear the stories and I sort of knew where Andy McCoy's head was at and that would have gave Hanoi a certain feel while we have a different dynamic in the band. I've met Andy and he's definitely what you would call a character, and you know I can see how that could get in the way of you really wanting to fuckin' deliver.
A lot of people get like that, a little complacent, and maybe lazy and “oh I'm a legend and people should be lucky to come and see me fart on stage”, but I've never been like that.
Maybe there's something in that.

ElD - Well now that you have mentioned the Dolls I know someone in Newcastle who had told me prior to anyone setting foot in a studio that Sami and yourself weren't going to be involved in the recording of their latest album. Were you disappointed in this?
SC – Were you disappointed?
ElD – Truth be told. Yes I was. Very much so.
SC - Well the way it happened was, and I haven't said this in print, and a lot of people do ask me “did I quit the Dolls” and I say no because it's true, I didn't quit them and they didn't let me go either. The way it was is that I just got busy with Michael.
When the Dolls wasn't so busy Sami and I just needed something to do.
We have this energy and need to keep working. We want to get out there and play music and there was a time when there really wasn't much going on with the Dolls and we told them that we were going to work with Michael and then when things picked up again with the Dolls we....
ElD – weren't in a position to be available?
SC - Yeah. That's it. I had already booked myself for the next few months
I was always asking “hey guys I'm going to do this. Is anything happening” and they would say no.
So when they finally called I had already booked myself up and just couldn't do it.
I mean we started our album on the same exact day as the Dolls. The manager called and said we start September 6th in Newcastle and I said “that aint going to work. We start September 6th in Los Angeles”. So it was clearly just a case of not being able to do it.
There was no hard feeling.
I spoke to Sylvain and played phone tag with David, but Sylvain and I had a good conversation. It wasn't even like....well it was left vague you know. The way I take it is if they need me then they can call me. I love the guys.
ElD – I'll ask you one more question about the Dolls and then we can move on. It's not something you seem to be asked, but did you ever get tired of being asked about stepping into Johnny Thunders boots because you are two very different guitarists. Different eras even. As a fan I would personally read interviews and see the same tired old question rolled out and think to myself that maybe they should be asking you about “Steve Conte” and not a predecessor?
SC – (Laughing) Oh sorry. Did I yawn? You know I think you just said it all.
ElD – Well the first couple of times it's fine, but after that.....?
SC - Yeah. After the first album.
I mean I had a lot of really nice compliments from a lot of really fuckin' high up people that I respect like Chrissie Hynde and Mick Jones.
Even after we did the Royal Festival Hall I wasn't quite sure what to expect and when these people came up and told me what a great job they thought I did I was like “Okay. I guess this is all right.”
ElD – I remember the first time that you came to Glasgow and I interviewed Sami and he was just so excited about playing and then when I seen the show I could see why. It was a band. Not hired guns, but a real band all working together. For me it drew a line under the Dolls of the past and opened the door for a Dolls mark II.
SC – Well me and Sami are just guys who are excited about playing and we brought that to the Dolls and we bring it to Michaels band to and we are a good team.

ElD – I'd like to move onto the Crazy Truth now.
Is the name from the Bukowski poem?
SC - It is. I was looking through some Bukowski poems and I seen one called The Crazy Truth and while its not a really unique Bukowski title it jumped out at me. Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth sort of fitted the songs that are all about shit that really happened in New York and it all just worked well.
ElD – I bought the album from you the last time you were in Glasgow and it has sort of came full circle for me. At first I thought that it was like a real New York sounding album, and then as time went on I started thinking that here was something else thrown into the mix and it sounded less like a New York sound, but then it sort of dawned on me that the city is a huge melting pot of influences and so it does reflect it as a whole.
You listen to one song and Willy DeVille is in there......
SC - The Spanish thing. A latin sound. I didn't necessarily...well. I don't know where I picked that up. As I kid I would hear it and in the last few years I've hung out with Spanish guys and flamenco artists so Indie Girl and Busload of hope have that Latino feel and while I'm not Spanish, I'm Italian and that's close enough.
ElD – Are you proud of it?
SC – Yeah. I am. Especially since my goal was not to polish it up. It took a long time to do the album in between touring with the Dolls, not because I was labouring over it and trying different parts and erasing, layering things. It was because I wouldn't be home for six months and then I would be home for a week and do two vocals and then be back on the road again.
So I was determined not to polish it up too much and leave the performances as they were. I did some editing, but kept it raw. Maybe overdubbed one or two things on a track. Nothing tricky.

