STEVE CONTE (Company Of Wolves,New York Dolls)
Guitarist Steve Conte has been in the excellent, if underated Company
of Wolves. Now he has a band with his brother the Contes and most
recently in the reformed New York Dolls. Over to Steve...
|1. What are you currently up
I just got off the road with the NEW YORK DOLLS where i was singing
and playing lead guitar in Johnny Thunders old position. it was a
real blast! it's a fucking tremendous band...with johansen, sylvain,
sami yaffa from hanoi rocks on bass, brian delaney on drums and brian
koonin on keys. such a cool bunch of guys.
Now that i'm back in NYC, i am out playing live with my brother and
our band THE CONTES in support of our latest cd, BLEED TOGETHER. we
are also talking with a few labels in europe about our next release
which should happen sometime in 2005. both my bro and i are
producing/recording other artists music in our studio, working around
town by playing on other artist's records and contributing our own
songs and music to TV/film soundtracks.
For updates on my "comings and goings" drop by my website and poke
|2. What have been the highlight(s) and low point(s) of your career to
There have been so many highlights...
Signing my first recording contract with mercury records for my band
COMPANY OF WOLVES...then being on tour and hearing ourselves on the
radio all over america (and seeing our video on MTV...of course, the
video was in "lunar rotation"...)
Getting my self released records CROWN JEWELS - "LINOLEUM"
and "SPITSHINE" and THE CONTES - "BLEED TOGETHER" on the radio, in tv
and on film soundtracks without the help of a record company. also,
the feeling of self-sufficiency that we got from booking our own
tours and making new friends/fans across america and in europe.
Performing with the (then) 3 remaining new york dolls at royal
festival hall in London...and then at little steven's underground
garage festival in our hometown of NYC. it was quite a rush to be
part of that history.
Playing the funky wah-wah guitar on MACEO PARKER'S remake of TELL ME
SOMETHING GOOD on his FUNK OVERLOAD album. now i have only one degree
of separation between me & the godfather of soul himself....hot
Getting to sing duets with paul simon and art garfunkel during
rehearsals of their reunion tour. my parents had all the simon &
garfunkel records when i was a kid so it was surreal to be singing
some of the most amazing songs ever written with the composers. i
also got to sing with the everly brothers during those
Some of the low points would be...
The heartache of not having my first major label record succeed the
way i thought it would. also, getting the news that our 2nd record
was not going to be released and the frustration of then trying
to "sell" it to a music biz that wasn't buying.
While mixing arthur "killer" kane's bass in the studio for the new
york dolls dvd, getting a call from management saying that arthur has
just passed away in the hospital.
Rehearsing all summer in PRINCE protege JILL JONES' band (with angie
stone and other bad-asses) with the promise of being the opening act
for the upcoming PRINCE tour...and at the 11th hour prince canceled
|3. How did the recent New York Dolls shows in London go? Are you
involved in further shows with them?
It was one of the best experiences of my life. the vibe is so good
with those guys...so loose and fun. it's pure feeling, guts and
emotions...rock and roll. it's what i do naturally so there wasn't a
lot of direction given to me. i was free to be myself, though i did
think it appropriate to pay homage to Thunders a bit (however, as
BLONDIE drummer CLEM BURKE puts it- "steve plays what Thunders was
really trying to play but couldn't pull off..."). for now, the
touring is over but there is talk of working on something over the
|4. How did the Crown Jewels project come together?
That we wanted to have our own band with a new musical direction. i
wasn't the main voice in the wolves and i needed to have an outlet
for my singing. we also were tired of a record company telling us
what kind of songs they wanted us to write so we made a new record
ourselves. to our amazement, it stood up really well next to the big
budget major label record...the artwork looked miles better than the
mercury cd and the audio was pretty damn close (we used peter
denenberg to record/mix some of it...he had mixed the wolves record
Originally it was just the two of us brothers with rotating drummers
and keyboard players. we tried to have a real "band" at one point but
it was just too limiting for our ever evolving musical styles and
tastes. eventually we would just change the name CROWN JEWELS to our
own name, THE CONTES....it's who we are.
|5. You've worked with many artists - Peter Wolf, Billy Squier - who
did you most enjoy working with and who would you like to work with in the future?
I enjoyed working with both Billy and Peter. it was a real thrill to
play with Peter because i was an (early) J. GEILS BAND fanatic when i
was a kid. Back in 1999 my brother was in the studio playing bass on
peter's FOOL'S PARADE cd when I stopped by to say hi. the next thing
I knew peter shoved a guitar into my hands and started singing all
these old doo-wop songs...I miraculously followed along and then I
pulled out some obscure Geils tunes. he was so impressed he called me
in the next day to play and sing on the record.
