Steven Van Zandt has too many projects on his plate.
He's organizing a reunion in December of the Rascals, the 1960s blue-eyed soul hitmakers. He stars in a gangster TV series in Norway. He runs a foundation to develop rock history curriculums for schools. He hosts a weekly syndicated radio show ("Little Steven's Underground Garage") and serves as program director for two satellite radio channels. And, of course, he plays guitar for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, which returns to St. Paul on Sunday and Monday.
In a recent phone interview, Van Zandt, 61, talked about his many endeavors.
On the Boss' new penchant for marathon concerts stretching to 3 1/2 hours: "You adapt. At first, it was a little bit shocking to the system. But then you realize 3 1/2 is going to be the normal show. As this thing evolved and Bruce's last album ['Wrecking Ball'] got transformed into the show, you realize this tour is special. At this point, he is very special in terms of being so alive and enthusiastic and creative, at a time in his life when he just doesn't have to be. Then you realize these are the most coherent and consistent themes we've ever had to work with. Those themes are so intense -- the economic holocaust and the theme of death and loss. It takes 3 1/2 hours to go into depth on these things, and you want to throw in some things people want to hear for the fun of it."
On adding saxophonist Jake Clemons, 24, to the E Street Band after the death of his uncle Clarence: "We had to reinvent ourselves. You lose Clarence [to a stroke], and we talked for six months on what does this mean. You realize you can't replace him. We decided to have a five-piece horn section, with the sax part covered by two sax players who would emerge from the horn section. We added the singers, which adds more literal soul music and gospel elements. So we kind of took off in a more rootsy direction. That is invigorating. You just lost an essential part of the front line. We all felt that we had to raise our game."
On not being frustrated by his diminished role in the E Street Band: "My role has changed all the time. I essentially stopped being the lead guitar on 'The Darkness on the Edge of Town' Tour [in 1978]. I'm the chameleon. I'm going to do whatever I'm called upon to do to make the night work. Some nights I'm extremely prominent, some nights I'm not at all. I may do a solo once every three shows now. It doesn't matter at all to me. My only concern is that the show is as great as it can be, that Bruce communicates his vision and that the audience is happy."
On the Rascals, known for such hits as "Good Lovin'" and "Groovin'," whom he inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame in 1997: "I saw them live in '65. First rock band I ever saw. And two years ago [at a benefit he helped organize] they were still fantastic. They're too important to just do a reunion. So I wrote a play, like a hybrid of Broadway show and a rock concert, but it's their story. It's sort of like 'Jersey Boys' [but] with the Four Seasons in it."
(The Rascals are performing Dec. 13-15 and 20-22 in Port Chester, N.Y., and Van Zandt is eyeing weeklong residencies in other cities.)
On his Norwegian TV series, "Lilyhammer," a gangster comedy that was picked up by Netflix and has a second eight-episode season to come: "I've got to find a way to get back to Norway to do that, probably after the first of the year. It's been a big hit on Netflix. Everybody's shocked. A million people watching a cable show is a major hit. Maybe the biggest hit ever for a show with subtitles."
On the abrupt ending of his old series "The Sopranos": "The director said 'Cut' and the actors left."
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 • Twitter: @jonbream