Interview: Steve van Zandt

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Steve van Zandt
We catch up with the legendary musician, actor and founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band ahead of his performance at the Whitley Bay Playhouse

The award-winning musician, songwriter, producer, actor and activist was a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, famously portrayed Silvio Dante in The Sopranos and went back on the road as Little Steven and The Disciples Of Soul for the first time in 25 years last year. Now Steve van Zandt’s heading to Whitley Bay Playhouse to perform at the Mouth of the Tyne Festival – and he’s bringing a cause close to his heart with him.

 

What was it like to go back on tour with The Disciples Of Soul again last year?
I knew it was going to be like starting a new career all over again and it was. Most of the audience were there out of curiosity, so the incredible reaction we got winning them over song by song was very, very satisfying. 

What are you looking forward to most about this tour? 
Continuing to find my audience. The band has been together for a year now and we keep getting better. 

What do you like about playing in the North East?
Well we played Newcastle last year and the audience was fantastic. We’ll see if they bring a few friends with them to Whitley Bay. 

What inspired you to first set up the TeachRock programme?
The fact that Rock and Roll had become an endangered species has governed where all my energy has gone these last 15 years. Starting with my radio network and continuing now with TeachRock.org. My goal is for every child to know the names of the Beatles forevermore. 

What’s your role within the programme? 
It was my concept to use music as the fastest and most effective way to connect students and teachers in this modern world. Telling kids ‘learn this and someday you’ll use it’ no longer works. It turns out Attention Deficit Disorder wasn’t a disorder after all, it was a paradigm shift. Kids need something they can use now! So we give them that. I outlined 200 lessons and we’re adding lessons based on documentaries all the time. 

This is the first-ever rock tour specifically geared towards benefitting a cause like TeachRock. 
We want to positively affect the dropout rate. Statistics show that if a kid likes one class or one teacher, they will come to school. And as we reach more coverage, we want every artist – regardless of what genre they’re part of – to be able to stop in and participate in a class while they’re on the road. 

You released a new live album earlier this year: Soulfire LIVE! Is there any more new music in the pipeline? 
Yes, as part of the same project the CD will have 11 additional tracks, and the vinyl will include the Beatles tribute we did at the Cavern last year. I’m writing now, so with a little bit of luck we’ll be in the studio this autumn for a new album next spring. 

What’s one of your favourite tracks to play live? 
The past year it’s been The City Weeps Tonight. It’s a challenge every night to accept that responsibility of introducing most of the audience to doo-wop. A genre that came and went before they were born. But that’s where rock was born, so it feels important. 

How would you sum up your early experience in the music industry?
Learning on the job, like most of my life. You win a few, lose a few. My only regret is seeing my solo career purely as an artistic adventure with no regard whatsoever for the career. I made a point to make sure Bruce had a hit or two when I produced him. I should have done the same for myself!

How do you think that experience influenced your career? 
The fact that I changed musical genres with every single album, combined with every one being a conceptual, political album, insured that I would never be able to actually have a career! 

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be? 
The Temptations’ Greatest Hits. 

What’s your favourite book?
The Last Temptation Of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. 

If you could work with any musician (dead or alive) that you haven’t already, who would it be? 
My favourite thing (which I rarely do) is producing live events. So I would have loved to have been there to watch Tchaikovsky, Petipa, and Cecchetti stage one of their classic  ballets. 

What’s next? 
Continuing to connect to an audience and possibly have the music career I should have had 20 years ago. I’ll go back with Bruce if and when he needs me. And in between I will get back on TV. The TeachRock Program will really start to ramp up now. My goal is for it to be firmly established by 2020, and then be expanding all the time. 

Who or what most inspires you?
Music from the 60s still inspires me. Great doo-wop from the 50s inspires me. Nelson Mandela. Jimmy Cagney. Marlon Brando. Bruce Springsteen has always inspired me – his work ethic, his focus. Renoir. Scorsese. Tchaikovsky. Miles Davis. Nikos Kazantzakis. Motown Records. Nick Tosches. Any great teacher. 

Steve will be performing at the Playhouse, Whitley Bay as part of the Mouth Of The Tyne Festival on 2nd July, 7pm. Tickets are available at www.mouthofthetynefestival.com

TeachRock will be holding a professional development session before the show, and are offering free tickets to educators. For more information, visit: www.teachrock.org/mouth-tyne-festival-playhouse-whitley-bay-uk/

Published in: June 2018

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