Steve Stevens is the guitar talent behind Billy Idol, Michael Monroe, Vince Neil and of course his own Atomic Playboys. Now he has teamed with the legendary Terry Bozzio and Tony Levin to create a power trio and the album 'Black Light Syndrome'.
Here is Steve talking about a few aspects of his career to date.
Hey Steve, how's it all going?
Very well thanks.
What are you in the middle of right now?
Actually I am doing a solo record. It has dance music underneath the rock style, with lots of odd loops and ethnic percussion. Very trance like.
That sounds like a big departure!
Yeah, it's different, but it works though.
Who is that going to be for?
It's for Myles Copeland, who is Sting's manager, he has a new instrumental based label called arc 21.
I have heard of Copeland's castle in France, and Jack Blades hangs out with him also.
That's right, yeah he has a song writing retreat once a year in France.
Hard life isn't it?
Yeah, ha ha.
So how has the response for Black Light Syndrome been?
I think well. Based on the fact that it is released on a very small label, so with that in mind, it has done pretty well.
It is a pretty musically intense record.
Yeah, ha ha. It was intense for us too. Knowing that we only had four days to record it.
What, the whole record?
Four days! How did you record then? Loosely?
Absolutely. The only thing that I could determine as pre-production was that Terry Bozzio and I got together before we went into the studio. I went out to Austin Texas where Terry lives just to jam.
But the three of us had never played in the same room before, so what you hear on the record, is pretty much a documentation of what went on in the studio.
There are some very long tracks on there.
Yeah, we debated with the idea of making some of the tracks shorter, and we actually attempted some edits, but in the context of the kind of record it is, it just didn't work.
It just seemed foolish. If people are going to be into that kind of record, the fact that there are tracks 10 and 12 minutes long either people are going to like it or they aren't!
The length of the songs isn't going to change that, eh?
Yeah, it's not everyone's cup of tea, but those who are going to get into it, I don't think they are going to complain.
Was it nice for you to have a free reign?
Yeah, kind of.
I think the kind of glue that holds that record together, was the mutual respect we all have for each other.
You all have great résumé's.
It could have been horrible though, if it was three guys there just to show off.
I think there is some self restraint involved though!
Yeah, you all get a fair share of the limelight on the album.
Right, I would hope not.
I must ask you, as I have been asked this, and am curious myself are you going to make another big hard rock record?
Er, no. not in the near future.
Really? Been there, done that?
Um, yeah, I have worked with a number of artists that are known for that. The only kind of pop/hard rock record I would even contemplate doing is another Billy Idol record.
And, unfortunately that doesn't look like it it's going to happen.
Okay, I was going to lead into that. How is the old boy?
Um, I really couldn't say right now, at this point. We still speak occasionally and we are on good terms. But for myself, I like to be productive, and I like to challenge myself.
And to go back and try and re-create something that happened 10 years ago doesn't interest me at this point.
You two got back together a couple of years ago for another record. What happened to that?
We attempted to, yeah.
What happened? Did it fall over?
Basically, there were no songs. I don't know where Billy is at currently, but at the time that I was asked to comeback and work with him, there was nothing to work with.
And unless an artist really wants to make a record, or has something to say all the fucking great guitar playing in the world ain't going to change that fact there are no songs.
So I had to step aside and take on other avenues.
I have a fantastic live unplugged tape of you guys doing Rebel Yell one New Years Eve. I have never heard acoustic guitar played like that in my life. It was incredible! I would love the full gig.
Ha ha, right. It went live out over the radio stations. The set was 45 minutes I guess.
Any chance of a live album at some stage?
Mmmm, I don't know.
What about your Atomic Playboy's album? That's fairly legendary.
What, legendarily bad?!!
Really, that's surprising I can't listen to it!
Yeah, it's probably the least favourite record I have ever recorded. I do like the instrumentation, but there are a number of reasons that I don't like that record.
It was one the first record I was involved with that was recorded digitally, and I find the overall sound of that record really harsh. Not pleasing.
