Steven Van Zandt: ‘We literally brought down the South African government’


The E Street Band member and Sopranos actor has his first solo album since 1999 here he talks about Springsteen, Trump and taking on Apartheid

Hey, Steven. Youre back with your first solo record in 18 years. What made you decide to come back?

It just felt like the right time to do that. It was circumstantial its always circumstantial. You can plan your life meticulously and it never goes that way. I put together a band and we learned 20 songs and did a show [in London].

How did that go?

It was just chaos. I mean, I just met some of the band members for the first time. These days its extremely difficult to get 15 people that can commit to three months for a tour, so its very likely that every time I go out with my Disciples of Soul now, therell be a very different Disciples of Soul.

Sounds tough. How did you cope with being a frontman?

It was a bit of a shock to the system. Its quite a different job of being the frontman as it is from being a sideman. I have a whole new appreciation for what Bruce [Springsteen] does.

Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt in 1977. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Youre known for your strong political views. Do you get into any of that on this album?

My other five solo albums were all very political and this is the least political thing Ive ever done and the only song that has a hint of politics is [the new track] Soulfire. Its sort of where politics meets spirituality.

How are you feeling about the political scene right now?

When I got into politics and combined the politics with the music, no one was doing that. You know, Ronald Reagan was God and everybody just bowed down to him and I just felt this is a lot of things going wrong here that need to be talked about. So I started talking about them in the songs. Which was unusual back then. The epitome of it all was [the song] Sun City, where we literally brought down the South African government. Thats a story for another day but after Sun City, everybody became more political and that was good. But it was not a normal part of the business back then. In fact, a lot of us really hurt our careers.

Did it hurt your career?

Mine really ended. I wasnt treating my work as a career, to be honest, anyway. So that was my own naivete, my own being rather stupid about it. But its a whole different world now. Politics is very much integrated into our business, into daily life, which is good. Since the whole Trump thing, politics is just everywhere. You cant get away from the politics. So, in a funny way, I dont really feel the need to talk so much about it anymore, because everybody is talking about it. Now I can do love songs and be like everybody else.

How did you feel about Trump playing Springsteen songs at his rallies?

Yeah, well, I think Bruce made him stop. You can see why hed want to do that, the same way Ronald Reagan did. Ronald Reagan tried to use Born in the USA, and Bruce had that stopped. You can see why people want to use Bruces songs hes a really good songwriter, and people want that association with him. Its not a big deal, but you just get it stopped.

But it also feels like a deep misunderstanding of the meaning of the songs.

Well, thats for sure. If you look at the words of Born in the USA, its not exactly my country, right or wrong. Its a criticism of the countrys government.

Are you thinking of returning to television?

The idea at the moment is to tour every summer either with Bruce or with my Disciples of Soul, and then hopefully do a TV show in the winter. That would be a perfect sort of life if I could make that work.

Mob rules: James Gandolfini, left, Steven Van Zandt and Tony Sirico in the Sopranos. Photograph: Craig Blankenhorn/AP

Are there any Sopranos reunions planned?

Not really. Theres been a couple of discussions. Me and David Chase talked about it from time to time. Maybe a prequel, or something like that, you know you never know. The standard that David Chase set was so high and really changed television.

Are you looking forward to being on the road with your new band, or are you thinking: What did I get myself into?

I dont have to do it, obviously, so I must be looking forward to it. Im very enthusiastic about getting back out there and just revisiting these songs and reconnecting these songs to an audience. These songs stand on their own quite well and I realized Ive become my own genre. Its sort of a strange phenomenon but the songs are unlike anything else musically.

Do you think this album will appeal to people who have just heard your work with the E Street Band?

Well, you cant assume that

Sure you can. Just say: Yes, theyll love it.

Id like to say yes, everybodys gonna love it. The basic E Street Band thing is different its more of a rock thing and this is a bit more soul. I think the roots are the same, certainly, but its a slightly different thing, so you cant assume everybodys gonna like it. If everybodys gonna like it, Id be playing stadiums, wouldnt I?

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