Welcome to Lords of Metal, the reason I interview you is because of your contribution to Frankfurt Musikmesse. Are you looking forward to that?
Yeah, I’ve had really good times at the Musikmesse. I am REALLY looking forward to it, I’ve never really performed this way, in this setting there. The last time I performed at the Musikmesse was with John Entwistle, so that will tell you how long ago that was.
John Entwistle of The Who?
Yeah, and I didn’t know him at the time, but Zak Starkey (The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s son) was the drummer. He was just a kid. And it was just… wow. It’s some time ago now.
Which brand(s) will you represent there?
Well, I will perform, but I have a signature guitar with Knaggs, I know they will be represented there. I don’t know yet if Friedman Electronics will be there, but I have a signature amplifier with them, so that will be out on stage with me. But certainly Knaggs will be there. I will play there one day, in the middle of my solo tour.
You have Gus G. with you out on that tour, right?
I don’t know if that is confirmed (laughs). I hope it happens, although I have never met him before.
It is now officially confirmed, yes. Are you attached to the brands, or are you going to discover new brands there in Frankfurt too, you think?
We’ll see (laughs), I usually try, but I usually end up in computer software and stuff, because that’s the new stuff that I try. I have what I need when it comes to guitars and amps, I’m set (laughs).
What do you think is the main purpose of events like Frankfurt Musikmesse and NAMM in the US?
The main purpose is to get distributors excited about gear and get them to buy orders. But for us, musicians it’s an opportunity to see the new stuff. And in the States, I don’t know how that will be in Frankfurt this year, but there’s a lot of obscure pedal makers that maybe you don’t get to see in the big guitar magazines. So it’s a great opportunity to see some of the more off market labels.
Well, they shifted the attention more towards the audience now and open the door for the audience every day, so it is not mainly a business fair, like it used to be
I think that is a good idea.
Do you like to be at fairs, which is a totally different experience from playing a concert, I assume.
Yeah, it is totally different. But I don’t approach it any differently. Once I am up on stage it’s the same thing. I try to communicate with the audience and I am one of those guitar players that doesn’t play any stuff for other guitar players. If they too like what I do, that’s great, but I try to do stuff that people who don’t play guitar will like and play memorable things. The fact that I have my own band there. It’s another show for us, like any other. There is point where guitar playing becomes… well, it is not an athletic event, so to say. I don’t want to play in front of people and wait for their score cards at the end of a solo or anything. That is not what music is about for me.
Let alone have them wait for you to make a mistake in that one impossible solo, right?
Right, mistakes are good.
You have tried a lot of stuff that stands out, but when you wrote them, did you have in mind what the sound would have been, or does that advance in a certain direction while writing?
It’s all dictated by the song, to be honest with you. What is the song about, what are the lyrics about and how can my guitar enhance that and express what it’s about. That’s my job. I’m really into great guitar sounds, I always felt like the better the guitar sounds, the less notes you have to play. So it’s a combination of those two elements.
I am sure, but I can imagine when you got the job for Billy Idol, or Vince Neil, but especially with Michael Jackson, you felt the urge to say “I’m going to surprise the hell out of you now with what I wrote and the sound I invented!”, right?
I tried to. I started playing guitar when the early progressive rocks were happening and I think those guys have had an effect on my guitar playing. I always wanted to let those times emulate in my guitar playing for everyone, you know, not just guitar players.
Great! Who influence you nowadays, what current stars inspire you?
Oh wow, I really like Matt from Muse, I don’t know if you consider him “current”…
Well, if he brings out anything, the press is on top of it, so he has the span of attention at the moment, to say the least.
Well, he is certainly of the generation after mine. He’s done a lot of innovative guitar things and they’re a great band and have great sounds. In terms of heavier sounds, I like Mastodon a lot.
Will you focus on hits, sound or anything else in Frankfurt?
Well, the unique thing about my tour is that I have another guitar player, Ben Woods, with me on stage, as well as singer Franky Perez, who has worked with me for a number of years and who was most recently with Apocalyptica. So we are gonna run the gamma in between the rock things I have done, to some flamenco things. It’s gonna be a very varied show. There is going to be a lot of light and shade, a lot of heavy and light stuff happening.
Who will you be bringing along on stage? 12:16
The guys I just mentioned
-Uriah Duffy (ex Whitesnake, Christina Aguillera, Alicia Keys) on bass guitar,
-Mike Bennett (Hilary Duff, Richie Kotzen, Benise, Andra Day, Mary Mary, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live) on drums.
My own band. And Knaggs will be there in Frankfurt, so I will support them all I can.
How important do you think it is for brands, and maybe artists too, to be at fairs like the Musikmesse? You already told about obscure brands one could discover at fair.
I think it is important, but it is up to the individual companies, you know. There are some that are very involved with the whole process of a music fair and some are there, just put up a display and when you go, there is no one there (laughs).
And then there are brands that have bikini girls to draw the attention too, right?
There is nothing wrong with bikini girls. I support that anytime.
People tend to live online more and more and go out less to see, feel and experience music. That goes for online instrument sales too. Does this concern you, or is that just the new reality?
