From page 17 of Classic Rock Magazine November 1999
I II did weddings, I did a great version of Journey's 'Open Arms', my brother John and I used to be part of my mother's backing band.We did church concerts, I remember doing 'Mr. Tambourine Man'and 'Here Comes The Sun:Then, of course, Company Of Wolves got a deal and I had to hang up my tuxedo."
Crown Jewels singer/guitarist Steve Conte, 33, chuckles down the line from Longview Farm Studios, set out under the clear afternoon Massachusetts skies. Conte's currently in the studio helping out fellow New York band (he still lives in Manhattan), Mr. Henry. Inbetween Crown Jewels gigs he's also worked with Peter Wolf, John Waite, Billy Squier and Maceo Parker. And as impressive as his resume might be, it's unlikely that he'll eventually be remembered as a hired hand in someone else's greater glory given his band's remarkable second album,linoleum: Conte and his brother John, 32, were both part of the short-lived Company Of Wolves.Their selftitled debut 1990 album was released to critical acclaim, especially in Europe. But by the time they'd recorded their second record/Rhythm And Booze' in 1992, their label, Mercury, had lost interest, delaying then ultimately shelving the album.The band broke up shortly afterwards, Conte forming Crown Jewels a year later. "I think I needed a reality check, I thought we'd walk straight into a deal after we'd already been signed to Mercury," he concedes stoically."But all the people we knew at the labels had either moved on or had been fired.The whole scene had changed and no one wanted the kind of stuff we'd been doing."
Taking time away from music, he learnt to scuba dive, travelled to Egypt and Israel, took poetry and writing classes and ultimately ended up in a year long relationship that, though doomed, would provide much of the raw material for the lovelorn pieces of 'Linoleum: "That was the thing with Company..., when you get that close and it's taken away from you, you just have to go off and look at other areas in life, Why am I not happy? You know, so I let myself get distracted."
Crown Jewels'1996'Spitshine' album, a collection of demos that the band had been touring over the space of two years, hints at the lingering possibilities that they possessed. Conte's vocal is especially beguiling, but a tighter R&B groove and a handful of throwaway lyrics weren't eventually to be what would serve the band best.
"There was a point where I felt that we were carrying a torch for this classic rock sound, you know, Free and Humble Pie, great bands, but we got fed up of hearing the Black Crowes comparisons. So I honed in on my lyrics and melodies, I'm not going to settle for a cliché, I want to say something. My old girlfriend, Karen, was a poet and I'd show her a lyric and she'd be,'That's been said a thousand times before" Whether through perseverance or the sting of casual criticism, 'Linoleum' towers over the earnest 'Spitshine'debut.Wrapped in a casual string of beautifully earnest eulogies to the shimmering embrace of faltering or ill-fated relationships, it paints heartache in wide, instantly recognisable strokes. Conte's voice both warm and vibrant, eloquent and damaged, the crush of memory vivid in Conte's recollection. As a songwriter he has the power to enthrall, be it with the facts or fiction.
"There's some storytelling on there," says Conte."But most of it's real.Things like 'Lovers On Earth' ("Deserted on Friday afternoon/ Last words hung in the air/Like faint perfume"), you get those feelings; will lever find anyone? 'Last Confession there's hope there, that feeling of finally giving in to someone, it's one of the hardest things to do. Some of the stuff, they're composites of people. Mad woman, the girl who I spent 1991 with, she's in there still fucking up my head," he says dryly. 'Spitshine' and 'Linoleum' are both available through Cargo Records, but at least two major labels are showing concerted interest in signing the band. Conte, who's suffered at the hands of a major company, shows the first sign of reluctance when it comes to actually talking about it. If it does come to any kind of fruition, then initial plans are to cull the highlights from both albums, re-record them and make then into the first album proper. Conte's refreshingly philosophically about the future. "We'll see, anything could happen.Things happen for a reason. It's like with Karen, we crossed paths for a reason." There's a transtlantic pause, a dry buzz of distortion.
"I just hope that I touched her as much as she touched me." Philip Wilding