Little Steven walks onto the stage, a half hour before the doors of the Royal Theater Carré open for the public, and looks around the room with admiration in his eyes. “It’s wild. It looks like the vampire scene in… what was it, Interview with the Vampire.” The crew of the tv-show EenVandaag led by Mark de Bruijn meets Steve on stage and the journalist asks if he has ever seen Carré before.
LS: No I don’t think so.
It’s an old circus theater. Ancient. It’s one of the most ancient theaters we have in the Netherlands.
I saw the posters, Kurof and Bolshoi and everybody else. Nice, it’s an honor to be amongst that company, I tell you.
Little Steven and Mark de Bruijn take a seat on stage, facing each other. Steves chair is already turned around whe he arrives, with the backrest facing forward. That is the way Steve likes to sit on a chair.
LS: I’ve been away for a little bit.
It’s nice that we still know who you are. You taped a radio show as well, in a café?
Oh, my radio show? Well, the recording equipment didn’t work. Once in a while we do a DJ thing at the Hard Rock. The Hard Rock are my first sponsor for my radio show. So they are still my sponsor after fifteen years. And when we travel around we have an afterparty there. Or sometimes I’ll do a DJ thing. And once in a while we actually record them for the show.
And something went wrong with the recording?
Yeah, yeah. That’s alright.
And there was a whole bunch of fans?
Well, that’s always the case. That’s part of the fun of it. You sign things and take pictures. A bit of a meet and greet type of thing. And then interviews. I’ll play sets, I’ll play like five song sets. I’ll either do interviews with local press at that point or interact with the audience. This is the thing we do.
But now you have to record it again?
Yeah. Most of them are prerecorded anyway. It would have been a bonus, to do a show on the road.
When was the last time you were in Holland, can you remember? I mean as a solo artist.
Oh, as a solo artist? No, I can’t remember. That’s been a long time.
I thought it was ’90. Or ’89 maybe. (Little Steven performed in the Netherlands in 1995 with the band Crown of Thorns as opening act for Bon Jovi at the Goffert Park in Nijmegen and stadium De Kuip in Rotterdam. Before those shows, the last shows he played in the Netherlands with the Disciples of Soul were in 1989, ed. JW).
It wasn’t here. I don’t know where it was.
No, I don’t know. It’s been a while. It’s been a while.
How long did you succeed in the interview my collegue just did with you to not talk about politics?
We didn’t actually.
Because I read the interview that Leon Verdonschot did with you in Germany, that’s just been published for a magazine this week and it starts with “we try five minutes not to talk about it” and then you came with it yourself.
Well, I am kind of liberated from politics at the moment. The first album I’ve ever done that wasn’t political.
Because of the atmosphere. I think it’s a completely different environment than when I started. When I started, nobody was talking about politics. Everybody considered Ronald Reagan to be God and whatever he said was correct.
Even one of your singles you did in the eighties was forbidden or your record company withdrew it. What happened?
Oh, you mean the Sun City record? That South African thing?
No, a single about Reagan.
Oh, well there was one song called ‘Vote that Mutha Out’, which you may be referring to. It never was released. It has to be on the box set whenever that gets done.
(‘Vote!‘, the correct title of ‘Vote that Mutha Out’, was the b-side of the single ‘Bitter Fruit’, off Little Steven’s third solo record Freedom No Compromise. It was a protest song against the re-election of Ronald Reagan. The song appeared later as a bonustrack on the CD release of Voice of America, Steve’s second solo record. The song was not forbidden or withdrawn by the record company or record stations. ‘Sun City’, the record Little Steven made with Artists United Agains Apartheid, was banned in South Africa and in some places in the US, especially in the state of South Carolina, radiostations that were pressured by the Ku Klux Klan, avoided airplay, ed. JW).
You didn’t want to rerelease it now?
Hahaha, well it would have to have new lyrics now. It was very specific. I forgot about that actually.
Could you do such a thing now?
