Steve Conte (NEW YORK DOLLS)found some time somewhere in between one show with the DOLLS and another with MICHAEL MONROE to have a little chat with us. Steve tells us more about his solo project The Crazy Truth…
Can you tell us a bit about your new album and its recording? We can read on your MySpace page that it was recording live. Do you think that modern production and too much Protools can sometimes be harmful to the spirit and soul of music?
My goal with recording “Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth” was to keep it raw and inspired, no overthinking or laboring over anything with very few overdubs. After playing and recording with the Dolls for so many years it’s become apparent to me how much fun you can have if you don’t set such lofty goals. I wanted some of that for myself. Now New York Dolls fans can hear what I do on my own(some ask about me & Sylvain, like who does what on the Dolls albums…) I think you’ll hear from my record where certain things come from.
Yes, ProTools can be dangerous to rock & roll…you could sound like Nickelback!! I use protools like it’s a tape machine in some respects. We’d record a bunch of takes and then I’d pick the best one and we’d work on that one, maybe replacing a few bars here & there from other takes. But it was not “snapped to the grid” in perfect time. We didn’t use a click track so the grid would have been useless anyway. That’s why this record sounds like stuff that used to come out in the 70s… it uses some modern technology but only as a convenience & time saver, not as the way the attain “perfection”.
New York City seems to have had a big influence on this album, right?
Absolutely! If you follow the lyrics from song to song it’s like one big story about a life of excess in NYC. This is a place where you can get anything you want at anytime of day or night. If you have a tendency to use-and-abuse certain things and can come out the other side with your body and mind intact you’re one of the lucky ones.
I wasn’t trying to make the album sound like any other NYC bands per se but I started seeing reviews where they were talking about it in the same breath as Mink DeVille, Lou Reed, The Heartbreakers, etc. I said “Totally coincidental but allright – I’ll take it!”
How is Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth different from The Contes? Can you introduce the line-up?
It’s very different. The Contes (and our previous band, Crown Jewels) was really just my brother John on bass/vocals and me on vocals/guitars with a variety of different drummers and on the records occasional sweeteners like keyboards, cello, violin, percussion, samplers, etc.
Those records were great but a bitch to reproduce live because we never had the same players and we’d need a 6 piece band. Luckily, since high school John and I have always had power trios (The Who “Live At Leeds” was our bible), so on our gigs we could easily strip it down if we had to. But The Crazy Truth is a band that I started out this way with the end result in mind. If the songs are arranged & musically interesting for a power trio playing live then that’s how you record the album.
On bass we have Lee “Leeko” Kostrinsky who I’ve known since high school. He’s the resident anarchist. His style is different from my brother’s because he grew up listening to punk rock & reggae whereas we were listening to The Stones, 60s pop and soul music. Drummer Phil Stewart is from Scarborough, Ontario and is a killer musician. He recently played a gig with one of my favorite jazz guitarists, the legendary Pat Martino so I guess it’s not just my imagination – he’s good!
Will you record new songs with your brother in the future?
I’m sure we will but right now we’re enjoying some time apart doing individual projects. John has just finished a rock & roll kid’s record that is killing ! (it’s called Leo’s Mom – google it!) We have many more songs we’ve written and worked on together that need to be recorded and released so it will happen in time…
The album seems to have received good reviews from the press and from fellow musicians, would you say that it’s your master piece to this day?
Masterpiece?? No. but I’m pretty proud of it because it was a vision that I saw through. I had to limit myself to a certain few elements so that maybe for the first time ever I could make a truly cohesive record of songs and sounds. I normally like to combine genres and jump around stylistically because I get bored but this band and record – like I said before – was thought through all the way. I knew the end result I wanted to get which was, “what are we gonna sound like when we play live?” and that was the criteria for making the album.
I was also heavily involved in the recording and editing on this record. When you don’t have a lot of money to record you figure out ways of making an album where you can do a lot yourself. And those limitations, if they’re not disastrous can be a unique strength.
Can you tell us a bit about your years in COMPANY OF WOLVES? Do you sometimes feel a bit of nostalgia for those days?
