ESCAPING THE SHADOWS:
an Interview with
by Gus Bernadicou
Steve Conte is one of the nicest men in rock 'n roll. Escaping the shadows of his contemporaries he now is the driving force between the punk attitude of the Michael Monroe Band. Never claiming to be punk, his guitar speaks louder than ever. He is just about to go on a solo tour and chats with us about the New York Dolls, Willy DeVille, and everyone else.
Punk Globe: Steve, to get things clear...you aren't a "PUNK" rocker, correct?
Steve Conte: No, but I play one on television. Seriously, I grew up on 60s/70s rock & roll, then went back to 40s/50s jazz & blues. When punk hit in the late 70s i was in my jazz period; Miles, Trane, Bird, Diz, Wes, etc. At that time I did like a few post-punk bands like Pretenders, XTC & Police because they were very melodic & musical with different influences other than straight white rock. I liked the energy of punk but I was pretty focused on things that were more musical whereas in punk, the focus was more on the attitude & the message, rather than being able to play. I was already a good musician & rock guitarist but wanted to be an even better player (and singer) so that's what I worked on. So I missed all the hanging out and cultivating of a rock & roll lifestyle that some of my contemporaries did...but ya know, I've got a a solid musical background now so i can pretty much play with anybody and have...from the Les Paul Trio to Maceo Parker and all things in between.
Punk Globe: Being raised in a musical family, was becoming a musician always a goal?
Steve Conte: Not only was it a goal, it was just a way of life. My mom was a working jazz singer supporting a family of 5 on her gigs so I never thought twice about music as a "career choice"...it's just what we all did. I was a drummer first at age 7, then started singing,writing songs & recording at age 10 and finally became a real guitarist by 11.
Punk Globe: While playing with other musicians, your most commercial recognition has come from your work with the Dolls...
Steve Conte: Well, it's a legendary band...practically a "brand" name. I've played with people more famous and commercially successful (Paul Simon, Billy Squier, Peter Wolf, etc.) but none as notorious in the rock & roll game as the Dolls.
Punk Globe: You also played with the King of Swag, Willy Deville. How did that come about?
Steve Conte: I was a longtime fan of Willy's voice/writing and my friend David Keyes was playing bass w/ Willy when their guitarist Freddy Koella left to play with Bob Dylan. Knowing what a fan I was he called me first. There was a bit of a learning curve there for me as I'd never played mandolin, slide or Tex-Mex nylon string guitar onstage before. I stayed in the woodshed & worked my ass off for about a month and by the time the tour was ready to roll I was too.
Punk Globe: Of course there is a connection between him and Johnny Thunders/The New York Dolls. Is that even relevant to your life?
Steve Conte: Well, Willy & Johnny were both legendary New York musicians - AND junkies. They knew each other and I've got some kind of connection to both of them - but I'm just a musician.
Punk Globe: When you were in the Dolls your contributions often went unthanked. Do you feel you contributed more than you were given credit for?
Steve Conte: Well, as much as I'd like to think we had a real "band" when Sami & I were there, the Dolls is really David & Syl. They were the originators so whatever anyone else created, even if they were given credit on paper or business-wise, it was mostly perceived as David & Syl's genius. What can ya do? Not to take any glory away from them, they are the real deal. Very creative guys.
Punk Globe: When you released your solo album between the writing and arrangements your hand in the Dolls could be seen. Was there something you were trying to prove with the album?
Steve Conte: More than trying to "prove" anything i wanted to bring that Dolls spirit of LIVE recording and loose rock n roll back into my own band. I had done a few beautifully written & recorded albums before The Crazy Truth with my brother John (The Contes, Crown Jewels) but i was having so much fun onstage w/ the Dolls that i wanted to have a band of my own that could do that live as well. So we set about to record it in the same manner as i did w/ Jack Douglas on "One Day It Will Please Us...." - live tracking & solos, minimal overdubs, shout-y choruses (not much harmony) & dirty production - even dirtier than the Dolls. I suppose that after hearing my solo album if people thought the guitar power on the Dolls albums was Sylvain they'd have to think again. It pretty much RULES in the rock & roll guitar department, if i do say so myself.
