Metal Edge, June 1997
After four years and a lot of aggravation, Aerosmith have finally released Nine Lives, and the end result was well worth the wait: simply put, it rocks. Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer have some new classics in songs like “Ain’t That a Bitch,” “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” and “Taste of India.” But in light of all the problems they had creating the album, maybe they should have called it Nine Lives to Live, as making it had more drama than the average afternoon soap.
Metal Edge caught up with Joe Perry during post-listening session interviews, and then Steven Tyler by phone the evening before he left on the band’s European press tour.
I know you didn’t have an easy time of it making this record.
Joe Perry: Every record you try not to make the same mistakes you did the last time. We thought we did the right thing when we started the songwriting, but shit kept happening. You sit down and figure out how to do it the next time. One thing we have to make sure to do next time is to have enough pre-production for the band in front of recording.
Do you think you should have done more of that before you went to Miami?
Perry: I think that whenever we finished and said “OK, we’ve got the songs,” we should have had a month of rehearsals. Looking back, that would be one thing we should have done differently. But if we had gotten that done, we might not have gotten to work with Kevin. If Joey hadn’t gone through what he went through, we might not have gotten to the point we did in Miami that catapulted into the New York [sessions] which I think was the best thing that happened to the record. Kevin’s thing is getting the whole band to play live in the studio and record it. We play live in the studio on every record but ultimately what happens is you [up] stripping everything back from the basics and making sure the bass and drums are right and then you start building on that. But with Kevin it’s all basic, and that’s it. You can fix little things, but you leave it, as long as the energy is there. I subscribe 100% to that. But then you’re in the studio and you want to make it refined…
Sometimes it’s hard to recreate the energy of the original demo.
Perry: That’s true. That’s why I flew over solos from the demos. “The Farm,” “Attitude Adjustment,” “Hole in My Soul,” those were all from the demos.
Which were easiest for you to get, like one take?
Perry: Those songs. “Attitude Adjustment” was one take. No splicing, no jumping around. A lot of times I’d take a solo and use the first half of one take and the second half of take two. Everybody does it. But those songs are all first-time solos. A solo like “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” is basically the solo I played on the demo, but I replayed it and got it to where I liked it.
Do you have a favorite track?
Perry: I don’t know, I like them all. I’m sure there are some I’m going to like to play more live more than others but as far as listening to the record, I’m still listening to it as a record.
Is deciding on sequencing difficult?
Perry: It’s fun, like doing a set. No one can listen to 14 songs in a row. Maybe some people will, but for me, I listen to maybe the first five or six songs and then come back to it. Very often I will fall in love with the first half of an album if I like it, like with the Stones’ record I was listening to the first half for months and never really got into the second. But you want to make the whole thing flow.
How did the songwriting process compare to previous albums? Did you start off with a riff and go from there?
Perry: No, it’s more like we’re in a room playing, and the lyrics come quicker for some than others. When we’re working with Desmond [Child]. When the song is done the lyrics are done. Different writers it works out differently. Marti Frederiksen is not so much that. But Steven Is always fixing the lyrics ‘til the end.
You worked with some writers you had on previous albums but also others that are new.
Perry: We’re always trying to find new connections somewhere. We’re always trying to keep the pot stirred and try new people. We worked with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but we didn’t get anything with them. We wrote some good stuff with them but it’s hard, you get other stuff that really stands up. In the end we came to New York with 20 tunes. Everything we cut in Miami we re-cut here plus a few tunes we hadn’t cut in Miami like “Hole in My Soul.” It was hard because we had probably five more tunes that were definitely A-list songs. More than likely, they’ll be b-sides. You only have like 14 slots and it’s more like what we can’t live without than what we can live with. Which song would you not want to see on the record. It’s hard.
Do you make a conscious effort to pick a certain amount of ballads, fast rock songs, slow songs?
Perry: Oh definitely. I like to balance it out. We can’t please everybody, but we try to please as many people as we can.
You worked with two producers on this album. What’s the most important criteria you look for in a producer?