The Wolves were my “coming-of-age” band. I was feeling young and virile…it was my first original band on the road and I went nuts. I had killer guitar chops and a huge mane of hair (I seem to have trimmed back on them both somewhere along the way.) We weren’t reinventing the rock & roll wheel but we had some great songs, which if we’d have had better timing could have been radio smash hits.
The music biz was different then. You actually got radio airplay, record sales happened as did tour support and video budgets. It’s a whole new game now. No more will labels give out that kind of money, nor would I spend that kind of money. So I’m maybe missing a bit of what the climate used to be in the music world compared with today’s downloading culture…but I’d only go back there again if I could use what I know now…
You always seem to be busy with tons of projects. I read that you’re helping for a movie these days… And what was exactly your involvement with the video game “Sonic And The Secret Rings”?
I was the “rock and roll guru” on a film called It’s Kind Of A Funny Story with Zach Galafinakis and Emma Roberts. I basically coached these actors who were supposed to be a band onstage how to be a convincing rock star. It was fun. As for the Sonic game I was just hired to come in and sing “Seven Rings In Hand” in the studio. I also played guitar on a ballad called “Worth A Chance” which has one mix with me signing and one with a different guy singing.
Does the term “guitar hero” mean something to you?
It’s a game – innit?
Yoko Kanno is probably not very famous among rock fans, how did you meet her? Can you tell us about her and the work you’ve done for her?
I met her back in 1998 or so. She had come to NYC to record some bits for her solo album “Song To Fly”. I was recommended to her when she wanted an American rock singer. So I came in and sang “Nowhere And Everywhere” and she loved it. We really hit it off as a working team so she asked if I would do a few more things later for a TV show she was writing music for (Cowboy Bebop).
The first thing I recorded was “Rain” then “Call Me Call Me” – which was sung live with a 30 piece orchestra. Then I did Wolf’s Rain music with her, most notably for me, “Could You Bite The Hand?” On that one she wanted me to sing but also overdub an acoustic on top of this Brazilian groove The Seatbelts had laid down as the track. I thought it sounded amazing and wondered why she wanted me to even play on it.
As I was fooling around in the control room with my guitar playing the song so I could learn the words she said – “Yes! That, right there…let’s record that!” and that is what the record became, just me and my Martin D-18 acoustic. The killer Seatbelts version has never been used. I also sang on the Cowboy Bebop: The Movie and Brain Powerd soundtracks as well as Maya Sakimoto’s solo album (“The Garden Of Everything” was our duet.)
Let’s talk a bit about the NEW YORK DOLLS. What was your reaction when David and Sylvain offered you to be the band’s guitar player?
At first it was just supposed to be one gig but then a lot of calls started coming in for the band to play live so we kept going. It just morphed from a hired gun gig into a band, which is fine by me. I like being a band guy as opposed to somebody always negotiating a salary.
Were you worried about the fans reactions or comparisons with Johnny Thunders?
It was annoying at first but I got over it. Since I didn’t grow up a Thunders fan I couldn’t understand his cult not embracing the new guy. But ya know it’s silly, I am me and he was him, 2 unique individuals as players and people. I wasn’t really hired to “replace” him but to be the new Dolls guitar player.
It happened when Mick Taylor replaced Brian Jones and then when Ronnie Wood replaced Mick. It becomes The Stones Mach II…but it’s still the Stones. Same with the New York Dolls.
The new songs I’ve written and my role as guitarist with them on the past 2 albums wouldn’t have been the same with a player like Thunders – as I couldn’t have done what he did back in the early 70s.
You got the name “Crazy Truth” from a Bukowski poem, what are some of your favourite books and the last one you read?
I love all Bukowski’s books, Love Is A Dog From Hell, Hot Water Music, Play The Piano Like A Percussion Instrument…etc. I recently finished Confessions Of A Yakusa. I’m now reading the biography of Little Richard.
Do you plan on bringing The Crazy Truth to Europe?
It’s my goal and I’m working on it. It will take some effort but I love playing there because the audiences can be so attentive to your music. It’s different than the USA. I think we’re all a bit jaded over there.
Last but not least, where do you get your cool clothes?
Ha. Thrift stores, Daffy’s and sometimes places I can’t afford but you see these beautiful things in other countries when you’re on tour and you just gotta have it!