Steven Tyler and Joe Perry: The Cream Interview

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Aerosmith. Odds are you have an opinion about them, and odds are that opinion is unmovable and unchangable. That sort of happens when a band is omnipresent in the pup-culture pantheon for 40-odd years. I fuckin' love 'em. I was raised in the suburbs of Boston, and I'm from a huge family of rock 'n' roll-loving weirdos — when my cousins split up the vinyl in my grandparents' attic there were enough copies of Toys in the Attic for each of us, and my uncles once opened a restaurant named after this band. I have no choice but to love Aerosmith. It's in my damn DNA.

But it also hasn't always been easy: The '90s were basically a series of diminishing returns, the Aughts were like a gift to comedy writers and detractors everywhere, and the less we speak of Steven Tyler's American Idol run, the better. With only two albums in the past 10 years — 2001's sorta-good Just Push Play and 2004's good but atrociously titled Honkin on Bobo — there hasn't been a lot of music to counteract the awkwardness, or material with which to keep the haters from screaming, “The first five records are perfect!” It's a tough slog being the last Aerosmith apologist under 40, but that hasn't stopped me from sticking up for them.

So when I got the email asking if I'd be interested in interviewing a member of Aerosmith, I responded with an immediate and emphatic “YES!” I mean, how could I not take that interview, right? It's maybe the first time in my career that I can go home for the holidays and have people (normal, non-music people) recognize the artists I've interviewed! There will be a dramatic reduction in awkward conversations at Christmas, I'm so pumped! (Get it? Pumped? Nevermind ... ) Seriously, this interview is pretty much the zenith of my career/life as a rocker and/or roller.

Anyway, my interview with the other Bad Boys from Boston was broken up into two phoners: one solo session with bassist Tom Hamilton and one tag-team event with The Toxic Twins themselves, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. All three of the guys were super-nice, really friendly and totally fun to talk to (i.e., totally indulgent of my nerdy questions), though I really wish I could have gotten a solo Perry interview. (It seemed uncouth to ask about the minutiae of The Joe Perry Project with Tyler on the phone). And there is no stranger feeling than hearing Steven Tyler — who sounds exactly like you think he would — saying your name on the other end of the line. If I still used voice mail, that would be my voice mail message for sure. Aerosmith will play Bridgestone Arena this Thursday, Dec. 13. I'll have a feature on that in this week's forthcoming dead-tree edition, but for now, see my chat with The Toxic Twins below. Tom Hamilton to come.

Nashville Cream: How's tour prep treating you?

Steven Tyler: Beautiful. We've been working on a few more productions adding a couple more songs off the record that comes out November 6. It's been just awesome. We're running on full cylinders.

NC: So I wanted to talk to you about working with [producer] Jack Douglas again. This is your first album of original material with Jack Douglas in ages — how did it feel to make that?

ST: It felt great. We saved the best songs and pulled Jack out of the wild card to finish up the last album for Sony. And you know what? He works so well for this band — we had tried some other producers, but it didn't really work. Coupled with the fact that the band wasn't really ready, Jack just jumped in and we had a whole lot of things to work with Jack on. Brad wrote a song, Joey wrote a song, we all wrote songs for this album. And Jack's like the clubhouse guy — we all show up and get in a room with him and he's got a clicker, he's got pointer, and we write shit on the blackboard. It's a lot of fun, and when it comes to sitting in the studio, Joe and Jack and I just ripped this one another asshole. It was a great, old-timey-feeling album.

Joe Perry: When we're putting a record together, we'll try everything: We'll put it together piece by piece, working on a demo, doing different things. But with Jack it was like, "OK, you're going to play these songs like you play them live," which is what we did. And when we did the overdubs it wasn't like, "OK, I got enough I can put it together." It was like, "I know you can do better." Whether it was Steven's vocal or my solo or even the whole take, it was like, "I know you have a better one in you, and go for it." Which is the main thing that separates him from a lot of producers we've worked with.

ST: He's like our George Martin.

NC: But is it tough to take direction from anyone? You guys have been doing this forever — you know what you're doing. Does ego get in the way?

ST: It depends on what you call producing. When George Martin was producing the Beatles, did John and Paul have any input? Probably a ton. With us and Jack, it lets everybody be hands-on — it's a full deal with Jack. It wouldn't be the same with anybody else. We tried somebody about four years ago, and it didn't really work. The guy was sitting at the piano, and the guy was ... he was just dealing with us in a different way. Jack's smooth, he manages to get the best out of each guy.

JP: You do need somebody else. Steven and I are very close to the chest on everything that's got Aersomith's name on it — and you know, sometimes you need somebody with a different perspective. You know what I mean, because you need someone knowing when to stop and saying, "We've got it," or saying, "Yeah, you can do better" — because he knows us so well — but also having an idea that you might not have thought of. I think it works sometimes to bring in a — I know, I've done solo records and produced them myself, and I know if that if some of the songs with a producer or if I had done it with Steven they would have been, I don't know about better, but they would have a different kind of energy. But you know, there's a lot of times where I missed having somebody in there to give me some feedback. You can only look in the mirror so much without getting sidetracked.

ST: It's kind of like, "Honey, do I look fat in this?"

NC: I am based out of Nashville, so I'm talking and thinking about songwriting day in and day out, and I was wondering how you guys were writing songs on this one compared to Just Press Play or Nine Lives or even all the way back to Toys in The Attic.

JP: Well, this one was probably the closest to how we learned to do it in the '70s. Like I said, we've made records every way you can think of, and like we were saying before, we worked with a producer that was also a songwriter. And so it was kinda like he was in there trying to do what his take on Aerosmith is, but also by being there as songwriter — even coming from the purest place — it's hard to not include his vision of what Aerosmith should be in the songwriting. And if you want to do a record like that then that's one way to do it, but Aerosmith is not that kind of band. We're strong enough, we have got our own sound, we have our own thing, we have our legacy and we have a stockpile of material that people identify with us, so it's not like we need to bring some producer in to put his idea of Aerosmith on there. You learn as you go along, you know?

NC: You don't need somebody to reinvent the wing, so to speak. I'm excited about the new album, and I was wondering how you guys came up with cover art, the marketing plan, the whole thing — did you decide to go all out to combat the terrible state that the music industry is in?

ST: You know, this album was personal to us. Each person threw in, and we figured we'd bring the artwork in personally. Jack threw in, Casey Tebo, who designed the artwork, had something to do with it. In a world of iTunes, we just thought it would be nice for those out there that want to look at an album while they're listening to the album and make it more than just a marketing [and] selling ploy. I think that's one thing that made it be received a little warmer: that it's an album — I don't even know if that goes over or gets accepted today. It's a fast-food world. But I think a lot of people are going to like the vinyl, a lot of people are going to love the songs, and there are going to be some reviews that say, "love the album in its entirety, you gotta listen to this one like we did in the old days, listen to it as a body of work."

JP: There's a big audience out there, it's a big audience and it's fragmented in a lot of ways. There's the younger kids that listen to things piece by piece and they're used to this fast-food world where if they don't like it they switch it off. I remember when I was a fan and I would get a record and it didn't knock me out, but I was a fan of the band and the more I listened to athe records it would turn into one of my favorites — I don't know if kids have that kind of feeling today. So you've got a lot of different ears to play to play to and to try and reach, because ultimately you want them to have that feeling. And they're looking for it too.

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