Is there a better person on Earth to have your back than Steven Van Zandt? In the E Street Band, Van Zandt has long been Bruce Springsteen’s most trusted consigliere, acting as guitarist, on-stage foil, record producer, arranger, and sounding board during some of The Boss’ most iconic periods. Van Zandt was so celebrated in that role that it carried over to his acting career, which is defined by the role of Silvio Dante, right-hand man of Tony Soprano, on The Sopranos.
What’s often forgotten is that Van Zandt, 66, left the E Street Band in 1984 for a career as a solo artist and songwriter/producer for artists such as Lone Justice, Darlene Love, and Nancy Sinatra. During this era Van Zandt wrote and took center stage on the historic benefit song “Sun City,” which spawned one of the most star-studded (and sort of bonkers) music videos ever. But by the mid-’90s, Van Zandt was back in Springsteen’s camp, and their union was fortified in 1999 when the E Street Band reunited for a world tour.
Since then, there’s been little time for solo records between Springsteen tours, TV projects like Lilyhammer, and Van Zandt’s radio show, Little Steven’s Underground Garage. But last week, Van Zandt finally got around to releasing his sixth LP, Soulfire, which includes new versions of songs that were originally written and produced for other artists.
“I picked the songs that were most meaningful to me and said, ‘I’ll go do an album of my own covers, kind of covering me,'” Van Zandt said in his recent press release. “I ended up making it a reintroduction, really, to myself.”
A gregarious conversationalist and a true scholar of rock history, Van Zandt spoke at length about the art of songwriting, why he feels the rock ‘n’ roll “renaissance” has been over since the mid-’90s, and his gratitude for the endurance of The E Street Band.