Steven Van Zandt keeps rocking, avoids p-word
New York – There’s plenty of rock on Steven Van Zandt’s first album of original material in 20 years. There’s also soul and funk and some mean horn solos. What there isn’t plenty of is politics.
The bandana-wearing guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, who in the past has never been shy about calling out politicians, has put aside partisanship in these divisive times.
“I’m trying to stay as nonpartisan as I can and provide some common ground,” he said. “When you’re as political as I was – and I was as political as it gets – for the hardcore fans of mine it’s going to take a bit of adjustment.”
Van Zandt, who in the past has raised his voice against apartheid and nuclear weapons, refuses to add kindling to what he considers a country “heading towards a civil war.” He wants his concerts to be a safe zone.
“Democrats, Republicans and independents are welcome to come to the show and enjoy themselves because it’s a strictly musical trip,” he said. “We need a break every now and then, in other words, and right now we’re providing that break.”
Van Zandt’s relief comes in the form of a new album, “Summer of Sorcery.” The 12-track collection sees him reteam with his 15-piece band, the Disciples of Soul, and mine what he calls a “rock-meets-soul thing.”
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever done two records in a row that were with the same band, first of all, and with the same sound – in the same genre, even. I’m going to stick with that now,” he said.
The album is a stew of Van Zandt’s influences, ranging from mambo to classic rock to doo-wop. There’s a flute solo in one song, and another name-checks Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.
“There’s not a whole lot that’s good about getting older but there is one thing, which is you really tend to integrate your influences,” he said. “I like to have my influences on my sleeve. I do that intentionally, leaving little breadcrumbs for people to follow backwards, hoping that they do listen to the original artists.”
In addition to avoiding politics, the album is also not autobiographical, a first for the musician. For each song, Van Zandt wrote from a different character’s perspective. In “Superfly Terraplane,” he’s a millennial; in “Love Again,” he’s a world-weary traveler searching for love.
“I like the idea of just making the 12 little movies and play a different role in each one,” he said. “I analyzed myself to death in the ’80s and I was sick of me. So I was ready for exploring my imagination for a change.”
The idea of writing an entire album of new material came during the tour of Van Zandt’s 2017 album “Soulfire,” which was composed of covers and songs he had written for other artists but never cut himself.
“The brain cells that work towards writing your own records started to wake up,” he said. “The tour just started feeding in those ideas and basically we took the tour and put it in a blender and out popped these songs – basically exactly how I was hoping it would work and it did.”