Picture a cold and dusty backstage-area, no furniture – looks like an abandoned restaurant kitchen. A few steps behind us though, is the real dressing room, that in this particular moment has Sebastian Bach entertaining his guests from the band Nightranger, and some other people.
Steve Stevens has just finished his second set at the jazz club Iridium on Broadway, New York, and is ready to talk to me. I pull out an old, scruffy office-chair that looks a bit dusty, and Steve finds another one for himself. At least there’s nobody bugging us. I decide to make this short so he can go relax and hang with his band.
The whole idea of you and Sebastian was really interesting. Can you paint a picture of when and where this came about?
– Sure, yeah. I play with an All Star band in Los Angeles, called Camp Freddy.
Camp Freddy is Matt Sorum on drums, Dave Navarro is usually on guitar, but Dave’s been busy last year with Jane’s Addiction, and their new record, so I ended up playing the whole show, Billy Morrison on second guitar, who’s also in Billy Idol’s band now, and Chris Chaney, the bassplayer who’s also from Jane’s Addiction.
So the whole Camp Freddy thing is that we have guest singers. On any given night, we’ll have Corey Taylor from Slipknot, Billy Idol, and the last year Sebastian has been guesting us. So every time we were doing Camp Freddy I was going “We should do something together“, because we have SO many mutual friends and a lot of our fans are the same – we came through the same era, you know.
I came over to the Iridium last year to do the Les Paul night, which is on a Monday night, it’s a totally different thing. It’s the Les Paul Trio – we do traditional stuff. So they asked me to come back and do three nights of my own, and I said that’s great but I don’t sing and I’d like to bring a singer. They said: “Got anybody in mind?” And I said: “Yeeaaah, well it just so HAPPENS that I know this Sebastian Bach guy – he’ll sing ANYTHING!”
Which is true, the guy can sing absolutely anything.
So I called him up, asked if he wanted to go to New York to this Iridium club and now we’re talking about continuing on doing something else and taking it a bit further…
Oh, you’re gonna do more together? Live or recording?
– Yeah, a little bit of both actually. I met him when his most recent record was just coming out. So I said; “Look, in the future, I’ve got this little studio, if you wanna write, or if you’re out in LA and you just wanna hang, let’s get together”.
So you guys met just recently?
– Yeah, within the last year.
Did you ever listen to Skid Row back in the day?
– Absolutely! The funny thing is… and this is a pretty funny story: When I left Billy Idol back in 1988, I did my own record for Warner Brothers, Atomic Playboys, and we were looking for a singer. He was in a band called Madam X, and I got this photo, he looked amazing, and then I heard the tracks, he’s really, really good. Really good singer. I had known the guitarplayer in that band, Maxine, and I said: “Heey, I’m doing a record, what’s your singer doing?”
She never gave him the message.
So potentially, we could have worked back in 1988. But it all worked out for the best cause right after that, I think it was literally 6 months later, he left and joined Skid Row.
Very interesting, because of all singers you could have worked with, this seems like an unusual choice…
– Yeah but at the same time, I like a lot of classic rock, and we’re talking about doing Zeppelin-stuff and some other stuff where the singer’s vocal range has got to be really good. So, I’m like a kid in a candy-store, cause he can sing anything. Most singers, if you say “do you wanna do “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin, most singers are gonna say “no fucking way, I can’t sing that!“. And he’s up to the challenge, it’s great.
The concept of doing two sets a night…?
– That’s the club’s thing. They always do that here, yeah.
How does that feel for you, as you’re used playing the world stages…?
– It’s a whole different headspace. It’s great, because your audience is…I think this place only holds like 200 people, so people are right there, you know they can hear every note that you play. But the two sets a night is a little strange, yeah. Cause you’ve gotta pace yourself. During the first set you’re thinking “Do I give it everything or will I be wasted for the next set?”
You’ve worked with many charismatic singers with strong personalities. And it’s often said that in order to be a good frontman, you need to have a big ego. What kind of personality do you need to have in order to be a guitarist playing with these big egos?
– Um, it’s funny cause from the time I was a little kid and I picked up the guitar, I naturally gravitated towards the guy behind the singer. Even seeing old footage of Elvis or something you know – I was like… who’s that guy?! And then obviously with Led Zeppelin, I identified with Jimmy Page because he was more quiet.He had the mystery thing.
You once said that you’ve got great respect for singers because they’re standing there, “naked” without an instrument to hide behind. Are there any singers in particular that you feel are like that…?
– I think ANY singer. It’s tough, it’s a lot of pressure. And obviously, the longer that you do it, if you’re really a ROCK-singer, it can take its toll on your voice. But Billy Idol takes care of his voice – we might have abused everything else but the voice is sacred.
You’ve been around for a long time and you seem to be curious to explore different areas all the time. Is that something that you do actively or you just happen to stumble upon stuff?
– I do actively look for new music. Yeah. And I’m fortunate enough to have friends that are…. There’s a band I work with that are called The Juno Reactor and it’s techno-music, right? They have six African percussionists and I’ve gone and toured with them in Japan and done shows with them in Los Angeles, and it’s cool for me because…
It’s a challenge, I mean, I’ve had a 30 year career now, and if I can’t challenge myself as a musician and just sit back and play the stuff that I already know, I’m gonna get stale as a musician.
So by working with Juno Reactor, it enabled me to learn how to do progamming and work on programs, get into the whole computer world and listen to things that I ordinarily wouldn’t be exposed to.
You’ve been in the business for such a long time… Do you still get your kicks or is it more “another day at the office”…?
