The World According to Steven Van Zandt
From Springsteen to "The Sopranos," the 72-year-old has solidified himself as a New Jersey icon
Welcome back to “The World According To,” a series in which InsideHook solicits answers from people who are in a position to give them. Today’s subject: Steven Van Zandt.
Whether you know him for playing guitar alongside Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band or for playing Silvio Dante in the groundbreaking HBO series The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt has probably come across your radar at some point and made an impression. Known for his signature bandana onstage and his slicked-back hair onscreen, the native of New Jersey’s Middletown Township recently celebrated the launch of a new line of boutique coffees, teas and other holistic products via his brand Little Steven’s Underground Apothecary and is currently on the road with the E Street Band on a world tour that kicked off earlier this month in Tampa.
Before he hit the road with Springsteen, we caught up with the 72-year-old to discuss how he preps for touring, the launch of his new brand and the legacy of The Sopranos nearly 25 years after the show’s debut.
InsideHook: What made you get into the wellness business with the Underground Apothecary?
Steven Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we kept hearing the doctors talk about how our immune systems have become so vulnerable and so weak. A friend of mine has a company that produces organic, raw materials like ginger and kava and turmeric. We thought we’d try to make some healthy products and infuse them with various things to help the immune system to maybe change some people’s habits. It’s as simple as having coffee that has something in it that’ll help you rather than just regular. In the end, all we are is our habits. In our country, it’s mostly bad habits.
IH: It’s interesting you need to sell people on the idea of using products that will benefit them.
SVZ: That’s the thing, but our society doesn’t help. It costs a lot more to eat something organic, so it’s not as easy for regular working-class people to eat healthy. Our government, in my mind, has two jobs: protect the people and provide a vision for the future. We’ve never had a government that’s been very good at either one. We’ll spend millions on the military to protect us, but how about everything we eat, drink, breathe? The government’s really not doing a very good job of protecting us in that sense. It pisses me off. The Underground Apothecary is our little contribution to making things better in a small way.
IH: With the work you are doing on that project, how did you prepare for the tour?
SVZ: With previous tours, I’ve always boxed for a couple of months. I figured out that one round of boxing equals about 15 minutes on stage. You try and build up your endurance and get to about 12 rounds. Twelve rounds equals about three hours on stage. Anything more than that, your adrenaline’s going to take over anyway. For pure endurance, I found that boxing is the closest thing to rock and roll. This is going to be a very powerful tour because we haven’t done it for a long time. The rehearsals will be fun because they’re going to be necessary for the first time. I literally am learning all the songs and how to play all over again because I don’t usually touch a guitar in between tours.
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IH: You don’t ever play just for fun?
SVZ: I don’t unless I need to write a song for somebody or I’m fixing a song. Sometimes my band sends me demos and I may want to make some changes so I’ll pick up a guitar. But other than that, no. I’m just usually writing something or busy doing other things. I have a book now, so I might be doing events for that. I wrote it during quarantine and I don’t think it would have existed otherwise. It was a trip because I never look back or think about my life. I wish I had kept a diary. It’s one of my biggest regrets in my life. I had to go back and relive and really re-examine my life, which was fascinating. I learned a lot and it was good to get it down.
IH: How much Sopranos-related stuff are you still involved in?
SVZ: I stay very close to [show creator] David Chase even though he moved to LA. We run into each other now and then. Tony Sirico, who we just lost, would come to my Little Steven’s Policeman’s Ball every year and Vinny Pastore usually hosts it. So, I see a couple of them now and then that whole reunion thing brought a lot of us together for the first time in many years. I’m very proud of it and it’s nothing but good memories and good people. We got very close on that show and we probably had the best food of any TV show ever. The band catering is very much to order and it’s healthier stuff. So, The Sopranos was more fun, but E Street is more healthy.
IH: Between The Sopranos and Springsteen, you’ve become synonymous with New Jersey right?
SVZ: They were 20 years apart, but I actually witnessed New Jersey becoming fashionable twice in a lifetime. I’m very lucky to have been part of both of those things and a bunch of other things. You don’t really dwell on it. I’m very proud of it all, but let’s just try and keep moving forward. That’s the whole trick in life. Just keep the quality level high with whatever you’re doing and keep finding something new to be interested in.
IH: Is there a piece of advice you’ve gotten somewhere along the way you’ve found helpful?
SVZ: My father always said, “If you’re gonna do something, do it right.” He was a man of few words. He didn’t care what you did with your life, but he did want you to do it right and the best you could. It’s harder now for this generation because there are so many distractions. To reach for greatness, you have to spend time. You’re not born great and it’s not a gift. Greatness is developed and you have to earn it. It takes time and focus. It’s gotta be hard as hell to focus on anything these days. We didn’t have this many distractions and it was hard for us. It’s really a challenge now, but I tell kids to find out what they love and to spend their time doing it. If you love it, you’ll find a way to make a living from it. You need an ambitious goal or you’re never going to get anywhere.
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