Steve Conte is no stranger to the New Jersey/New York rock and roll scene. He and his brother John, who now handles the bass duties for Southside Johnny & The Jukes, have been performing and recording around the area for years as part of bands such as The Crown Jewels, The Conte’s and Polygram recording artists Company of Wolves. Steve also currently plays guitar for the New York Dolls, and for Hanoi Rock’s front man Michael Monroe’s solo outings.
So it’s somewhat of a surprise it took this long, but Steve has finally come out with his own solo album under the name Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth. As you might expect from John, it’s an amalgam of in-your-face punk inflected rock and roll that brings to mind the Ramones and the early ‘70s Stones.
“Recording the band for the album was easy,” Steve relates. “We went in one weekend and did 12 songs. One song, “Your Christopher,” got left off the record. And there was no pressure because we approached it as ‘we’re doing demos.’ But then the tracks turned out so good I decided it should be the album. Sure, it has mistakes on it, but as Paul Westerberg once said in an interview, ‘Mistakes are the essence of rock & roll.’ In these days of pro tools recording and auto-tune there are so many perfect and soul-less records out there, and I wanted to make an old school rock and roll record with a band recorded live. Most of my solos we’re played on the basic tracks, but unlike the Dolls One Day It Will Please Us… album where I did the same thing, I was determined to not polish it up too much after getting those live tracks.”
The Crazy Truth includes a couple of Steve’s long time collaborators. “Our bass player, Lee Kostrinsky, played in Gods and Goddesses and with Mike Rimbaud, and the drummer, Phil Stewart, played with Nelly McKay and a slew of jazz acts. He’s a killer musician. I knew Lee since we were teens. He came to me for guitar lessons when he was 14 and we both lived in NJ. I ran into him on the street in New York City one day and we had both recently been ‘divorced’ from our previous bands, so it was perfect timing.”
The band hit the road, performing shows over the past year in New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn and hitting the 2010 SXSW festival in Austin, TX, as part of Rachael Ray’s showcase. They’ve also hit Europe, including shows in Holland, Belgium, Sweden and the UK.
The album has been released in the US on Varese Sarabande Records, which is distributed through Fontana, the indie leg of the Universal Music Group, and on Colosseum Records throughout Europe.
Musically, the CD is a trip through straightforward rock and roll—adrenaline soaked, three-minute slices of aural onslaughts. “Garage rock and roll, punky blues, with smoky Latin soul,” is how Steve describes it. He cites his influences as Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Morphine, Tom Waits, The Clash, Israel Vibration, Lee Scratch Perry, the Dead Kennedys, Kiss, Frank Zappa and Chris Spedding.
“Basically I wrote the lyrics and music for all the songs on this album, but we all arranged these songs together,” Steve explains about the role his bandmates played in the process. “I would come into rehearsal with a finished song or a piece of music without words. Sometimes I had a main riff that the bass should play or a drum beat that was the basis of the song, and sometimes I had the completed song, but just needed the band to make it our own. For future albums we have a whole bunch of co-writes that will make a more varied sound from this record.”
As far as individual songs, Steve finds it hard to single any out, although a few have become standout tracks. “I’m fixated on “Gypsy Cab” at the moment,” he says. “We just did a video for it. Other faves are “Busload Of Hope,” which was just on the TV show Sons Of Anarchy. Also “Texas T” and “The Truth Ain’t Pretty.” But they’re my kids… I love ’em all!”
Steve’s “day job,” playing for The New York Dolls, has opened a lot of doors for him and his own music since he got the call a few years ago to join the legendry band. “David Johansen asked a few respected guitar players in NYC who he should call for The Dolls and everybody gave him the same answer: there’s only one guy to call; Conte!” he laughs. “David is very private, especially about his feelings. He plays on the Crazy Truth record and I gave him a copy but he never said anything about it, and I don’t ask. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like it though, as I’ve learned about him. When we were writing for the One Day It Will Please Us… album I gave him a CD with a bunch of ideas and didn’t hear from him for months. I thought he hated it. But the next time the band got together he had written “Punishing World” out of one of my ideas.”
As far as his goals for the future, Steve has a lot of ideas and music to get out of his system, but he’s satisfied with his progress so far. “I’m living my goals! I feel so lucky that I get to do what I do for a living,” he muses. “The goal is just more of everything! Actually, besides making records and touring, I’d like to do more producing and film music.”
You can get more information about Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth at steveconteandthecrazytruth.com