– It’s never… I mean, if I felt like that, I’d really start to worry. I still love playing guitar, one of the first things I do in the morning is pick up a guitar. I have my coffee, answer my e-mail, put the guitar on and I’m still fascinated by the instrument. I don’t know why that is, but it’s still…
I’ve gotten things like… a new car or something, and I have no excitement about it. But getting a new guitar for me is like – I can’t wait to open the box, and the case and you know – the guitar sleeps with me in the bed.
It’s something about that instrument that I just think I was born to be with. It’s a part of me now. It’s never betrayed me. Playing guitar has never done anything but helped me out and enriched my life.
If you look back on Steve Stevens in 1984 and Steve Stevens 2012 – what differences would you say there were?
– Hopefully I’m a better musician now, I’ve been doing what I do this long…
But have you changed your attitude…?
– I’m more humble. Back in 84 I think that Billy and I really felt like there was a lot of stale music around. When I first joined Billy Idol he had released “Dancing With Myself” and they wouldn’t put them on the cover because because radio stations wouldn’t play artists with spiky hair.
It’s crazy to think now, but anybody affiliated with punk rock or anything like that, couldn’t get on mainstream rock radio. And now, you hear Billy Idol next to Journey or Styx or any of those bands on Classic Rock or something. But when we started it certainly wasn’t like that.
I think we had this attitude like we were gonna do something different, we were utilizing … we were doing things like dance-remixes and used drum machines and technology and all this… So I think when we did “Rebel Yell” we were pretty militant about “we are the new rock heroes” or whatever.
But you’re not into the whole limousine glitter LA sort of lifestyle…?
– I don’t really care about that stuff. I was always uncomfortable about that kind of stuff. I was never that kind of guy… I’m from New York so it’s a bit different, I live in LA now but we were never really part of the scene, whereas the LA bands – the hairmetal bands that came out of LA all got kind of crazy with eachother, tried to top eachother.
“You wanna see how much coke I can snort?!” and all that. We were from New York so the musicians that we hung out with were the guys from Suicide, Alan Vega, you know…
I remember Duran Duran – Andy and John Taylor came to town to do that Power Station record, so we hung with a lot of those guys. I think because Billy and our producer Keith Forsey are English, I got to hang a lot more with the English musicians.
I noticed that you played Van Halen tonight. Are you gonna see them on this tour?
– Yeah, actually we just got invited to a friends and family rehearsal. I’ve known Eddie for years, and Pete Thorn, our other guitarplayer tonight, he’s friends with Eddie. So of course we’ll go and see Van Halen.
I got this interview through your wife Josie. When I spoke to Ozzy many years ago he said that he felt it was confusing because he never knew if Sharon was talking to him as his wife or manager. Do you feel the same way?
– It’s just naturally gravitated that she’s… You know, she’s really diligent with her internet stuff. She’s on Twitter all the time and Facebook and all that. She’s always on my case. “You gotta update your thing…” I’m okay if I just check my e-mails and move on, you know.
So, more and more people have been contacting her for business stuff, and she’s really good at it. I said, “look, if you’re comfortable doing it, by all means, go for it“. It’s been great, it’s been really cool. We enjoy working together.
She comes on tour with me, and I think from the time we did that TV-show, Married To Rock, it became stronger, the work thing. We’ve been together for 10 years, so we liked working together on that show. We have a good, natural chemistry. You know, it works.
People always say that you gotta give eachother space, be away from eachother and do other things. You never felt that way then?
– No, she’s a rocker. You know. She packed up her bags and moved to Los Angeles when she was 16 years old, she’s been on more tours than a lot of musicians that I know. She’s always been a rock chick. She loves it and she knows a lot about rock’n’roll. And I value her opinion. She’s got really good instincts.
You once said that you’re never 100% satisfied with any record that you’ve done. Does that go for live performances as well? Have you ever gotten to a point where you’ve said to yourself that “this was so fucking cool“?
– Yeah, I mean… You know when something is good. When we did “Rebel yell” it was no mystery to us. As the songs were taking shape, and as we started to record it, and got closer to completing them, we were like… “Wait a minute, this is really cool, this is not just another record. This is a really big step for all of us“.
So you know when something is good. I know when I’ve played a good show. But I’m really hard to please. I’m a picky fucker.
You’re involved in so many different projects – could you give a quick summary of what you’ve been doing in 2011 and what your plans are for 2012?
– On the Billy Idol front it was a little bit quiet in 2011, because Billy is writing his autobiography. So we only did a brief tour in November. I kept busy with my Camp Freddy stuff – with those guys it’s a CRAZY schedule. Because you don’t exactly know who the guest singer is, so two days before you find out “oh it’s gonna be Ozzy” or whoever. So that kept me on my toes.
And then Josie launched a clothing line this year so that gave me an opportunity to plan a clothing line launch party. Billy Idol played, all the Camp Freddy guys…
And in 2012 – Billy and I have tourdates planned, we’ll be in Europe in July, and then November and December we’ll be in South America.
And we’re writing material for a new a new record. We’ll be out this year cause they want to hold the record until the autobiography comes out. We’re not just writing songs, we’re writing songs that are gonna coexist with the autobiography. So it’s a whole different thing.
At this point it’s time to wrap up the interview, as Sebastian is getting louder in the background :-). The Iridium-cat has been strutting around during the whole interview, trying to get some attention, so photographer Beatrice asks Steve if he would mind being photographed with the cat.
I just loved his response, delivered with a smile:
– I’m not taking a picture with the cat…! I can just just imagine the comments: “Oh, look at the pussy! And the cat!”