Last week Steve Van Zandt called up Rolling Stone to chat up his new record label Last Cathedral, which will focus exclusively on hard rock releases. “We decided to keep Wicked Cool a garage label and keep a real consistent identity,” says Van Zandt. “Lost Cathedral is going to be more the Led Zeppelin and AC/DC side of things rather than the Rolling Stones or British Invasion type of things.” The first release will be a new album by Crown Of Thorns, partially because Jean Beauvoir is the CEO of Van Zandt’s parent company Renegade Nation. Little Steven also delved into a number of topics, ranging from his upcoming tour with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band to why he thinks music has gone downhill since 1967 to rumors the E Street Band didn’t play live at the Super Bowl. Here’s Steve in his own words:
On rumors Bruce and the band played to a pre-recorded track at the Super Bowl: “I absolutely played live. If you were there, you could hear me fucking around before we started. Who knows what technical thing happens? We were there all week. Was there back-ups to the system in case something went wrong? Was something recorded? It’s very possible. I was singing live, I was playing live. That’s all I can tell you.
On the E Street Band’s forthcoming world tour: “We were going to start earlier then we said, ‘Wait, let’s stop a minute.’ We feel like we just got home. It was already the quickest two tours he ever done, and I think the quickest two albums. It got moved to the end of March now. Rehearsals start a week or two before. We’ll do our usual three days just to learn the new album, then off we go. The new songs are really quite good. It’s fun to keep cranking out new stuff at this high quality. At our age and position it’s kind of unique, huh? Most of the other people go out and play a song or two, we usually play most of the new album right away. I’m sure that will be the case here. What the other half of the show is, we’ll see.”
On the possibility of playing albums in their entirety on tour: “It could be something like that. We did that once for this benefit thing. It was an interesting thing to do. If I could pick, it’s gotta be The River. I’d want to include the outtakes on the Tracks collection. Then you have a hell of a show. You don’t have to do anything else.”
His advice for young bands: “I spent half my life convincing young bands to not skip that club phase, because they’re all skipping it now. The Beatles were a bar band for, what, four or five years? I tell bands, are you better than them? How do you learn how to play songs? If you can’t play someone else’s songs you can’t learn how to write songs. You can’t learn from listening to the fucking radio these days. You can learn how to be mediocre. That’s what we need! More mediocrity. Not only were the Beatles a bar band, they did covers for five albums after that! Stones too. People need to get a grip on how to do that. It’s a craft. It has to be learned. You aren’t born with it. Nobody is born great. Nobody. All of a sudden you have an entire two generations that don’t do it. They suffer for it. Once you don’t learn, you don’t learn. You may get better at your thing, but you’ll never be great.”
On his proposed TV show, Underground Garage Au Go Go: We’ve been working on a TV series for years and came very close. It’s probably my greatest frustration right now, by far. Three years in a row we came within five minutes of a network deal. They keep backing out at the last minute, they’re afraid of music on TV. They tell me it never works. I tell them, ‘I know why it doesn’t work — because it always sucks. How about we do a show that doesn’t suck? Let’s try that!’ We could do a fantastic TV show and I think that would change everything. It will completely focus this traditional rock and roll and contemporary garage rock movement and give it a face. The idea is to get a young host. The main thing we would do and what you haven’t seen the last 30 years is that it will have kids dancing to rock & roll. I just feel that one day we were dancing to rock & roll and the next we started listening to it, and it’s been downhill ever since — somewhere around 1967 or so. I’m exaggerating only slightly. It may end up on cable. We may have to start it on the Internet, or a fucking cell phone. It’s something I’m determined to do. It needs it. It’s not something that’s an option. What we do won’t 100 percent make sense until we get that on.”