When the guitarist of the New York Dolls wants to break in a brand new band without much hype you would think that wouldn't be much trouble. Except, in this case, that band is making their debut on the first Upstage Nite @ the Saint on Wednesday, March 22nd.
So, we're gonna break his cover a bit.
Steve Conte, of the New York Dolls, is well known around these parts for his former work with his brother in several bands but he's also been on lots of other records and toured withbig name artists. So filling the shoes of Johnny Thunders wasn't so daunting to him.
These are busy days for Steve Conte. He's part of the long-awaited new album by the New York Dolls and debuting a new band of his own. The band is so new, in fact, that they didn't even have a name when we spoke to Steve on the phone for this article.
"This is going to be our very first show," expained Steve Conte. "It's funny because I had called up my friend Keith from Frankenstein 3000 and said 'Keith, we want to do a small under-the-radar first gig somewhere.' I said maybe at the Saint and he called me back and said he had a night. Then he calls me back later and says it's a party for Upstage Magazine. I said 'oh shit! So much for the first gig under the radar!'
Conte says the band has about 45-50 minutes of original material and will throw in a few choice covers for good measure. Fans of The Contes and Company of Wolves might be a little surprised at the new sound, but as Steve puts it - "it's kind of logically what I think one would expect the guitar player for the Dolls to do, which is a side of me I've always had. I've always concentrated on the melodic stuff that I've written because I always thought that melody was a very hard thing to come by and if you have a talent for writing melodies you should do it. But I've always had these rockers and bluesier songs and more visceral, uptempo, heavier things that didn't seem to fit with the power pop melodic stuff we were doing. So this is a band where I get to do all of that stuff and it's really fun. It's definitely more about energy and guitar playing and much more loose."
His band plans on recording an EP that Steve will bring along when the Dolls go on tour later this summer. The new record by the Dolls is expected to be released in June on Roadrunner. The band has been jetsetting the globe to let the world know that the Dolls are back. When we spoke with Steve he had just returned from a private gig in London that was part of a "30th Anniversary of Punk Rock" celebration put on by Selfridges Department store. Bands like the Buzzcocks and The Slits also did shows while legendary figures like Malcom McLaren and Bob Gruen gave talks and screenings of punk related films were held.
"Most of the comments were like 'is this really what we thought was going to happen in the beginning with punk?'" said Conte. "Not that I was there for it. Even the Dolls weren't really trying to be punk, it's just that's what they ended up being called years later. They didn't even know that they had invented it really. They sort of added to what the Stooges and MC5 had done before."
Conte says the new Dolls record is like the next logical step for the band. "It's like the Dolls grew up. There's still some of the same elements that have always been there - traditional stripped down rock and roll, love of 50s girl groups and just a certain amount of chaos and craziness!"
Steve is not just a guitar player with the Dolls but truly is a member of the band. On the new record, he sings on some songs and has also written some of the tracks with David Johansen.
You can catch Steve Conte with his new band on Wednesday, March 22nd at the Saint in Asbury Park on Upstage Magazine night. Also playing that night will be Frankenstein 3000 and Steven Baggs. Conte may want to be under the radar, but we'd prefer the place to be packed!
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.