Steve Soto is a founding member of The Adolescents as well as being a multi-talented instrumentalist. His bands include The Adolescents, Manic Hispanic, Flock of Nu Goo, Punk Rock Karaoke, the Black Diamond Riders and Steve Soto and the Twisted Hearts. He has performed in and/or with Agent Orange, Joyride and CJ Ramone just to name a few. There is a reason why they call him the “nicest guy in punk rock” (and one of the funniest!) so read on and find out why!
Erin: How goes it?
Steve: It’s good! Still waking up, but I’ve had a couple cups of coffee.
Erin: What’s new?
Steve: A lot of stuff! We did a new Adolescents record that comes out in July, then we’re touring over there in July and into August. Next week we are going on the Flogging Molly boat cruise (Flogging Molly’s Salty Dog Cruise April 20-23rd which goes from Miami to Key West and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas,) which has both the Adolescents AND Punk Rock Karaoke. The Buzzcocks are on it too, so we’re totally stoked. And the Offspring and the Vandals are on it too, so it should be pretty fun!
Erin: Oh wow! So Offspring and the Vandals on the cruise?
Steve: Yeah and Lagwagon. There’s like a ton of bands! It’s crazy!
Erin: Before there used to only be a couple of bands I thought!
Steve: There’s always been quite a few bands but not so many punk rock bands.
Erin: That’s what I meant! That’s super cool!
Steve: Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. A lot of friends out there, so we will have a good time.
Erin: How long is the cruise and are you on it the whole time?
Steve: It’s just 3 days. But it’s cool because everyone gets to bring their girlfriends or wives.
Erin: Oh fun!
Steve: Yeah! So you can make a little vacation out of it too!
Erin: So, you’ve got the current line-up that have been playing with you the past few years; you, Tony, Dan, Mike and Ian. Would you say playing with these guys has helped energize your performances, as in breathing new life into your older material? You guys always seem to have a blast onstage!
Steve: Yes, definitely. Like, Mike Cambra is by far the best drummer we’ve ever had in this band; he’s just fantastic and he’s tons of energy and it’s great. And Ian’s great. It’s a great line up. We’re REALLY happy. Everyone gets along really well. We were laughing the other day because Dan Root’s been in the band for 7 years now, which is longer than anyone else has ever been in the band with me and Tony.
Erin: Wow! It’s already been that long? I remember when he started playing with you guys and it seems like yesterday!
Steve: It’s funny because when he originally came in, he was just going to do 3 shows in Brazil and I was calling to ask him about another guitar player. It was like, “hey, do you think so and so is good enough to pull it off?” And he goes, “why don’t you ask me?” And I go, “well, you’re a dad and you’re busy and you’ve got your work and everything.” He replied with, “I can go for 3 days!” And here we are 7 years later!
Erin: I know you’re playing the U.K. this summer so I’ll get to see you at Rebellion for hopefully longer than 5 minutes and give you a big bear hug. How many dates are you playing? Are you guys going to tour Europe as well this summer?
Steve: We’re in the U.K. just shy of 1 week. The last show we are doing there is BoomTown Fair in Winchester. It’s kind of like a big rave!
Steve: Yeah! (Laughing) We played it 2 years ago and it was awesome! They had a punk stage. When I first heard about it, we didn’t know what we were getting into. Then they sent us all the info and then needed all the info on the band, the crew and I thought OK, we are going to something WAY bigger than I thought it was. Then we get there and it’s out in a field in the middle of nowhere, but they built this whole crazy city. Like I said, it’s mostly raves and then there’s (starts laughing,) people walking around tripping and stuff. But the punk stage was great and we played to a ton of people; it was really fun and fun to walk around.
Erin: I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it!
Steve: Up until we played it, I’d never heard of it either! We are also playing London and at least one Scottish show. The first show is at Rebellion and the last show is the Friday at Winchester.
Erin: So is it just the UK then?
Steve: We start in Berlin July 6th. A lot of times we do more French shows. We’re great friends with the French band The Burning Heads and we have tons of friends in Lyon, too. The guys that are our crew guys when we are over there who usually work for the Burning Heads, they’re all from Lyon. I don’t know if this time, because of scheduling or whatever, I think we are just doing a couple of French shows in Montpellier with the Dickies and then Paris and that’s it. It’s mostly Germany, Italy and we are doing a thing called Exit Fest in Serbia. We’ve never been to Serbia before so we’re stoked about that. And it looks like we’re going to Budapest and we’ve never been there. I mean, for us NOW, it’s about going to places we’ve never been before. That’s the exciting thing for us.
Erin: I don’t know a lot of bands that tour that far east.
