Steve Stevens interview
April 8, 2001
by Steph Perry
Guitarist Steve Stevens recently joined long-time collaborator Billy Idol on stage for a 2 week US tour in support of Idol’s VH-1 Storytellers episode. We caught up with Steve by telephone about one week before the shows, which were only on the East Coast. Stevens sounded upbeat, yet relaxed — a great combination considering how busy this guy is. From his latest solo effort, to his reunion with Billy Idol, to his work with drummer Terry Bozzio and bassist Tony Levin, Steve makes the most of each musical situation he finds himself in.
The tour showcased Steve’s acoustical prowess as Stevens and Idol rehashed the old favorites (such as “Rebel Yell” and “Dancing with Myself”) in a new light. “I’m probably a much better acoustic guitar player than I am an electric guitar player.” Hearing that from someone who’s known for his electric guitar mastery, we knew we were in for a treat!
Stevens talked about his new record, Flamenco.A.Go.Go, like a proud parent. Steve worked on most of the record in his own apartment, noodling with music computer tools for the first time. He’s not a traditional flamenco guitarist, but felt that this genre allowed for much emotion in the songs. As Stevens put it, “Flamenco is like the speed metal of acoustic guitar music”.
Steve started playing guitar when he was 7 ½, barely reads music, and admitted, “I’ve always been more of an instinctive musician than a schooled musician.” You won’t find any complaints here!
The future looks bright for the sober Steve Stevens. He has moved to LA to be closer to Billy Idol, and looks forward to working on a new Idol record. During the VH-1 Storytellers tour they even played a brand-new song called “Fire” that Steve said it “hasn’t been recorded and is actually really beautiful”. Steve plans to do another solo record soon, and should hit the road for some shows after it is released.
Are you pleased with the final product on Flamenco.A.Go.Go?
Yeah, I am. It’s actually one of the few records I’ve done that I’m really pleased with. So many records get into this technical mode, does this sound right, does that sound right. To me, it’s pretty gratifying that the record was done in my apartment for the most part…Just by nature of the song writing, and the textures, and the segues and things, it’s a really emotional record.
What has been the response so far?
Anyone who’s heard it, flips out! Because to come from Billy Idol, and to do this kind of record, it’s quite a difference. I think people are just surprised at the emotional content of the record. There’s really strong melodies. The thing for me was, I didn’t want to make a record that only guitarists would like. I get emails from people saying they play it for their 2-year-old children, and they dance around to it. It’s very musical without being a guitar record.
Have you played any shows in support of the record?
No I haven’t, no.
Do you plan to or do you want to?
I would have liked to, but there are other things…I have to pay the bills! I hope to do some shows in support of the next record I do though.
That’s cool. Now, I guess we can move into talking a little about Billy Idol, because that’s where you’re heading in the next week or so to play some shows with him, right?
Are you excited to reunite with Billy on stage?
Yeah, basically all these shows are geared around our VH-1 Storytellers, and those shows are done unplugged. So it’s really cool. We have a percussionist with us, and we have Fiona Apple’s keyboard player. And this is the chance for me to really play these songs in a way that people haven’t heard them, and the songs are really what matter. So I’m excited about it, I’m having fun.
Let’s talk a little about Bozzio Levin Stevens. It’s a real exciting project, when the first one came out we were floored. And then when you guys came out with a second one, we just couldn’t believe it. I mean, to get the 3 of you together, it just blew our minds. Just curious, was the writing and recording process much different from the first Bozzio Levin Stevens record to the second one?
Yeah, yeah. The first one was completely improvised, no rehearsals, just get in the studio and basically document it. The second one, we had 5 days of rehearsal to get ideas together, and we just recorded those rehearsals to go through them to see where these pieces were going. I came in already with a couple of pieces, these nylon string guitar pieces that I had. The structure of the second record is more song-oriented. It also allowed me to do more overdubs.
Have you guys played any of this stuff live?
No, we haven’t. There was this tentative Japan tour that fell through.
Do you think if there’s another record, you may discuss it?
Yeah, I think the label’s not willing to do another record unless we do go out and support it.
What other stuff are you working on?
There’s plans to do another solo record, and I will try to put together – I won’t say a band but I will say a collective of musicians – along with the percussionist that’s doing the tour with Billy, and also played on my record, Greg Ellis. He’s got a band called Vas along with Azam Ali. They’re part of such an amazing community of world musicians. He works with Mickey Hart and a lot of Indian musicians. He and I have been talking about putting together a collective of musiicans that would be this kind of free-form, improvisational, live think tank. I really have such a desire to do that right now. I’m going to try to get that happening, and maybe do some live shows with that. And that may, in turn, turn into what my next record would be.
What was your first rock concert?
Um, rock concert, The James Gang at Central Park. My first concert was Dave Brubeck, but first rock concert was The James Gang. But I was so young, I was probably 8 or 9, and I remember the volume was deafening! But the first concert that really tripped me out was Emerson Lake & Palmer on the Brain Salad Surgery tour.
And it was at Madison Square Garden in quadrophonic, I mean it changed my life!
I mean, people can say whatever they want to say about Emerson Lake & Palmer, but that show was absolutely one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. It was everything music is supposed to be about.
Do you have any interests or causes that you hold dear?
Well, I’m a sober musician. So I’m involved with sober issues. I try to keep a spiritual center in my life. So that entails anything I have to do to stay well. My wife is involved in a number of Yoga activities. She’s an administrator at a Yoga center…So I’m involved in things that help me be a good person, basically.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No, not really!
Well, I really appreciate your time!
All right, Steve, take care!
Okay, have a nice day!