Steve Schiff Interview (May 2011)
A versatile musician, Steve Schiff has enjoyed a long career in music that began in the late 1970s with bands including 1994 and others. Although now best known for co-writing the 80s hit ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and playing in Nina Hagen’s band, beforehand Schiff played widely around the early 80s LA scene, including stints as guitarist in Radiomusic and Nadia Kapiche.
SS = Steve Schiff
RIS = RealInspectorShane
RIS: What inspired you to get into music in the first place?
SS: My mom is very artistic, and always was. My dad loved music and I believe he wanted to be a jazz pianist and singer. He ended up working in the film and tv business while I was very young. I guess I just liked the idea of making music. I was a drummer in grade school orchestra. We had charts and I would practice and learn my part as best I could. It was fun. I got a guitar at age 10 or so because I was fascinated by flaminco. I dug the style and passion in that music. So I kept at the guitar listening to records and forming bands with friends in school. Again, I liked to practice and write songs for entertainment.
RIS: How were your early days in the industry?
SS: By the time high school was over I was pretty serious and eventually got an opportunity to form a group that eventually became 1994. We recorded in New York with Jack Douglas as producer. Douglas had just finished Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, so the scene was great and exciting. We toured with Aerosmith and Cheap Trick (they were great live and I learned a lot from them) and played some big venues.
1994: Please Stand By (1979)
RIS: And how did Nadia Kapiche begin?
SS: 1994 kind of fell apart in 1978 or so. I went back to Los Angeles and started playing in several local groups. That is when I met Mark and Toni, and Micki… among many others. Having been around Aerosmith and others I really had a desire to form a band that really was a band. You know, a group of people who knew they were a unit even before they knew how to play very well. I believed great things could come from solid commitment and faith among individual musicians. That the music might write itself in a way through the right collection of players. That is where the idea of the improvisional basis in NK was born.
RIS: What inspired the name?
SS: Nadia Comaneci was world famous as 1980 Olympic gold medalist at the time Micki, Toni, Mark, and I decided to play our spontaneous gigs. We adapted the name for our project and came up with Nadia Kapiche.. which was meant to mean “we dont get it” or “can’t understand”.
RIS: What are your memories of the band’s live performances? Do you recall them well?
SS: Of course I remember the gigs. That was the best part. We would just take the stage and try to hold the audience by will and wit. Nobody knew what to expect… I would start a guitar noise or riff and the others would layer into the sound… Then the whole thing would move around and change like a musical Oujia Board. Micki and I were very attuned somehow. Mark was the mad professor, and Toni was the high priestess poet. The songs eventually had some form and motifs that we could return to for structure. If we had had a good producer to coach the group…. Well who knows?
RIS: What was your general live setup?
SS: I was using a Gibson or Strat, Memory Man echo, ProCo Rat fuzz, Vox AC30 and Roland JC120 amps.
RIS: How did you feel about Micki as a musician?
SS: She and I were well matched. I liked her sensitivity and open mind. But she was more than just lovely. Micki had a great sounding voice, solid skills in music. She really knew how to play the bass, plus she had a flair for song structure and good showmanship. We got along very well with no trouble. She was a serious thoughtful person with a wry smart sense of humor, a tall drink of water with beautiful skin and bright red hair. And those eyes….. Ha! I hope she doesn’t read this.
RIS: What bands were the members of Nadia then into?
SS: Bands? Psychedelic Furs, U2, Gang of Four, The Associates, Robert Plant, Roxy Music, Comsat Angels, all those Brit art school groups and what the hell, Aerosmith and Cheap Trick too.
RIS: Were there ever any tensions within the group?
SS: Sometimes Toni rubbed Micki the wrong way. They were very different personalities. Toni was a bit arrogant and stubborn. I later tried to write with her in London and we didn’t get very far. Micki was the sort of person one might collaborate with well because of her slightly introverted and brainy nature. She could listen and was willing to work together. Toni was more like a diva. I’ve done the diva thing to death, frankly. Karen from 1994 was one and so is Nina Hagen. I prefer more discipline. With Nadia I just wish I could have been there then as I am now to organize the bunch of us… to shape the band and material and give it a solid base and direction. Everybody was just grasping at straws like children. At any rate, we all had success. Toni had her solo career. Micki joined the Bangles. And I was guitarist with Nina Hagen untill I wrote that big hit for Simple Minds.
RIS: Did you and Micki ever do any collaborations outside the band?
SS: Micki and I may have gotten together to write a few times. I seem to remember it. I wish I could remember more about writing with M Steele. It would have been at the end of Toni and the Movers and during Nadia days. She was with Slow Children at some point too. our time together must have been 81-82 because I got picked up by Hagen in 82-83.
RIS: I’d also like to expand on the ‘attunement’ you mentioned earlier. How would you describe it?
SS: You know…. when a couple of musicians get together in a room somewhere… with a guitar and a bass for example… it is very intimate. Things can go very well or very very not well depending on the temperament of both players. Micki is the sort of colleague who is present, positive, and can bring her talent and skill to bear at the moment and put herself to good use. I admire her to this day for having had those instincts. She brought herself into the mix, and made others better players in the process. She’s a real artist.