That’s how I purchase instruments too. You know, it is a different era. I grew up in New York City and it used to be fantastic that you had over ten different music stores that you could go to and more on the same streets. But it’s a different era. The fact now that you can buy a piece of gear online and you can watch a demo on YouTube, it is just the way you shop now. Clothes, guitars, everything. I buy a lot on eBay and online.
So you don’t think it is a threat to bricks ‘n mortar stores?
Well, it is, but you can’t fight it. You are not going to fight it. You basically have to bricks ‘n mortar music stores in LA now, so.
This is a difficult question, I hope. How many guitars do you currently own?
Lat counts it was about 100 instruments. I have a storage facility for some of them. But I have collected so many instruments only because I ’ve had a 35 year career, you know. You just end up with a lot of gear. I wish though (laughs) I didn’t have that many, because it costs me a lot to keep them. I don’t play them all, some are very special to me, some represent milestones in my career. I still have the guitar I won a Grammy for (the Top Gun Theme song), and those are instruments I cherish. There are also a lot of guitars I have sold.
You sold a lot and still got over 100 guitars?
Yeah, I know.
Do you still have the ‘Dirty Diana’ guitar?
I do, yep! Those are the instrument you have for a lifetime.
Do you lock it away, or show it off, or something
Spike Lee, the movie director, he made a documentary about Michael Jackson and we brought it out to show during the interview. But it’s not an instrument that I currently play. It was a Jackson Solist.
You have worked with many great names in all kinds of styles. Is there a style you would turn down if you were asked for it, or maybe a person?
No, it depends on the artist and the song. I can’t imagine a style that I would… well, polka would be off too much, maybe (laughs).
So if “Weird” Al Yankovic would call… I bet you would consider doing polka with him.
I don’t know, yeah, probably. As long as it is a challenge and as long as I can learn something at the end of the day, why not. I try to seek out projects where I can learn from other musicians, for example when I worked with Terry Bozzio and Tony Levin (the Bozzio, Stevens Levin supergroup). This was kind of different for me and unexpected, but these are INCREDIBLE musicians and even if I just got in there, shut my mouth and just play guitar, I am going to learn something at the end of the day.
I am sort of distracted by the image in my mind of you playing polka with “Weird” Al, I have to disconnect from that image first, sorry.
Hahahaha, don’t get your hope up too high.
I won’t. It is very hard to make choices, but what memory do you cherish the most in your career?
One moment? I think when we started to record the ‘Rebel Yell’ album with Billy Idol, a feeling arose that we were going to make a great record and everything seemed to be in our favour and the stars aligned right, so that obviously launched my career and Billy Idol’s career. It was not one moment, but the process of that album was certainly special, we knew it was going to make an impact.
By the way, you just said you performed with members of The Who, but I just remember that Billy Idol did too, he played Cousin Kevin on stage with The Who
That’s right, yeah.
So you had ‘Rebel Yell’, Michael Jackson, the Grammy for Top Gun, those are great highlight. What is still left on your bucket list?
I recorded with Robbert Palmer at the time he was living in Milan, in Italy. Robbert was actually the first rock star I ever met, I was in a band before Billy Idol and we went to the Bahamas to record with him. And Robbert was living across the studio and walked in. We became friend, this was a year before I met Billy Idol. So we always wanted to work together and it was really special. He was an incredible musician and has such amazing stories. He was part of that London scene when Hendrix was happening, and Cream and all this kinds of stuff. It was just an incredible experience recording with him, I will always remember that.
That’s a great answer, but it was not really the question. The question was what is left on your bucket list.
Oh? Wow. I would love to work with Peter Gabriel, I’ve been a fan since I was thirteen years old. He’s got such musical integrity, he always tries to do something different, that would be a great experience. I just love the sound of the voice, that’s basically it.
Back to the Messe event, will you be scheduling moments for the audience too, you think?
I am sure they will. I do this regularly after my shows, I try to meet people and to interact. They often have good questions and show real interest. And most of the times they invite you to have a beer, which is ok, but not all the time (laughs).
What’s an example of a good question a fan asked you?
Good question. Usually it is just what they should listen to, to become a better musician, what influenced me, things that portray the artists side, I don’t know, so many things. Usually it is about inspiration.
I give you the honour to close the interview down for both our metal audience and the visitors of Musikmesse. Thanks for your time
I am really looking forward to seeing you all out there, so see you at Messe.
Before and after the Messe show, you can catch Steve Stevens on tour with his band on the following dates:
Steve Stevens & Band
Featuring Franky Perez
A Night with The grammy Winning Guitar Legend.
Special guest: GUS G
05. Apr UK - London, O2 Academy2 Islington
06. Apr B - Verviers, Spirit of 66
07. Apr GER - Frankfurt - Batschkapp
08. Apr GER - Frankfurt – Musik-Messe
09. Apr GER - Bochum – Matrix
11. Apr DK - Odense, Posten
12. Apr S - Stockholm, Göta Källare
14. Apr CH - Zürich, Plaza
15. Apr I - Bergamo, Druso Club
16. Apr ESP - Madrid, Chango Club