Posts Tagged ‘Summer of Sorcery’

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Little Steven Van Zandt has spent three seasons starring in the Netflix show Lilyhammer about a New York gangster starting his life over in Norway. In addition to playing the lead role, the longtime Bruce Springsteen E.Street Band sideman also co-wrote, produced and scored the series.

His music for the program, which concluded in 2014, is now being collected for a pair of albums due for release next month: Lilyhammer The Score – Volume 1:, Jazz and Volume 2: Folk-Rock Rio Bits and Pieces. And there is an exclusive premiere of the second volume’s “Espresso Martini” that you can listen to below.

The two albums are divided by themes, with the first focusing on the jazz music Van Zandt wrote for the series, while the second gathers three dozen tracks – from short incidental cues and African-influenced pieces to surf and classic rock – that play around in various genres. Both volumes will be released on July 12th.

The new “Espresso Martini” is one of the sets’ more bluesy songs, a steamy mood-setter that shows off Van Zandt’s musical versatility. The song “is an old-school King Curtis-style instrumental featuring Stan Harrison, who is my regular tenor sax player in the Disciples of Soul,” Van Zandt says. “I played the green Gretsch Anniversary model guitar that Marc Ribler got from Santa in [the 2018 Netflix movie] The Christmas Chronicles.”

Before Lilyhammer’s premiere in 2012, Van Zandt spent six seasons in the classic gangster series The Sopranos, starring as another gangster, Tony Soprano’s consigliere Silvio Dante. In between and since, Van Zandt of course has toured with Springsteen, performed on the Boss‘ albums with other members of the E Street Band and released a series of solo records, including Summer of Sorcery, with his Disciples of Soul which came out last month.

Volume 2: Folk, Rock, Rio, Bits And Pieces is a wildly eclectic affair that gathers together 36 tracks from the show, ranging from short music cues to full songs spanning across a dizzying array of genres. Opening with the broadcast version of the theme song “Lilyhammer Nocturne,” the song begins as a swinging jazz tune and then deftly segues into Norwegian folk music illustrating the collision of two cultures. Van Zandt fully embraced the Nordic country and integrated traditional Norwegian folk instruments into his musical arsenal to create an authentic sound for the show which was filmed in Lillehammer, Norway and watched by nearly one fifth of its population. Highlights of the folk songs include “Revelation,” “Lillehammer Mourning” and “Baptism.” On “Toboggan Negotiation,” Van Zandt, who played guitar on all but one track on the collection, injects a hard-strummed acoustic guitar into an otherwise traditional sounding folk song, creating a unique hybrid.

The pieces span the globe and musical history, ranging from the Ennio Morricone-esque “African Dawn,” to the Eastern sounds of “Tandoori Epiphany” and “Dance of the Persian Serpent,” to the symphonic rock of “Painted Angels,” to the bluesy “Espresso Martini,” to the surf rock of “Killer Surf” and the Latin jazz and mambo of “Stevie Colada and “Mojito.” On “Out Of The Darkness,” Van Zandt revisits his 1983 song and transforms it from a stadium rock anthem into a bittersweet instrumental with a Norwegian flavor while “Favella” conjures up images of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro. Overall it showcases both the breadth of the extraordinary and ambitious music that Van Zandt created for the show and his immense talent as a songwriter, arranger, musician and musical chameleon

With Springsteen’s new record, Western Stars, just out, but no E Street Band tour planned this year, Van Zandt is on tour with the Disciples of Soul this summer. They’re currently in Europe, with North American dates starting on June 28th.

Steven Van Zandt – known widely in music circles as Little Steven and Bruce fans as Miami Steve, among other sobriquets – is something of a New Jersey renaissance man, yet he’s never been one to really seek the spotlight.

Whether it’s his long-standing role as Bruce Springsteen’s right-hand man in The E Street Band – it was Van Zandt himself who gifted him the nickname “The Boss” – or in his lauded TV role as Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, he’s usually happy playing sideman to bigger names, a role he carries off with a humble aplomb.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule – he had the lead role in short-lived Norwegian-American gangster series Lilyhammer, and he hosts his own beloved Underground Garage radio show which is syndicated all over the world – but mainly Van Zandt is happy to eschew the limelight and leave the grandstanding to others.

Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul covering The Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes classic, “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”, performed by Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul at BluesFest 2016.

But with The Boss a couple of years ago deciding to make a lengthy one-man stand on Broadway and his acting commitments having temporarily dried up, Van Zandt found himself reviving the ‘80s outfit he’d formed during another hiatus from The E Street Band – this time when Springsteen was assembling his 1982 solo masterpiece Nebraska – namely Little Steven & The Disciples Of Soul.

His solo project had found him returning to the Jersey Shore sound that Van Zandt had helped formulate back in the ‘70s, first with his early group Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and then on the early Springsteen records (which he largely arranged), and then over the course of a number of staggered albums taking that sound into new and routinely fascinating places.

Yet he’d barely even considered that body of work for 20 years when in mid-2016 he was randomly invited by a London promoter to appear at a UK blues festival, after which he pulled a new version of the band together and hasn’t looked back. Since then the band has two new albums to their name – Soulfire (2017) and Summer Of Sorcery (2019) – and has been touring ever since to global acclaim, something Van Zandt had never envisaged happening again.

“Yeah, it’s been quite an experience and I’m very, very happy I did it,” he chuckles. “It was fortunate, Bruce decided to spend some time on Broadway and I didn’t have a new TV show going, so just through those random circumstances I ended up revisiting my own work, and I found it to be really quite rewarding.

“I hadn’t realised the value of the stuff and how well it all held up and how it had kinda become its own genre through the years, that ‘50s rock-meets-soul thing which at this point is quite unique.

“So it’s just been fun to revisit your stuff and try and reconnect with an audience again and see how the stuff holds up. It’s been quite a year-and-a-half of exploration and discovery and it’s been a very, very satisfying response from the audience – the audiences have been going crazy!”

The Disciples Of Soul are a 15-piece powerhouse, but Van Zandt is like a pig in mud back putting their massive sound together.

“The arranging is the fun part,” he smiles. “I’ve been using five horns ever since we put together Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes really which was mid-‘70s, and then I carried that same sound into my first solo album in ’82. Then the rest of my solo albums are all very different from each other, so I just went back to it recently.

“Plus I recently produced an album for the great Darlene Love and she had these great background singers so I fell in love with background vocals, so that’s the one thing I’ve added to my sound now. I just thoroughly enjoy the horn parts and the string parts and the background vocal parts all being woven together and complementing each other, and making sure that they all work together and don’t step on each other and don’t cancel each other out and they all work dynamically: that’s the fun part for me.”

And being in the spotlight again? Little Steven is fine with it, but you can tell that he’s still taking on such prominence reluctantly.

“I’ve never really needed it, my inclination is to be behind the scenes,” he reflects. “I’m really a producer at heart – that’s how I describe myself. I really am a producer first, but I am a performer and I do enjoy being a sideman.

“Even as a frontman I got really quite good at it in the ’80s – you get used to it and you get good at it – and I’m almost halfway back to being a frontman, I’m not all the way there yet. I’m working my way back because it’s a big mountain to climb, man, it’s a whole different job and you actually have to work for a living as opposed to being ‘the guitar player’ where you can just muck around.”

Van Zandt is famously well versed in many different types of music – as well as the Jersey Shore sound he helped found, he’s a noted rock’n’roll aficionado and curates satellite radio stations covering both garage-rock and outlaw country – and he puts these disparate passions in part down to the timing of his earliest musical forays.

“I think growing up when we did, it was an extraordinary period of time,” he marvels. “It was an absolute renaissance in the sense that the greatest music being made was also the most commercial, which we’ll never see again or not for hundreds of years, I think.