Punk Globe: As the Dolls continue on, their style seems to change to accommodate David Johansen's pallet; when you heard their new album what did you think?
Steve Conte: Where's the guitar? It's not the Dolls sound people are used to but then again, neither were the albums Sami & I did w/ them. Sure, they have the right to evolve and I guess this is what they chose to do this time out. I do know that time was a factor in the record's release so a lot of the songs were built on demos Syl had started at home w/ a Vox organ. It's just kind of funny because Syl was always the one saying "we gotta keep true to the Dolls sound and not do any stuff that belongs on a David Johansen solo record" - and to me this album sounds more like a solo DJ record than either of the last 2 albums that I did with them. In my last few years w/ them David has been down on the big guitar "rock" sound...he passed on many of the rock & roll guitar song ideas that were brought into the writing sessions and favored the more moody, acoustic ideas. And I get it - he's moving on and doesn't want that loud guitar shit screaming in his ear at age 60. I love my acoustic & moody music too.
Punk Globe: Escaping the shadows of David and Syl, you are now the driving force behind the Michael Monroe band. Is your new band, "better?"
Steve Conte: I don't know about being a driving force...everyone in this band is a killer. Sami & Karl drive the rhythm section! With either Ginger or Dregen on guitar, I am the "proper" guitarist and I leave them to the sloppy, punk stuff. That's not a judgement either - I'm sure they'd be happy to agree. But I do think that I am now in a band that is much more energetic & entertaining live, I mean, for myself as a rocker - to get pumped up and have fun onstage. Of course, that's totally subjective and you'd get die-hard DJ/Syl fans who disagree. But I do still love all that music we played together in the Dolls. The blues/R&B/50s&60s side of rock & roll comes more natural to me than the aggressive late 70s punk rock that MM is known for...but i enjoyed the challenge and have risen to it.
Punk Globe: You were technically the lead guitarist of the Dolls but have stated that you were lower in the mix than Sylvain. Do you have more freedom in The MM band?
Steve Conte: It seems that there's not much "guitar-ego" from the other guys in this band...I'm pretty happy with the mixes.
Punk Globe: Is ‘artistic freedom’ part of the reason why you left the Dolls?
Steve Conte: Nope. It was purely a business thing. I have a family to support and I need to work a lot...at least more often than they were working at that time. I hung in there as long as I could but when I saw that the situation was going to remain the same I had to move on. Nothing personal or musical.
Punk Globe: Besides the personal satisfaction you are finding in your new band, you have also won several awards. Could tell the readers some of “Sensory Overdrive” awards?
Steve Conte: It was fantastic! The Michael Monroe Band was up for 2 awards; Band Of The Year and Album Of The Year for our record "Sensory Overdrive" that we made w/ producer Jack Douglas in late 2010. I think Foo Fighters took Band Of The Year but we did get Album Of The Year which is quite an honor as we were up against the Foos, Metallica and other giants. We all went to the awards ceremony in London which was filled with celebs & rockstars from my childhood; Brian & Roger from Queen, Roger & Pete from The Who, Glenn Hughes, Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck (who played that night!) - I even heard Jimmy Page was there but didn't see him. Gene Simmons hosted the awards and we ate & drank very well. After we got our award we took photos w/ Lemmy & Duff McKagen. It was a charmed evening for sure.
Punk Globe: You worked with Jack Douglas, who you worked with in the Dolls, did you find this experience to be different than the first time around?
Steve Conte: Yes, the 1st time around it was more like the David & Syl show so I just played my parts - usually 1 take - and went home, leaving all the other creative stuff to those guys & Jack. But on the Monroe album Jack & I were much more involved with guitars, sounds, performances, songwriting...and hanging out (we all lived in the same house in LA for a month) We had a routine; get up early & go to the gym (Jack, Ginger & me) then get to the studio around 12 noon to work and be back at the house smoking cigars on the porch & listening to Jack's Lennon & Aerosmith stories by 10:00pm.