You could, but it seems a little bit redundant. I mean, you don’t go out explaining Donald Trump. You just don’t. You know what I mean? It’s so obvious, he explains himself. He doesn’t hide anything. And it seems you can’t get away from politics right now. Not in America, you know. And that is exactly the opposite as when I started. There was no political consciousness whatsoever. Other than just a few of us, like Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall and Graham Nash, who would protest and do demonstrations and bring attention to certain things. But it was not in the work, it was not in the content of what we were producing. So I thought, that is going to be my thing. This is my unique identity, I’ll be the political guy. And the job at that point was… you know, I did a lot of research and brought attention to certain things, like South Africa and other things. But also, the attention was to politize all my friends. And politize the industry.
Because I thought it should be a more comfortable environment to be able to talk about these issues without it being a big deal or being banned or being censored. I thought it is important that rock bands grow up in an environment where they are allowed to express themselves and talk about issues and bring attention to things because it is healthy, it’s healthy for society.
You wanted to be different than your collegues?
Back then? Well I felt I needed to be, I needed to be extreme, I didn’t particularly, as naïve as I was, care about my carreer. I looked at it like an artistic adventure rather than a carreer. Which was a bit silly, admittedly. But that’s how it was, I was very extreme about it. I didn’t care about the carreer. So I was able to be a bit extreme and pull people in that direction. To be more aware of things and feel a little bit obligated to talk about them a bit more regularly rather than accepting the status quo as it is. Accepting the world as it is and saying, I’m just going in and entertain people and not being a citizen, not live up to my obligations as a citizen..
If you reflect back upon yourself, the person you were back then, you said you were extreme, what kind of person were you?
I was pretty crazy back then. I was extreme. As I said, I didn’t care about selling records or having success with my work, which is a bit silly and a bit unfair to the work. As I revisit it now, I appreciate it much more now than I did then. The songs hold up very well through the years. I was surprised, my stuff has become it’s own sort of genre. It’s a very unique combination of things, musically. So I think it has a very great validity artistically. I’m bringing back, I’m gonna stay back, I’m going to continue to present this music to people again, reintroducing myself again. Assuming I’m starting from scratch all over again.
Would you need to be an extremist now to do explain Donald Trump? You said, I don’t need to explain him.
No, the opposite. I mean everybody knows what’s going on now. I don’t think there is any mystery about whatsoever about politics now. Our problems are more complicated in a way. We are now very divided in a way that we really weren’t back then. The sixties provided a huge generation gap between pre-consciousness and post-consciousness. It was a very big dividing line there in the sixties. Maybe the biggest in history when we look back on it now. But we are approaching something like that now, when we have a big divide between people. It’s not healthy. We were on a rather positive trajectory from World War Two in trying to unify people. With trade agreements, knocking the Berlin wall down. That kind of thing. European Union, whatever. Now suddenly we have stopped that positive trajectory. I think it’s temporary, I hope it’s temporary. But you are seeing extreme nationalism starting to replace unity, you know, the Brexit thing is a great example of it. We are talking about building a wall in Mexico, we are pulling out of trade agreements with China, I mean Asia, the Paris accord we are talking about pulling out of. Suddenly you are seeing the nationalist politicians gaining strength all through Europe and elsewhere.
And there you are singing about the blues and love.
Yeah. Because the concept right now, the most effective concept I can contribute to is reintroducing myself, as me. So this album is that. This is who I am, this is where I come from, musically. This is sort of the songs I’ve done, mostly for other people. But some of the ones that mean the most to me. So here I am, Little Steven the artist. How do you do, you know. Where we will go from here, we’ll see.
That fits you more now?
Yeah, I don’t have to be political in a sense of new political information. The old songs are just fine. I don’t even write anything new. When you hear the show – hopefully you’ll stay tonight – you’ll see what I mean. There is a lot of songs that could have been written yesterday.
These are confusing times, confusing ages. Does the world need new political committed artists? Do you see them?
It’s always healthy. We have this great ability to communicate and what you communicate, matters. So I think we sometimes can unify people just by our existence.
But do you see that happening now?
You mean, who are they?
Yes. In the ages, all the world stars were involved.
