Exclusive! Springsteen and Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt talks the talk
Bringing his 14-piece band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, to Budapest’s Akvárium Klub this Thursday, 15 August, Steven Van Zandt has reignited his solo career. Promoting his first original album for 20 years, ‘Summer of Sorcery’, Van Zandt has lined up a series of high-energy, intimate shows. We caught up with Steven – Miami Steve to Springsteen fans, Silvio Dante in the Sopranos – before his concert in Nuremberg.
“You need to win people over, song by song,” enthuses Steven Van Zandt, five shows into a 42-date world tour that started last week in Norway and culminates in November at the Beacon Theatre, New York. Broadway, of course, is where Van Zandt’s bandmate of four decades, Bruce Springsteen, recently played 236 nights – but more of The Boss later.
“People come to my shows out of curiosity,” he says, with typical honesty. “They’re probably not familiar with the songs, I feel like I’m re-introducing myself as a solo artist. And for that you need a more intimate setting. Smaller concert halls for greater immediacy.”
In 2017, Van Zandt released Soulfire, an album of songs he’d written or co-written for other people. It was his first solo release, one soundtrack excepted, since 1999 – and its success, and the subsequent dates around it, proved encouraging.
As for the band, “forget about it!”, he says, slipping into Sopranos mode. “Five horn players, three backing vocalists… these are the best session musicians in New York. The show involves a lot of musical sub-genres. They have to have the versatile chops to do what they do, and play with authenticity. They’ve been very loyal to me and I feel very lucky to have them.”
This year’s acclaimed Summer of Sorcery album comprises a dozen new numbers, weighing in at one hour’s listening.
“It’s not like I’d been standing on a street corner, saying to myself, ‘Oh, I need to write another album’. I didn’t plan it or anything. It just happened organically.”
Much in the 50-year career of musician, actor, producer, songwriter and DJ Steven Van Zandt has happened organically. And on street corners. Bumping into and then playing with Bruce Springsteen in the clubs of New Jersey in the late 1960s, Van Zandt then co-founded the seminal Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes before joining Springsteen’s E Street Band for Born To Run in 1975 – that signature guitar line is said to be his – and hitting the big time with The Boss.
During tour breaks, he formed and performed with Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, branching out into other solo projects. One night in 1997, ever the humourist, Van Zandt gave a hilarious speech to induct cult New Jersey band The Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Seeing his potential, TV producer David Chase immediately offered Van Zandt a part in his upcoming series, The Sopranos. “I’d never acted before,” Steven confesses. “I didn’t know how to act. I had no intention whatsoever of becoming an actor!”
Picking up 21 Emmys and five Golden Globes, The Sopranos ran for six seasons, and is frequently cited as the greatest series in TV history. At first reluctant (“I told him, ‘thanks but not thanks!’”), Van Zandt fell naturally into the role of Silvio Dante, consigliere of the DiMeo crime family. “I’m just a street guy,” Van Zandt tells We Love Budapest. “I always learn on the job. You have to seize the moment.”
The controversial last episode ran in 2007, the show having won over an entire generation of followers.
Also hosting the revered radio show Underground Garage and launching record label Wicked Cool, Van Zandt then co-wrote, starred in and produced – “What’s a producer? It’s someone who recognises greatness when he sees it!” he laughs – acclaimed Netflix series Lilyhammer. Set in Norway, the show had a million Norwegians glued to screens when it premiered in 2012.
“Then a friend invited me to play a blues festival,” says Steven, matter-of-factly. “So I said, ‘that sounds like fun’.” With this, he revived Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. And the rest is recent history.
“A few months into the first tour, ideas started to come about the next album. This is the first time I’ve made a record,” he says, referring to this year’s Summer of Sorcery, “roughly of the same genre as the previous one. But I’m particularly proud of this album because it’s a work of fiction – Soulfire was autobiographical, a kind of musical history of my life, if you like”.
The Summer of Sorcery dates are split equally between Europe and the States. “There’s a difference between the two audiences,” says Steven, who has toured long enough to know. “Not so much in terms of quality but an American audience comes to a concert to appreciate it. A European audience comes to participate. Europeans tend to live outdoors, they sit on café terraces, they ride bicycles. Americans have more of an indoor, TV culture. They enjoy the shows just as much, but you really feel the energy here in Europe.”
And once the tour’s over? “Well, some time in November I’ll sit down with Bruce and see what’s happening next year,” says Steven. “I’d like to persuade him that we should record a new album that we can take out on the road in the summer of 2020. Once we get into the studio, we’re pretty quick. Two months, three months… Actually, I’d also like to do more TV. But then you have to blockbook six months, a year and that can get tricky.”
Thursday 15 August, doors open 8pm
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