“More than that, we were, in a funny way, pretty much a monoculture back then and the trends would come and go year by year: in ’64 everyone’s into the British Invasion, in ’65 everybody is into folk-rock and that’s when The Byrds and Bob Dylan started, in ’66 it might have been country-rock so everybody gets into country music and then it was jazz-rock so everybody gets into jazz, and then in ’67 it’s psychedelic-rock so everyone gets into that – and I mean everybody! – and then in ’68 blues-rock came in and everybody got into blues, and then the final trend of the ‘60s in ’69 was southern-rock, which is more rootsy and Americana and The Band and Delaney & Bonnie and Taj Mahal and The Youngbloods and people like that.

“And believe it or not most musicians would follow from one trend to the other and you’d pick up some pieces of it – you’d take some of it for your own identity – and then some would stay in it: some would get to country-rock and they’d stay there, some would get to blues and they would stay there for the rest of their career. But a lot of us would go from one to the next, and you’d learn that genre and pick up what you want from it for your own identity and then you’d move on to the next one.

“So I think partially it was a result of growing up in that time, when things went from one trend to another and we were all going to school without knowing we were going to school. Parts of each genre stick with you and in the end you tend to just appreciate greatness whenever you hear it, it doesn’t matter what genre it is really. Even if it’s not a genre that you’re particularly fond of or use for your own identity, greatness is greatness and you recognise it and you appreciate it. I think that’s what’s stuck with me all these years.”

Little Steven aka Steve Van Zandt still considers the return of his Disciples of Soul band to be “a little bit of a miracle, to be honest.” But he’s not stopping to pinch himself, either, as the troupe prepares for the May 3rd release of a new album, “Summer of Sorcery”, whose “A World of Our Own” first released track.

“To keep this band together for two years has been an extraordinary achievement, and I’m so proud of them and their loyalty for sticking with me,” Van Zandt says. He launched the Disciples of Soul back in 1982 and brought the group back to active duty with 2017’s Soulfire, its first release in 18 years, and last year’s Soulfire Live. “Everybody in the world wants to hire these guys, and they’ve just stayed with me. It really shows that the longer you keep a band together, the better they get. And these cats were great to begin with, so it’s really gotten to a high level at this point.”

Summer of Sorcery, meanwhile, casts a different kind of spell than Van Zandt pursued on the six previous Disciples of Soul studio albums. Comprised of all-new material after Soulfire mined the vaults of existing songs, the Summer of Sorcery features all new material and eschews previous discourses into autobiography or politics.

“I wanted to get away from those things,” Van Zandt explains. “I wanted to fictionalize my work. The politics seemed necessary in the ’80s… but now it just seems too obvious. It’s attacking us 24/7, and I just feel people need a break from it. We’ve never been more divided, so my usefulness is trying to bring people together, on common ground.” And with Summer of Sorcery Van Zandt feels that territory is sunshine and love.

“Basically I just wanted to create 12 different movies,” he says. “The overall concept is this broad idea of summer, of that first summer of consciousness where you are falling in love with life itself. You’re connected to that great sort of ritual of the rite of spring and the earth is blooming and coming to life, and you feel that in your soul, that sort of rebirth and hope and optimism. I want to try to capture that, and use that as the overall scene. It’s a looser theme, but still I need that anchor, a concept to work in. I can’t just do a collection of songs at random. So that’s what worked for me this time.”

Summer of Sorcery’s 12 tracks also explore a variety of motifs, from the brassy soul rock of “Communion” to the funk of “Gravity,” rockabilly on “Superfly Terraplane,” doo-wop on “Love Again,” the Latino flavor of “Party Mambo!,” “Vortex’s” homage to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft soundtrack and the bouncy Gary U.S. Bonds feel of “Soul Power Twist.”

“A World of Our Own,” meanwhile, has a shimmering Phil Spector quality that Van Zandt acknowledges as “the girl group entry of this album.”