It’s a different world now. Everybody is in survival mode. It’s a little bit more… we have a permanent recession going on around the world which doesn’t seem to be getting fixed, you know. So, it’s the luxury of pulling off… the South Africa thing we pulled off, I couldn’t do it now.
No? Because the world is too different, too complex?
It’s too fragmented and too concerned with their own problems. “Who cares about international problems? I have my own problems.” Which is part of the whole dynamic which caused Brexit. Sort of the refugee, immigration question. A bigger push than what we have time for now. But it needs to be addressed. In a more practical way. You can’t tell people, we’re gonna be compassionate, we wanna be compassionate. We can’t tell people, we’re gonna be idealistic, we wanna be idealistic. But you have to look at things in a practical way. If the guy’s out of work and his son’s out of work and his father’s out of work, and we’re gonna tell him that we’re gonna put a thousand immigrants in his town, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter how compassionate we’re wanna be. We need to, of course, find a way to integrate immigrants and refugees. Refugees is a different problem. But we have to integrate these people when they come to our countries, in a positive and compassionate way. Not ghettoize them. Put a thousand or two thousand people in some housing development and hope that they some day gonna be integrated. This is not a practical way. We have to adjust the way we think. It’s not the forties or fifties or sixties anymore.
And there is not one rock song that can simply put us on the right track.
That is what I’m saying, it’s more complicated than that.
We are seeing you as you want to present Steve van Zandt in 2017. The question that probably everyone is asking you, what is it that you want with your carreer right now? You are doing so many different things.
Well, it’s good to do different things.
Are you a music playing actor now?
I do different things, you know. If I had to choose… If I had to define myself – which luckily I don’t have to – it would be as a producer, you know? That’s my main interest in life. Producing live events, producing radio shows, producing records, producing television. I produce a show on Broadway (Steve produced the Broadway show The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream, ed. JW).
I love that, I love the big picture. I love to create something from nothing that is entertainming, but with substance. That’s who I am. Everything else is sort of pieces of that somewhere. The performer side, whether it’s rock ‘n roll or whether it’s acting, is the most wonderful job in the world, okay? It’s great. Wonderful two jobs in the world.
I can imagine.
But it’s not creative. The creative is what really counts. Creating something from nothing. And that’s the producing side. The writing, the producing. The creative stuff is what gets me off the most. The performing is fun, it is nice, you get the chance to interact with an audience which I love to do. But you have to keep a balance. If you do just that, it’s not gonna be satisfying ultimately.
Did you find a balance? Because earlier you said, if there is one thing that is typically for my carreer, is that I always make the wrong choices. You left the E Street Band when you were close to being a millionaire.
Haha, did I say always make the wrong choices, or occasionally? You are quoting me, or what?
I am quoting.
I think what I said was: I am the greatest adviser in the world, not because I am so smart, but because I am so stupid. Which is true. In other words, I have made every mistake you can make in the business. So when I give somebody advise, it’s coming from a place where, listen, don’t do what I did. Let me tell you why.
I shouldn’t ask you what to do with my life now.
No, I am a great adviser now, because I have screwed up every possible way. That’s probably what I meant by that.
But you made it good now, you are doing all the stuff you probably wanted to do for ages.
That’s right. And I am a little bit frustrated that I am not doing more, to be honest. I should have had a new tv show by now, I’ve got five different scripts out there and they are all good. And I am hoping to get one going so I can do that in the winter and then tour in the summer, either with Bruce or with the Disciples of Soul. And then I feel a little bit that I am getting something done.
What will be your next big project after this tour?
That’s what I am telling, trying to get a tv show going. I am not sure yet which one yet. That would be the most effective and satisfying creative adventure for me right now. Like I said, performing every summer with one rock band or the other is vacation and it’s fun. But it’s not ultimately satisfying as creative something. You wanna have that balance between the creative part and the performing part.
Anything planned with Bruce yet?