With Squier i had the experience of playing on the record (TELL THE
TRUTH) and then doing a tour with the same artist (albeit 8 years
apart!). it's a rare thing for some reason. either i play on an
artist's record and then someone else tours with them or i join a
tour after the record is already done. billy was a big fan of my
band, music and playing so he totally trusted my instincts... and
that was a pleasure.
If i could work with a few people of my choice the list would go
something like this: tom waits, ziggy marley, beck, chrissie hynde,
keith richards, iggy pop, paul westerberg, ray davies, paul
mccartney...i just think that i could easily fit into what those
artists naturally do. i'm a fan of a lot of people i wouldn't have a
desire to work with though...i'll just remain a fan.
If i could just play guitar in a band that's still out there touring
it would be like; cheap trick, counting crows, the latin playboys,
the stones, the roots, ac/dc, aerosmith - bands with great guitar
parts and good songs where a player has a chance to blow!
|6. Company of Wolves - after such a great debut album why didn't the
band get the success they deserved in your opinion? Any chnace of a reunion at all?
We've done a reunion and it was a blast! i think our fate was all
down to timing. we were at the label at a rough time (the company had
no president) and the record biz was changing quickly (big budget
rock bands like us were getting passed over for low-fi indie bands
from Seattle - the birth of grunge...) so we were shit outta luck. if
the record had come out a year or two earlier it could have been a
whole different thing. c'est la vie.
|7. How has your guitar playing developed dwon the years? Amy good
tips for new guitarists?
I find that i rarely "practice" these days. i mainly work out new
stuff when i'm writing. if i want to get something new into my
vocabulary i write a piece using it. i've always done that. back in
the day i used to sit down with a metronome and practice scales but
now it's time to make music. i have somehow blended the psychedlic
garage rock & roll and folk of my childhood with the jazz of my
school years and the blues, atmospheric and hard rock of my real-life
nyc experience into some sort of style. i kinda like what GUITAR
magazine said about my playing - they called my solos, "gems of
I find i don't really "shred" so much on my own records, i play for
the song. when i take a gig with someone else though, like the dolls
or squier or WILLY DEVILLE, it's so i can stretch my playing a bit.
on the tour i did with willy in 2003 i played mandolin, slide and
nylon string which i had never done on a tour. i had fooled around
with those things at home and i was familiar with them but there's
nothing like a tour (and a little bullshit confidence..."sure, i can
do that") to get your chops up.
|8. What are your fondest memories of the many live shows you've
performed and why?
Having "telepathic brother moments" onstage with my bass playing
sibling, John. it happens often enough that i can't even single out
one particular moment or evening. we react to something musical
together in either exactly the same or complimentary ways. it's
Playing with Chuck Berry at the meadowlands was like a dream come
true (chuck let me play the middle solo on "johnny b. goode" which
was the first guitar solo i ever learned in my life!) chuck told the
promoter he was going to, "throw the other guitarist off the stage
after one song if he ain't happening..." so i laid way back and left
him plenty of room to do his thing. and then my reward came...
Singing the songs "call me, call me", "rain" and "diggin" with yoko
kanno and the seatbelts on a live concert in tokyo. as soon as the
first notes of the song's introduction were played the kids were
screaming like beatles fans in 1964...it was awesome.
Opening for David Bowie at a few 180,000 seat football stadiums was
up there in my memory for sure...and playing madison square garden
was a thrill (i took the subway to the gig and back home!). in both
situations there are so many faces out there that you just see the
first few rows, then it's all a blur of color.
|9. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
When i'm not writing, playing, singing, doing band business or
thinking about doing any of those things i like to read literature
(poetry, novels, etc.), see films (mostly art & foreign films...i'm
not into hollywood and action crap), go to plays, readings, theater,
dance, art galleries, museums and hopefully one day soon - to the
opera. this year i want to learn to do a few things like cook and
maybe even take a dance class...samba, salsa, etc. i also plan on
getting back to my practice of meditation and yoga...so many things
to do, so little time.
|10. Message to your fans?
I thank you all for your support and enthusiasm. it means a lot to me
to get messages from people all over the world who have been moved in
someway by my songs, singing or playing. for those who remember the
wolves, i hope you still ROCK! for those who know of my playing with
the Dolls, there will be more. i am also thankful that yoko kanno and
her anime soundtracks have given me that opportunity to get my
talents "out there" across the globe. my goal has always been to get
that kind of recognition for my own music, writing and playing.
Please help spread the word and be a "FRIEND OF CONTE". you can email
me at: email@example.com or visit my site at: www.thecontes.com
Interview © 2004 Jason Ritchie/
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