Steve: We played a festival in Croatia once, like I don’t even think Dan was in the band yet, Joe was still playing guitar, so like 8 years ago and it was amazing because we had never been out that far and didn’t know what to expect. It was crazy too, because we got lost and we’re driving through this little town and the buildings were all riddled with bullets and everyone was tripping out like, uh, this isn’t like home! Then we get to the festival and it was INSANE. We played to thousands and thousands of people and it was pretty crazy. But beautiful country. That part of the world is so beautiful.
Erin: I have to say that here (Europe,) there are so many more music festivals than back in the States. I never expected to see so many people and there are just so many festivals, it’s mind blowing! They seem to be a bit more into it here.
Steve: The mix of bands is…
Steve: Yes! Back in England you’ll see Metallica and Bad Religion on the same festival and like Lil’ Wayne! (Laughing.)
Erin: (Laughing) Because they’ll throw it all together and you think how the hell are these diverse groups of music fans going to be able to get along for 3 days? But they do!
Steve: This is the last year of Warped Tour and we thought we were gonna do some dates but it didn’t work out. We did the whole thing last year and just times have changed, kids have changed and our stage was crazy. Municipal Waste was on it, Sick of It All, Bad Cop Bad Cop, there were just a bunch of great bands on it and Valiant Thor who were awesome. But there wasn’t a huge turnout for it, sometimes a few hundred kids, when you’re playing to like 150 people and then there’s some band you never heard of playing to 5000 people next to you. Kevin (Lyman) was trying to mix it up so if it was like an outdoor amphitheatre kind of set up they would put a main stage and then one of the side stages in the parking lot and then on the amphitheatre stage it was split in half so there was one main stage and one side stage. So, we would play with bands like CKY, I had heard of them at least! There would be thousands of kids watching them and then there would be the Street Dogs or us or whoever went on next and you’d think, like Kevin was hoping, that you’d pull those kids in, all they had to do was move over 20 feet to the left! But it was like a mass exodus for everybody! It happened to the Street Dogs once and it was raining and Pete their drummer looked at me and goes, “even in the rain they don’t wanna stay under the stage and stay dry!” They would go running out to the parking lot. For us, one time it was just so crazy that Tony just kind of stopped singing and just started talking about the exodus. I mean, Kevin Lyman is great, he was great for us and we loved doing it. We met a band there called New Year’s Day, young and really great guys; they were one of the main stage bands. It’s funny because when I first saw them, they wear like make-up and stuff and I walked by them on the first day and I thought, “oh man, here we go. These young kids are gonna try and be Motley Crue!” And their band is great! When we met them, we were told not to have preconceived notions about people and things and their band was cool, they were great. Ian ended up becoming buddies with some rapper named Sammy Adams-it was just funny. It was a fun experience. That was 7 weeks last summer, by the end of it you’re just ready for it to be over.
Erin: Geez, I haven’t been to a Warped Tour for at least 10 years, if not longer than that! It started off as one thing and then it kind of branched off into something else. Like you said, I think Kevin was appealing to the younger kids in recent years because there’s so many of them and I get it.
Steve: Right. And everyone our age started going, “I don’t wanna go spend the whole day out in the middle of nowhere!”
Erin: Or more than one day!
Steve: I still can’t get my head around Coachella! I don’t know why anyone would wanna go out in the desert!
Erin: I think the only festival I can handle anymore is Rebellion because I can walk across the street to the hotel and sleep whenever I want!
Steve: Every year before Punk Rock Bowling, I always say I’m only gonna go for a couple days. I usually play acoustic and then Punk Rock Karaoke, so last year my acoustic show was on a Friday and Punk Rock Karaoke was on a Monday.
Erin: Oh shit, so you were stuck for the weekend!
Steve: Stuck there the whole time! And then this year, my acoustic show is on Saturday and we’re playing on Monday. BUT usually around February or March I start going, “WELL, I’ve gone EVERY year, I’m just gonna GO.” By Sunday afternoon, I start feeling I’ve been in Vegas TOO LONG. One year when I was there with my friend Matt, when Punk Rock Karaoke played on a Monday night, before the show I went as soon as we’re done playing I’ll drive, but I want to go home. I don’t wanna spend another night in Vegas. So we finished and just bolted to the car and drove home around one in the morning.
Erin: Plus, you left before everyone else so you didn’t have to deal with the awful traffic the next day!
Steve: I can imagine Rebellion is like that too, I mean Rebellion for us is we’re in and we’re out, we don’t get to stay long.
Erin: Yeah, you guys usually have another show the day before or after.