ElD – In your own career you have moved about a bit. Side steps even. So is The Crazy truth just one step, a one off or is there going to be a second album.
SC. Interesting. I've been doing an acoustic album over the last few years when I've been on the road with the Dolls. I started two years ago.
It takes me so long to get anything out because I don't go okay I need to go and write an album, record an album and then put it out.
ElD – Three weeks in the studio, everyone there and that's it?
SC – Yeah. Like that would be a luxury to do it like that. It been like steal a few hours hear and another few the next week. I'm definitely not the most disciplined person although I have thousands of songs to choose from. It's just that it's overwhelming sometimes to. When you get home from touring you just want to chill out with your family and friends. So that takes precedence.
ElD – Well that leads me on nicely to what I wanted to ask next. You put up regular posts on facebook and mention your family. As a father how difficult is it to be away for so long on tour. How difficult is it to sort of reconnect?
SC – Well I have never been away for so long, but even three weeks is difficult. The longest I have been away from my son is five week and that was.... well it's long.
I can imagine these guys like Springsteen who tour for six months, a year and then they are gone, but I suppose if you make that sort of money you can fly them out for a week.
ElD. Kel and myself went to see Springsteen and he had his son on tour with him. He came on and done a couple of songs at the end of the show, but he's an adult now so it is different.
SC – Huh. I'm always waiting for that moment when I can say “My family needs to come. We want our own bus” (Laughing)
ElD – Did the birth of your son reshape your life?
SC – Oh yeah. Huge. It makes you put your priorities in different places as it's not just about me any more. It's about my wife and our little guy.
ElD – Going back to the messages on facebook. Do you feel it is breaking down barriers between artists and fans by posting directly to them. A good example is that a few weeks ago you mentioned you had some plans, but ended up working on the patio with your father in law. I mean we don't hear what Mick Jagger is doing to that extent.
SC – The jury is out on it really. Does it make you too familiar to your public, or does it add another dimension? All the young bands are doing it to so you feel that it's just the way of the world. I'm on the road and I've got my laptop and it something else to do when you're bored to. Connect with people.
ElD- It good self promotion though.
SC - Yeah. It shows a human side to. There are certain people who would never twitter, but I'm surprised at how many people who do. Even people I admire and you can engage with them and I think about that as people are fans of what I do, and I'm a fan of what other people do. You know?
ElD – So what's the score with Ginger and you? You both seem to be getting on like a house on fire. A Jagger and Richards deal. A down market Glimmer twins.
SC - (Laughing) Whose Jagger and whose Richards?
ElD – Is he your new heterosexual soul mate.
SC -. Fuck. Ha. Well we definitely relate to each other and we have already talked about doing an album together. We have a name, a title, a producer in mind.
Eld – Give us an exclusive.
SC. No. No. Ha. Can't yet. We need to have a press conference for that.
Lets just say that it is based on a lot of the music we have in common and I've also discovered a lot of great bands through him. Last week it was the Rezillos. Incredible band, and he has been going on and on about Sparks recently and yeah. I knew Sparks, but as a kid I never went out to the store and put down my bucks.
ElD – Sometimes things just by pass you.
SC – Yeah. When the Dolls did the festival Hall it was Nancy Sinatra and Sparks playing on the bill, but I was so busy getting the Dolls stuff down that I never really payed attention to what was going on, but I've just reignited a love affair with them.
ElD - There's just so much out there. You can't explore it all can you?
SC - That's it, and Gingers such a music guy he throws something different up all the time.
He's a great marketer and does what he has to do to. He knows how to take care of business, but first and foremost he's a music lover and that's why we get on so well.

By this point things had warmed up rather well and I suppose we could have put the world to rights, but it was time for Steve to go and play.
In reflection, going over it in your head in hindsight, he comes across as a nice guy. An honest and decent well grounded guy.
Maybe a bit reticent at first to open up, but that goes with the territory, and then that disappears as his enthusiasm for what he does takes over and he can't really hide his love of performing, playing with people and even on a personal level his love for his family and admiration for his friends.
Sometimes interviewing people is like a job, but occasionally it's a pleasurable experience and this was one of them.

Thanks Steve.


  1. Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I'm impressed! Very helpful information particularly the last part :) I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.
    Newcastle shutters

  2. Thank you Nadia. It was av real pleasure meeting Steve. He's a real music fan and just a lovely down to earth guy.
    Seeing him play with Michael Monroe this Sunday (tomorrow) and then again in Dec with the Crazy Truth.