Steve Conte of The Michael Monroe Band: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Steve Conte Interview

Feature Photo: courtesy of Earshot Media.

Over the decades, guitarist Steve Conte has impacted numerous acts to sublime perfection. Be it the New York Dolls, Michael Monroe’s solo ensemble, or his solo career, one thing is sure: Conte is a philosopher of all things guitar. In serving up buffets of musical perfection, Conte’s multi-layered, genre-defying approach to his instrument supplies listeners with fresh perspectives and, more importantly, damn good music.

If you missed Conte’s former band’s Company of Wolves, Crown Jewels, or the Conte’s, you’ve got your marching orders for musical retrospection. But in the meantime, Conte’s latest record, The Concrete Jangle, will be released on April 20, 2024. And, of course, Conte’s sweet licks can be heard via Michael Monroe’s music, too.

As he continues to scribble his musical signature across an evolving rock scene, Steve Conte took a moment with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into his new music, his approach to the guitar, and what’s next for him as he moves forward.

What inspired you to pick up the guitar? 

I was a drummer first; my brother was the guitarist. One day, I picked up his guitar and just started writing songs, having no idea what I was doing… I just sang and played bass notes on the low E string with my fingernail. After that, I thought I should get some lessons, so I did, and I got really good really fast. My brother then switched to bass, and here we are today!

Who were your greatest influences? 

Mid-60s Brit/Mod groups at first, like The Beatles (Revolver!) The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Hollies, and American stuff; Motown and bubblegum, like The Monkees. Later, it would be Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, J Geils, Ritchie Blackmore, and of course, Chuck Berry!

Do you remember your first guitar and amp? 

Yeah, it was a Sears electric guitar and amp. Not a hip Silverstone, but a glossy, crappy one right out of the catalog. The amp was transistor, of course, and the first thing I wondered was, “Why can’t I get that fuzzy sustained sound like Carlos Santana on ‘Black Magic Woman?'”

What was your first professional gig? 

It was either a middle school dance or at the local swim club. Me, my brother, and our friends had a few different bands, but the material was always pretty much the staples of rock in the ’70s: Stones, Chuck Berry, J Geils, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and ZZ Top. I think we got paid like seven dollars, or something.

How do you view the way you play today versus the past? What has changed most? 

I came up pretty much self-taught on rock’ n’ roll after a few people showed me licks. I would hide myself away and practice every permutation of a riff. After Zeppelin and [Deep] Purple, I got into prog stuff like Yes and Kansas, which was after I felt I’d exhausted the pentatonic blues scale.

And then, moved up to Jeff Beck, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and jazz-fusion, finally landing on traditional be-bop jazz, like Wes Montgomery, Miles [Davis], [John] Coltrane, etc. I’m glad I learned all that stuff; it really opened my ears and has allowed me to work in more genres than just rock. But then, after college, I went back to my first loves of The Beatles and the blues.

How has working with Michael Monroe changed the way you write songs? 

Well, I still write the way I want to for myself. But if I want Michael to sing my songs, there are certain parameters. I know there are types of melodies he won’t want to sing, and lyrics or subjects he won’t want to sing about.

Although sometimes, he surprises me, and wants to do a song of mine that I had written for myself with a fairly complex melody and vocal styling. I like it when he stretches himself like that, going beyond the big’ n dumb football hooligan punk chants – but those are also cool, fun & catchy.

Tell me about the riff and solo writing process you deployed on your new record, The Concrete Jangle.

I keep it organic, no formula. Sometimes a song starts from a riff, sometimes from a title or a lyric and sometimes from a feel or groove. I have many great riffs just lying around that haven’t found a home in a song yet…I hope I can get to them all before I die! Of course, the best ones come all at once—melody/lyric/chords/groove.

How do you view guitar solos in the modern era? Do they need to be deconstructed? 

I honestly don’t pay much attention. I’m not a metal shredder, and I don’t write that kind of stuff, so I don’t keep up with the latest techniques and trends. I do practice at home, though, working on stuff I’ll probably never be able to use in any of my current playing situations, like Legato runs, but it’s nice to have that stuff in my back pocket should I ever want to whip it out.

Do you keep up with any new players?

I do know who the newer guys are, like Guthrie [Govan], [Matteo] Mancuso, etc., but that kind of playing wouldn’t fit into my music. I do try to sneak in some be-bop wherever I can, though. When I was playing with Robert Gordon (taking over for Chris Spedding), I had a blast because rockabilly is really a combination of early rock ‘n’ roll, country, and jazz.

Do you feel self-indulgence is okay when it comes to guitar?

I wouldn’t want to bore people while enjoying myself onstage; I don’t think one could maintain a following that way. And I haven’t done an instrumental record yet, but you never know!

Tell me about your guitars, amps, and pedals. 

Guitars: whichever fits the vibe of the song and the sound I’m hearing in my head. I’ve got Fenders (’62 Strat, ’68 Tele, ’66 Bass VI) Gibsons (2two Les Paul Jrs, a ’59 and a ’60, three Les Pauls, a ’70, ’71, an ’05 and ’07 SG, three ’60s Melody Makers, including a 12-string!, two acoustics; a 2008 Hummingbird and a ’70s J-160E).

And then I’ve got a ’59 Danelectro (Jimmy Page DC model), a Zemaitis, a Hagstrom baritone, a Swede bass and jazzbox, a Martin D18, an Airline Resonator, an Epiphone mandolin, a ukulele, etc. So, you see, the tones can vary!

For amps, I’ve got a ’67 Marshall Plexi, a ’62 Vox AC-30, ’65a Fender Bandmaster, and a ’62 Princeton, Ampeg Reverberocket, Blackstar HT Venue Mk II, and their killer new tube combo. And for pedals, there are way too many to list, but my basic NYC board has a tuner, wah, tremolo, delay, Leslie, overdrive, and a clean boost.

What does your new record mean to you?

Everything! To get to write with my songwriting hero, Andy Partridge, from one of my all-time favorite bands, XTC, was a dream come true. Collaborating with him made me a better writer all around.

This is the first record I’ve released that really lays out my whole ’60s Beatles influence, which has been huge and with me for my whole life. I can’t believe I’ve never done it until now. Working with Andy made it appropriate to bring that stuff out into the light, and I’m glad I did. Melody is always king!

Is there anything on tap on the Michael Monroe side of things? 

We are working on a new album. We just recorded tracks in Finland, and I’m finishing up some of my parts at home now. Hopefully, it will be released in the fall [of 2024].

What are your short and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?

To keep making music ’til I drop! And hopefully, getting better all the time. I’d love to be able to play/write/perform/record only my own music full-time to make a living, but in this current climate of rock’ n’ roll being tough unless you’re already a “big name,” one must have a day job.

And my day job is playing with other people, like the New York Dolls, Michael Monroe, Paul Simon, Robert Gordon, Billy Squier, Peter Wolf, etc. It doesn’t suck to have music as a day job, lemme tell ya. One could do worse!

Steve Conte of The Michael Monroe Band: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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