Steve: Yeah, we’re usually coming from somewhere and going somewhere else! Last time, we played a festival in Belgium the day before and I had booked rooms in Calais because we were on the first ferry over in the morning, we get to the hotel and the rooms weren’t there. They basically said, they had an employee that was getting fired and they gave away all the rooms. So, there was us and a couple of guys who were on a bicycle tour and we were all sleeping in the lobby! We said, don’t you have fold out beds or anything? Tony went live during all this and some guys made the Fred Flinstone bed out of 2 chairs. At some point, me, Tony and Dan were all sleeping on this tile floor. It was horrible.
Erin: It’s like touring mishaps-you can’t avoid a tour without at least one!
Steve: But that stuff shouldn’t happen at our age! When it happens in your 20’s you just laugh it off. You know what, everyone took it really well. Because it was like, what else can we do? So we get up, get that first ferry over then you drive all day to get there and we were probably there 2 or 3 hours before we played and we probably left an hour after. With touring for us, you don’t get to stay and enjoy places because you’re always on the run. Someday I would love to go to Rebellion and stay for a couple of days. Stan (Lee from the Dickies,) had talked to his agent over there (in Europe,) about maybe doing Punk Rock Karaoke for 2 or 3 days so that we’re playing like the whole thing.
Erin: I think that would be INSANELY successful there because there is nothing like it that I know of in the UK or Europe!
Steve: We will have to see about making it happen. Usually when I’m in Europe I’m with the Adolescents so I don’t have time.
Erin: I know you have the new album coming out in July, right? How did it come to be? How long have you been working on it?
Steve: We’ve been putting out a record like every other year for like, the last 10 years. We were out on Warped Tour and Tony was just, “All right! We need to make a record when we get home! Everyone send me music and I’ll start writing words.” Probably for the first month, everyone was lazy and then Tony sent out another text, “hey everyone-send me songs!” So, I sent him 15-16 ideas and Ian sent a bunch. Usually, it’s mostly me and Tony and then Dan would write a couple songs. But Ian writes too, so that was great, so now he’s got input. And then Mike, our drummer, says hey, can I submit some songs? And we were like, totally! Mike got 2 songs on the record and their 2 of my favourite songs because they’re amazing, they’re great.
Erin: Good for him! Yay Mike!
Steve: So that started coming together during the beginning of the year and we started doing demos in January and then started recording in February. With everyone’s schedules, it’s not like we’re in every day, it was when we could get in. We finished it up at the beginning of March and it will be out in the beginning of July on Concrete Jungle which is a German label.
Erin: Awesome! And then that will coincide with your tour and everything.
Steve: That’s the thing-they used to tell us we need 3 months in advance, so I thought if we get it finished by March 30th it will be ready for July. Then they said with vinyl, because everyone is trying to get their records out, you need 17 weeks at least in advance, so they needed it by March 10th or something which then threw us into panic mode but we got it done!
Erin: How many of the new songs are you going to be playing on the tour?
Steve: It kind of depends. We’ll go in and start rehearsing and see which ones kind of flush out better live. For me, I like to know them all and throw them in here and there. Sometimes, when you get on tour, you haven’t played a certain song or rehearsed it in 10 weeks. I can’t just pull it out now. I’m lucky I have good brain retention for that stuff for whatever reason! Probably why I’m able to pull off being in 100 bands. Last time we released a record, we probably did 6 or 7 of the songs live every night. On Warped Tour last summer, we were mixing a lot of the new stuff in with the old records. I would say at least 5 or 6 songs will be in the set. It’s funny because the more records you put out, it’s hard to know what to put in! Obviously, there are people that love the old stuff that want to hear it and you want to play that too; you want to make everybody happy, but you also want to get the new material out for it to be heard live. With each new record, it’s harder to pare it down for a set!
Erin: At least you’ll be playing some of the new songs for Rebellion! You’re still doing Black Diamond Riders right? Do you have any dates coming up? I know you played one show back in February.
Steve: That’s the hardest one to make happen just because someone with my schedule and Jonny’s (Two Bags Wickersham,) is so crazy. I know Social Distortion is gearing up to do a bunch of stuff so we don’t have anything nailed down right now. Every time we play we all love doing it and so everyone is like, let’s do another show soon! Once the summer comes with the Adolescents, you know Tony is a school teacher, it’s like with all the other bands, I say look, from June till August when he goes back to school, I don’t really do much else. That’s our time to go out and play as much as we can. I’m thinking me and Kevin Seconds are looking at coming out there to Europe in the fall, to do another duet thing.
Erin: That would be fantastic! Have you guys been over here before?
Steve: Yes. We were over there this time two years ago. We did mostly Germany, then the UK and I think one show in France, as it was on our way to the ferry. We actually did the Chunnel and that was my first time on the Chunnel!