Little Steven And The Disciples Of Soul: Summer Of Sorcery

Steven Van Zandt knows what you’re thinking, especially when the topic is his music and not his acting. You hear his name and immediately imagine a bandana-clad rock gypsy who sings and plays heated, self-righteous diatribes about politics and life in a justice-challenged America. And he doesn’t disagree with you. “All my previous solo records were very political and very personal,” he says from his Manhattan home. “And I wanted to get away from both of those things. I wanted to fictionalize my life. I was sick of me.”

Van Zandt’s first step in that direction came when he heard that his longtime employer, Bruce Springsteen, would be heading to Broadway in 2017. “I said, ‘I might as well use the time,’” he says. On that year’s Soulfire, Van Zandt revived his inactive solo career, his long-dormant band name (Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul) and several songs he’d written for other artists but had never cut himself. “As soon as I did Soulfire, I said, ‘I should evolve this to the next logical place,’” he recalls. “All my records in the Eighties were diverse, but the music was always second to the lyrics. This time I wanted the music to come first.”

For his next project, Van Zandt started with a new song, “Summer of Sorcery,” which he says was “relatively new territory for me — I’d never wandered into that Van Morrison area very often.” Starting with that swirly, strummy reverie, a new idea took shape: what he calls “a concept loosely about going back and experiencing the first summer of consciousness, first time in love, first experiences in life and that thrill of unlimited possibilities.”

Working with his current band, Van Zandt rode that feeling into Summer of Sorcery, the most eclectic record he’s ever made. Set for May release, it largely dispenses with protest songs and revels in the rock, soul and R&B of his Sixties youth. On tracks like “Soul Power Twist,” “Vortex” and “Love Again,” he returns to the sort of Jersey Shore soul shakers he once wrote for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. “I wanted to write some of those songs for me,” he says. “I would’ve given those to Southside, but I never wrote them for myself.”

The album also ventures into Phil Spector–style pop (“A World of Our Own”), Latin music (“Party Mambo”) and garage rock (“Communion”). Even more striking are the lyrics, which avoid autobiography in favor of character studies, like the lovesick romantic in “A World of Our Own.” “Every singer is an actor, and the song is the script,” he says. “And you’re selling it. You’re convincing the audience you are who you say you are. In this case, I had to inhabit the body of that person, and I played and sang along with these different movies that required my singing to be different.”

The results are particularly felt on “Suddenly You,” which features a rare Van Zandt swoony croon. He also points to the horn-swinging “Love Again,” which he calls “a complete fantasy” inspired by pop of a bygone era. “I was thinking about Sam Cooke singing ‘I ain’t got nobody’ [in ‘Another Saturday Night’] and yet he was having sex with two or three women a day!” Van Zandt laughs. “But there’s nothing autobiographical about this one.”

Still, Van Zandt couldn’t shut out current events entirely. “Superfly Terraplane” portrays a new anti-gun and pro–social-media generation, while “Gravity” laments the denigrated state of the country (“Two hundred years of muscle/You blew it all trying to be the boss”). “I couldn’t help myself,” he shrugs. “It pulled me back in.”

Yet he admits it’s ironic that he’s made one of his least political records during one of the country’s most tumultuous times. “I got that with Soulfire too: ‘What are you doing?’” he says. “It’s unbelievable what’s going on. We’re in a civil war here. But my usefulness now is trying to bring people together and find a common ground.” Van Zandt learned a hard lesson when he launched TeachRock, a rock-history–based education program for schools around the country. “I didn’t endorse Obama and I didn’t criticize Trump,” he says. “TeachRock is the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I didn’t want a teacher in Alabama saying, ‘I don’t want to follow this liberal.’”

Van Zandt will be taking the Summer of Sorcery songs on the road starting this summer through October. He hasn’t heard anything about future E Street Band roadwork, but he knows he needs to take advantage of his break and the chance to play his own songs as much as possible. “If Bruce goes back out,” he says, “we could be gone two years.”

Until that happens, assuming it does, Van Zandt says he’s going to enjoy stepping away from himself. “There’s nothing more anxiety-producing than trying to understand yourself and analyze yourself,” he says. “It’s exhausting.”

The upcoming album ‘Summer of Sorcery’, out May 3rd.