Punk Globe: Could you explain the motivation behind releasing a solo album while playing in highly regarded band?
Steve Conte: It's what i do and have done my whole life. I can't stand still with my creativity just because I am playing guitar in someone else's band. I have my own visions to see through. I am firstly, Steve Conte the musician/artist/singer/songwriter...then second, I am Steve Conte the guitarist/BG singer for others.
Punk Globe: Did the album come out the way you wanted it to?
Steve Conte: Yes, exactly...considering that it was done on a small budget.
Punk Globe: Flying under the radar, how did the album sell?
Steve Conte: I dunno...it's still selling. It's with Universal Music, the biggest distribution company in the world so it's available almost everywhere; besides iTunes & Amazon it's out in Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, Czech, Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA, Canada & Mexico!
Punk Globe: It covers different genres running in and out of the borders of “soul.” Do you think “soul,” regarding music, is a genre or a personal ambition extended into music?
Steve Conte: Soul is something you have or you don't. Yes, it used to be a genre of music done by people like James Brown, Solomon Burke, Otis Redding, etc but the modern R&B/Soul bears almost no resemblance to the classic soul music I grew up with.
Punk Globe: You have a solo tour coming up. Deets?
Steve Conte: here's everything....

Sunday 4 December: Bristol - The Thunderbolt
The Thunderbolt, The Olde Turnpike, 124 Bath Road,
Totterdown, Bristol BS4 3ED
Tel: 0117 3738947
http://www.bristolticketshop.co.uk/
9.30pm Show!
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Monday 5 December: Manchester - The Ruby Lounge
28-34 High Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1QB -
Tel: 061 834 1392
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=gb_northwest&query=detail&event=471820
9.45pm Show!
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Tuesday 6 December: Glasgow - Soundhaus
47 Hydepark Street, Anderston, Glasgow G3 8BW - Tel: 0141 221 4659
http://www.tickets-scotland.com/booking.html?booking_method=viewevent&booking_event_id=d243bd30-ff15-11e0-b0f1-12313d02ceaa
10pm Show!
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Wednesday 7 December - Day Off in Manchester
(where our good friend Ginger is doing a show...hmmm...)
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Thursday 8 December: Derby - The Flowerpot
25 King Street, Derby DE1 3DZ - Tel: 01332 204955
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=gb_midlands&query=detail&event=466071
9.45pm Show!
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Friday 9 December: Underpass - Milton Keynes
with Ed Tudor Pole and Henry Cluny (Stiff Little Fingers)
http://www.myspace.com/underpasspromotionsmk
10pm show!
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Saturday 10 December: London - Nambucca
596 Holloway Road, London N7 - Tel: 020 7281 8872
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=gb_london&query=detail&event=465615
10pm Show!
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Sunday 11 December: Brighton - The Hope
11-12 Queens Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 3WA - Tel: 01273 325793
http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=gb_south&query=detail&event=469002
9.45 Show!
Punk Globe: What can the fans expect?
Steve Conte: Both kinds of music; Rock AND Roll. Lots of guitar & NYC attitude...with soul!
Punk Globe: When’s the next solo album?
Steve Conte: I'm working on getting a Pledge Music campaign together for it...I should be announcing it soon.
Punk Globe: Who is in your band?
Steve Conte: In NYC my band was Phil Stewart & Lekko who I made the record with but since I've been spending a lot of time in Europe I got a band together over there; Belgian bassist Jozz Verhailen & Dutch drummer Jeroen Polderman. They're great!
Punk Globe: Desert Island, five albums, go!
Steve Conte: Beatles/White Album, Stones/Let It Bleed, Hendrix/Electric Ladyland, Prince/Sign 'O The Times, Muddy Waters/Hard Again.
Punk Globe: What advice could you give the readers?
Steve Conte: Keep reading!
Punk Globe: Thanks for the time Steve, what is the best way for the readers to get in touch with you?