Erin: Oh yes, isn’t it a treat? (Laughing to keep the claustrophobic nightmarish memories of my times on the Chunnel at bay!)
Steve: (Laughing,) I was SO not into it!
Erin: I can’t even look out those tiny windows because I feel like all of the air is being sucked out!
Steve: Exactly!! We had a driver and we were like in a Volvo station wagon so we had our guitars and stuff in the back and I just laid in the back seat and closed my eyes, I put headphones on because I didn’t even want to look out the windows or anything! Supposedly there is a tunnel in maybe Sweden? It’s in one of the Nordic countries, but it’s a tunnel that’s like 25 or 30 miles long and in the middle they have this big open area and they tried to make it look like you’re outside and it’s night time, just for the people that flip out-I don’t know! One of our drivers was telling me about it and I said under no circumstances will we go through that tunnel, I don’t care if it adds 2 hours to our drive!
Erin: When they have to build something to make it seem like it’s outside AND night time? No, that’s really, REALLY not right.
Steve: It’s the same thing with those bridges. There’s a bridge that connects like Denmark and Sweden or something and it’s like, no thanks.
Erin: Do you have a funny story that’s happened to you on tour you want to share?
Steve: The thing I learned about touring is when bad things happen, like that night in Calais, you look back on it later and when it’s happening you’re thinking this is the worst thing ever and then you look back on it later and it’s not the end of the world and you get through it. We were out with the Adolescents one year, I think the first time we toured Europe. It was right after Frank Jr. (Agnew) Frank’s son had left the band. I moved over to guitar and Warren, you know Warren (Renfrow) played bass and he went with us and I love Warren so I was stoked he was with us. After one show, there was some kind of a hotel mishap, 3 of the guys were in one hotel and me and Tony and Warren and the driver were in another one. In the morning, we wake up and we have to go and get those guys. We’re in Italy and the driver took some crazy mountain road and got lost. And we were on this little mountain road in a big Sprinter band and we got to a point where he couldn’t turn around this bend. So, then we had to back up and get this Sprinter up this crazy, steep hill and we had all the gear in the back and he couldn’t get the van up the hill! So, he goes, we have to take all of the gear out of the van and we get it all out and he drives the van up the hill but now we have to get the gear up this hill! Now the sun is out, it’s totally hot and we’re not in a touristy part of wherever we are. As we are pushing gear up the hill, locals are coming out and staring at us and no one knows what we are doing and me and Warren and Tony were pushing these cases up this hill and it’s brutally hot. Warren goes, “this sucks SO MUCH but one day we’re gonna look back on this and laugh to each other as we tell this story!” When we get to the top of the hill, we go down this little path and he had brought the van around and there was this little village up there. So we’re pushing our stuff into the courtyard of this village and these old women are opening their windows and staring at us. They’re probably still laughing about the day all those big, stupid Americans came through! All that kind of stuff happens and when it’s happening you’re like oh, man this is the worst.
Erin: I call them the “meltdown moments”!
Steve: We joke around in the Adolescents that if it’s gonna rain at the festival, it’s gonna wait until RIGHT when we’re on stage! We’ll be at festivals and see the clouds and it won’t start until we’re in the middle of our set. Me and Tony just look at each other like, yeah I knew it-saw that coming!
Erin: What inspires you? Not just like influences but what inspires you personally to make music? Not just with the Adolescents, but with all your bands?
Steve: I don’t know, it’s just something I kind of do, you know? I got a guitar usually within (reaches next to his bed and pulls up a guitar)…
Erin: (Laughing) Within hands reach!
Steve: There’s always one within 5 feet of me! I’ll fall asleep sometimes with it on my chest. Sometimes I’ll say, OK we need to put out a new record and I’ll sit down and actually go I’m going to write songs. A lot of times they come out in like a batch of songs. Some days I will just write one and do a quick recording of it and I won’t go back to it for 6 months. It depends on what it’s for. I’m getting ready to make another solo record and I have like half the songs that I want but I want to write more. When I have a date or a timeline, or a deadline then it’s easier because I think I gotta get this done. We just did a bunch of stuff with Manic (Hispanic) and Gabby (Gaborno) and I had loaded a bunch of ideas before he passed away when he was sick. He’d say come over and let’s goof around with some new songs when he wasn’t able to go out anymore. Some of those we started recording recently, because we were going back and forth on whether or not we wanted to do this (Manic Hispanic) but for us it was like being in the room together, it felt like he was still there (Gabby) it was kind of in its own way a good thing for us and who cares what anyone else says if it’s good for us! We started recording all that stuff and it’s been super fun. That’s inspiring! I like playing music with my friends. I love going out with Kevin Seconds. We can sit in a van and BS for hours. We didn’t hang out together as kids. We knew each other, but we weren’t close or anything. It’s been within the last 5 years we’ve started hanging out. He’s just a great guy and been a great friend. Most importantly, like with the Adolescents, it’s never lost on me that this is something that me and Tony started almost 40 years ago.
