Steve Conte and The Concrete Jangle: The Sound of New York City Rock

Steve Conte and <em>The Concrete Jangle:</em> The Sound of New York City Rock

Written by Ray Chelstowski

There are certain artists who just define what a New York City rock song should sound like. These songs have attitude and grit, but find a way to sparkle and soar like skyscrapers. It’s a rare blend, and when the concrete, steel, and vibe come together the impact they make is unmistakable, and usually lasting. Lou Reed, the Ramones, Living Colour, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Patti Smith present an authenticity that in many ways could only have been birthed in the five boroughs.

Add Steve Conte to that list. Known for his work with the New York Dolls and Michael Monroe, Conte has spent his entire career honing his craft collaborating with a diverse range of artists, including Peter Wolf, Eric Burdon of the Animals, Willy DeVille, Billy Squier, Maceo Parker, Willie Nile, Jim Jones and Hubert Sumlin, and he even served as the rehearsal vocalist for Paul Simon during solo and Simon and Garfunkel tours. That has all come together on his forthcoming album, The Concrete Jangle, the successor to his critically-acclaimed 2021 release Bronx Cheer.



Steve Conte, The Concrete Jangle, album cover.


Scheduled for launch on Record Store Day (April 20), this 10-track album features collaborations with XTC's Andy Partridge, who co-wrote five of the songs with Conte, including the newly-released single "Shoot Out The Stars." This is the perfect summer spin, with songs suited for long stretches of highway when you are headed to the beach, and late-night party fist pumps. The record breaks open like an early 1980s Saturday night dance party hosted on air by your favorite metro market FM radio station, commercial free, and filled with non-stop hits.

Conte is supported on the record by his brother on bass, and Prairie Prince (Todd Rundgren, XTC, the Tubes) on drums. But the multiple layers of sound Conte and Partridge assemble makes this all seem like a much larger affair.

Steve Conte fittingly, is on Steve van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records, and like labelmate Jesse Malin, perhaps best represents what the vision for the company has always been built around. This music may not be intended to save rock and roll, but to anyone who decides to hit “play,” it will be a gateway back to a moment when rock really did rule the world, and every one of us wished we could play guitar; maybe still do.


Ray Chelstowski: This sounds like the ultimate Wicked Cool Record.

Steve Conte: I’d like to think so. I’m not sure if they play any XTC on Little Steven’s Underground Garage [Steve van Zandt’s SiriusXM radio program] or how aware the listeners are of Andy Partridge, but he certainly is my personal songwriting hero and has millions of fans around the world.

RC: In terms of the writing process with Andy, did you arrive with any specific themes?

SC: Yes. I had the hook and the chorus for my first single, “Fourth of July.” I’d been sitting on that hook for 20 years. I’d never finished it and it was one of the ones I’d brought to him. You don’t want to go into a writing session with someone as genius as Andy Partridge without being armed already with a few good ideas. So I brought him the “Fourth of July” chorus and he added the instrumental bit and helped me finish that off. With “Shoot Out the Stars,” I had the title and that was really it. He started playing a verse and from that I heard where the chorus should go. I fed off of him. When I work with really good writers I become better.


RC: What is it specifically about XTC’s songwriting that you admire most?

SC: Everything; concepts, the melodies, the rhythms. He writes like no one else. What I’ve come to learn is that Andy writes visually. He hears a musical idea and it reminds him of “fill in the blank.” He has these little formulas for helping people when they get stuck, like asking which songs you wish you wrote. In this case I told him “King Midas In Reverse” by the Hollies. I knew he’d like that one and he did. He started jamming around on this chord and stopped, saying it sounded like a bell, that there was ringing, and we built the song “One Last Bell” from there.

RC: How did you know on that song that it needed a trumpet part? It adds just the right touch.

SC: I kind of went off on his visuals, and I started picturing old Europe [and] the trumpeters with flags hanging from their horns. I put a sample of a trumpet in, a loop, just as a placeholder. After a while I got so attached to it I realized that I had to have something like that in there. So, I got a real trumpet player to come in and play something similar.


RC: How did you get Prairie Prince to play on this record?

SC: It was easy: after I told him that I’d written half of the album with Andy Partridge. He’d played on XTC’s albums Skylarking and Apple Venus [Volume 1]. I knew that I had to up my game in a number of areas. It started with writing with Andy. And, drummers have always been important to me. I’ve always had great drummers on my records. I had Charlie Drayton from Keith Richards’ band on my last record. But Prairie just made sense given Andy’s involvement.

RC: Did Steve van Zandt get involved at all with this record?

SC: I actually wanted him to produce it. He’s just such a busy guy that we couldn’t arrange it. So, I produced it myself. He didn’t hear anything until I was done and he weighed in on a couple of the mixes and had some thoughts on certain effects on specific songs. But he was pretty much hands off, although if he didn’t like something I would have heard about it. He always says, “just give me four Coolest Songs in the World.” [Steve van Zandt’s radio show does a regular segment called “Little Steven’s Coolest Songs in the World – Ed.] I told him that I had given him six and so far I’ve delivered three. So, I have one more to go.

RC: This really feels to me like a classic New York City rock record. Where do you think the rock scene is at right now in New York?

SC: Kinda nowhere. It kind of happened to the whole world. There are little pockets where that’s not the case but when I was growing up rock ruled the world. I was too young to be a hippie but I wanted to be one. From the mid-60s up until the grunge era it was about rock. Grunge kind of put the nail in the coffin of regular rock and roll and then everything just got a bit dark and then it just went away. Hip-hop and boy bands and all that stuff started to rule. Thing come in waves and cycles, and the cycle of rock ended with the death of Kurt Cobain. And radio completely changed. Clear Channel took over and there were no independent people who were able to just play what they liked. I grew up listening to WNEW-FM where the DJs like Scott “The Professor” Muni were as big as the bands they played. It’s all different now.


Header image courtesy of Rob Armstrong.

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