Not yet, no. All I know is we’re taking this year off. So next year is a complete open question. And if we don’t tour with the E Street Band, I am going to continue to tour with the Disciples. And as I said, trying to fit a tv show in between if I can. It’s a good time. If you are not doing drugs or drinking excessively or something like that, you tend to get better. I mean, I may not be as good looking but you get better. And that is a wonderful satisfying feeling. I mean this record (Soulfire) and the record I did last year with Darlene Love (Introducing Darlene Love) are the two best records I have ever done. And the two tv shows (The Soprano and Lilyhammer) I did were very, very satisfying. Lilyhammer was a very difficult show to pull off. We won best show in the world two years in a row, in Monte Carlo. I am very proud of that. (In 2014 en 2015, Lilyhammer won a Golden Nymph, the award for best European Comedy TV series at the festival of Monte Carlo, and both years Steve was awarded as Best Actor.)
You are much more satisfied than you were thirty years ago?
Yeah. And I am not yet satisfied, but I am more satisfied than I was. You try to realize your potential. What else are we going to do on this planet? We are trying to make the world a little better if we can, maybe a tenth of one percent, and we’re trying to realize our potential. And trying to combine both things if we can, right? What else are we doing here?
I couldn’t honestly tell you. Can I do one more question about Springsteen? You just described how you changed over the last thirty years, since the eighties. Did the relationship between the two of you change a lot?
No, our relationship has not changed a lot.
How would you describe it?
We are still best of friends. We still see each other quite as much. You end up having families and wives and different interests. You’re not living together like we used to. But essentially, there is no difference.
But you are not the Keith and Mick?
No, but we never really were that. We were more just friends. The friendship grew into playing together, you know. I was an arranger before I was a producer, so I started helping with arrangements of his songs and that turned into coproducing The River and Born in the USA. But that’s an outgrowth of the friendship. I would have done the same thing whether I would get an official credit or not. You know what I mean, I am an arranger, I am a producer, that’s what I do. So the friendship grew into a business relationship as well. And then I left for a little adventure of my own there for a mere eighteen years or so, and now we’re back and it doesn’t feel any different.
I am reading the biography right now, what you have done two years ago probably. I was kind of surprised to see how close you were since former ages. Since before I was born. It’s really like… it’s a brothership, isn’t it?
Yeah. It really is. It is that.
Were there things in the book that still shocked you, surprised you?
No, not too much. I learned a little bit about his growing up that I didn’t know. With his grandmother and all that stuff. Which is a bit like my own situation which I didn’t realize. There wasn’t a whole lot in there that I didn’t really know.
Is it still on your to do list, a biography?
I started one, I did one like seven or eight years ago and I wrote a bunch of stuff. It was just too soon.
You had a bunch of stuff to do first.
You need a happy ending, first of all. How are you gonna do a movie without an ending?
Is this a happy ending?
No, no, no. It’s just getting started.
But you’ve got everything you ever wanted to accomplish, as a producer, as an artist.
No, not even close. I’ve got a hundred ideas. We’ll see how many I can get to. This is a new beginning, it’s a rebirth, pretty much starting from the beginning.
I hope you’ll surprise us.
Oh, I will. I have a few moves left.
You can still watch the TV broadcast Little Steven.
Disciples of Soul
The new Disciples of Soul is not a steady group of musicians. Little Steven has recruited several renowned session musicians since his new start last year in London. Steady band member is Marc Ribler, guitarist and musical director of the band. In Europe, the following band members were part of the Disciples of Soul: Jack Daley (bass player, played with Lenny Kravitz), Charley Drayton (drummer of Australian band Cold Chisel, Paul Simon and Keith Richards soloproject X-Pensive Winos), Lowell Levinger (pianist and mandolin player of The Youngbloods), Andy Burton (organist of John Mayer and Cindy Lauper) and Everett Bradley (percussion, well known from his tours with Springsteen). From the show in Parijs also Rusty Cloud, Disciples of Soul and Asbury Jukes alumnus, joined as keyboard player. For the horn section on the European tour, Eddie Manion, Stan Harrison (borth former Disciple and Asbury Juke and also known from their work with Springsteen), Clark Gayton (known from his work with Springsteen since The Seeger Sessions tour), Ravi Best and Ron Tooley were selected and the backup singers were Jessica Wagner, Erika Jerry and YahZarah.