Erin: I was going to say, you haven’t done anything else besides play music for the majority of your life?
Steve: Yes! It’s kind of like Richard Gere in “Officer and a Gentleman,” “I got nowhere else to go!!!” That’s all I know! It’s awesome. I love working with Tony so much because every time we record new stuff, it just blows me away. I don’t know what the words are until we start recording. It’s not like we rehearse the songs and then go in the studio. We have the music and we know where it’s kind of going to go, but we start recording it and he comes in and lays down vocals. I co-produce the records so I’m always there for everything that happens, as I’m hearing him sing his parts, I’m going, did you just say this?!? And he will say yeah and I’m like oh man that’s awesome. It’s great that after 40 years he still amazes me. That’s inspiring to me. Halfway through making the record, it gets me so fired up, we’re doing this and we’re doing it good and it’s exciting. Now, with the line up the way it is it’s fun to get together and be around each everybody.
Erin: It’s not like a chore.
Steve: Right. Whenever you’re in a band that becomes a chore, then that’s the bummer. Tony is bringing his son Nico out again on tour and he went last time, so having Nico with us is a blast because he comes out of his shell when he’s around all of us. At first he was real quiet and by the end he was talking like one of the guys and we were explaining to him, hey Nico when we’re not in the van you can’t say certain things!
Erin: What’s said in the van, stays in the van!
Steve: Don’t talk like this in front of your mom!
Erin: I’m super excited for the new album because I’m sure Tony’s lyrics are going to be insane, given the political and social climate of the moment. After spending your life in the music scene, what’s the greatest thing you think you’ve learned from it all?
Steve: Patience. (Laughs) Diplomacy! I think after being in a band this long, and so many different bands with so many different types of people, I think I could’ve been a diplomat!
Erin: I would agree with that, because you’re pretty mild mannered and never lose your cool.
Steve: Well, not ever in public! I’m sure guys I’ve played with would have a different story to tell! When you’re on tour, you’re stuck in a van with the same people for hours and hours and the only way to get through it is to try and make sure everyone gets along. With us, we laugh more than anything else.
Erin: What’s your instrument set up? Pedals, amps?
Steve: Other than a tuning pedal, I don’t like pedals because they just get in the way. If I’m playing bass, I go straight into an Ampeg SVT, if I’m playing guitar I have a Marshall JCM800 that I use and I just plug straight in. When I was in 22 Jacks our singer, if you had pedals, he was going to kick them off and step on them just because he was spazzing all over the stage. In fact, when CJ Ramone did an Australian tour with 22 Jacks, that’s how I actually met CJ. The first show before we left we played San Francisco and no one had told him don’t put any pedals out. He had a tuner on the floor. Like I always keep my tuner back by my amp and Joe Sib started jumping around and knocked all of CJ’s stuff out. He’s trying to remember songs and that threw him and it was a chaotic gig and I was just like, yeah pedals on the floor just means trouble! I keep it real simple and just go straight into an amp. I find that the less stuff you have, your chances of having technical difficulties goes down! And I play punk rock so guitar through a Marshall amp is gonna be all I really need.
Erin: What about guitars and bass?
Steve: Usually on the road when I’m playing guitar I play Fender Telecasters, they’re awesome. Over the years, I got a kind of sweet hook up with Fender and so that works out good. And when I play bass I play Fender P basses only, even before I knew anyone at Fender, I just owned Fender. That’s really the only bass I like to play. But my favourite guitar that I don’t take out and travel with a lot, I’ll play it locally like with Manic, I have a Gibson ES-335 and it’s a completely different sound and everything than a Telecaster. Usually, with the Telecaster I’m playing with Dan (Root) who’s playing a Gibson that has that more full, lead tone, so I’m playing mostly rhythm guitar when I play the Telecaster. In Manic when I’m playing lead guitar I like to us the 335, it’s amazing. It’s from the 70’s, it’s like a ’71 or something and it’s old and awesome.
Erin: I can’t wait to see you this summer and catch up for more than 5 minutes and see the Adolescents play! And I hope you and Kevin come out to France this fall! Thank you so much for doing this with me!
Steve: No problem! Hopefully we get a few more minutes at Rebellion this time to talk!