Secondly, I think the singer on that album is kind of awful.
I spent the better part of 2 years looking for a singer for that album.
Ha ha, and he hasn't been seen since.
No, it was really tough. Every singer that I approached may have been okay, but they had this specter of Billy Idol hanging over their heads, and they just got really nervous. Ha ha
Sometimes people just have to be themselves, and not worry about what I have done before, or whatever.
How may did you approach?
Well, I listened to probably 150 tapes.
Of different singers?
Yeah. I remember at the time John Sykes of Whitesnake was looking for a singer as well. So he and I would swap tapes.
I just got his new record actually.
What's that like?
Good. It's all ballads, but still rather good. Like yourself, he has a very distinctive sound.
I tell you what I did like, and that's Jerusalem Slim.
Oh right, not many people have heard that actually.
Yeah, it didn't get a wide release.
There are some interesting things on it. What was enjoyable was the drummer on that record Greg Ellis has since become a very good mate of mine.
I saw him playing in a club with a band called Shark Island. I brought him into do that record and we have maintained a really good friendship. He is actually going to help me out on my solo record.
So there were good things about it. I don't think it was the right record for Michael Monroe.
It was a departure in sound for him.
But I enjoyed working with producer Michael Wagner also. There is a shit load of guitar on that record. I think that is what made Michael very uncomfortable.
I think he is used to working with guitar players that are a bit more simple.
One of the other artists you worked with is Vince Neil.
That was probably the better type of record for your guitar sound. Did that fit in with his plans?
You know, the first song has a bloody 2 minute guitar solo in it!!
Yeah, I know ha ha. I kept saying to him, shouldn't we shorten these things up a little? He was said no.
So he was cool for it?
Did you enjoy working with Vince? I imagine there was a little ego involved?
Not really, you know. I prefer to work with people that if their name is going to be on the album cover, you would expect them to take more control over it all.
He kind of left it up to other people around him.
I guess he is used to that with Motley Crue, where the other three guys kind of pull things together.
So you know, what ever people are comfortable working with. But I really like working with musicians that get in your face.
What's Billy Idol like to work with? You have made more records with him than anyone.
Yeah, when it was working well it was great. When it wasn't it was awful.
And I think you can tell by the records. With Rebel Yell there was a real magic involved, and with the subsequent record Whiplash Smile, there wasn't.
The intensity wasn't there like it was before.
Well, the logic kind of defied the record. With Rebel Yell, it was a real live band; a real bass player and backing tracks were recorded live.
Then you go to a little drum machine, synthesizer record. Electronic in a bad way.
There are electronic records that I really like, for instance Tangerine Dream.
But that has attitude and environment.
Whiplash Smile was largely the reason I left Billy. After doing that record, my guitar style just didn't match where he was going.
And he continued along that path, until no one was really interested.
Yeah, whenever he has done that he has failed miserably.
I don't think people really dig that.
I have seen you live once. With Vince Neil at the Canada Day festival in Ontario in 1993. That was one wild show.
Yeah, it was a great day. I enjoyed that show. Good fun.
You guys were the first not be booed or hassled off stage apart from Kim Mitchell.
Anything else you would like to do in the future?
Well, hopefully I am working on doing those things now. I played last night in LA with techno act Moby, and it was just an absolutely fantastic experience for me.
I have been making records for 15 years and how many times can I get excited about setting up to play. It was a whole new thing for me, trying to blend my style with this type of music. Heavy grooves over a trance beat.
How did it go down with the crowd?
Fantastic actually. Just fantastic. They are saying they are big fans of mine, so I would have never expected that.
And touring plans?
Definitely with my new solo record.
How about with Black Light Syndrome?
There is talk of another record, and I think we will tour on that, when there is more material to play.
And when might your solo record come out?
Tentatively June in Japan. And August in the States.
Good luck with everything Steve. And don't forget to do a rock record sometime!
Alright Andrew, thanks!