Perry: Just how you get along with him, where his tastes lie, if he’s gonna bullshit you. I want to hear somebody tell me the truth whether they think it’s gonna piss me off or not.
You don’t want a yes-person.
Perry: Exactly. It’s hard, even when you meet someone and work with them for a week it’s hard to tell which way it’s gonna go. You’ve got to be ready to go, “This isn’t working,” but you also have to have faith that it’s gonna carry on. You want someone who had the same picture of where you want it to go but not someone who’s gonna yes you to death. You always have reservations when it’s somebody new, but the fact Kevin Shirley was able to do the Silverchair and make it sound like that sound like that and then do Journey… he’s adaptable. It’s a matter of sticking to our guns but trying different things. When Glen started working with samples and drum loops, we tried it. I’m sure people will say “Oh, drum loops, that’s fucked up,” but people gave us shit when we did that song with Run-D.M.C. There have been horns since the first record, we used mellotrons and keyboards from the start. Everyone has their own slant to what Aerosmith is. To some people it’s “Toys in the Attic,” to some it’s “Dream On.” I remember being in an athletic clothing store and some guys said their favorite Aerosmith song was “Angel” and I’d have thought it would be “Livin’ on the Edge” or some rockin’ thing. There are people who love to go from ballad to ballad and more power to them, that’s why they’re there.
You’ve had so much success with ballads, they get paid a lot of attention. Does that frustrate you?
Perry: No, because the rock songs aren’t gonna get played on the kind of stations the ballads no matter what, even if it’s the only song released it’s not gonna get played on Top 40 radio, especially in Europe. This is a side of Aerosmith that we do, it’s not all I want to do or like to do. If people go out and buy the record the first thing they will hear is “Nine Lives.” People know Aerosmith is a rock band and there hasn’t been one person who’s gone to an Aerosmith show and asked for a refund because they heard loud rock ‘n’ roll around a ballad.
Tell me about the instrument choices you made.
Perry: I played slide guitar, which lends itself to a lot of different attitudes. I played dulcimer on “Fallen Angels” at the end, Steven’s using pencils on it and I’m fretting it. Other than that, I just played a lot of different guitars.
That Spider-Man one is cool.
Perry: I got that about a year ago, I haven’t bought that many guitars recently.
Regarding the problems within the band and particularly with Steven, did you think they might not have been resolved and the band would be over?
Perry: Yeah, more than anyone else. You can’t live it you’re afraid to die. The band could break up tomorrow or somebody could die, you’ve got to be okay for yourself first.
Were you planning contingencies if Steven left?
Perry: No. I wasn’t on the phone to Axl or anything like that. If something happened like that, I know I’d do something but I’m gonna do everything I can to keep this together. In retrospect it was the kind of shit that broke the band up in 1979 and I wasn’t gonna let that happen again.
Was it a similar scenario?
Perry: No, there were drugs involved the last time, but it was ego and attitude and all that stuff, and when you throw drugs on that it makes it so no one wants to talk to each other. [Then] I would much rather get high than go through some painful confrontation. Now, I can’t go home and have a beer and forget about it. It’s still there.
How did you feel when all those stories surfaced about drug abuse relapse?
Perry: It pissed me off because obviously a lot of it was on Steven’s shoulders and I felt really bad for him to see him go thought that. The bottom line is my friends know I’m okay and that’s it.
Not to mention fans who’ve looked up to the band and gotten straight or sober because you were able to.
Perry: That part of it really sucked. But it’s out of my control. I’m doing the best I can, I’m as honest as I can be, I’m living my life in a way that I’m getting the most out of it and I can’t own that shit, the shit people say about the band. If people go, “If you can do it, I can do it,” that’s good, but don’t hang it on me. If I go out and drink tomorrow, I don’t want you fucking going out and drinking.
You don’t want that kind of pressure.
Perry: Exactly. It’s not like I feel like I’m some kind of role model but I do know that the power of example that we do set, a lot of damage gets done when it gets falsely put out there. If someone is in a vulnerable position, to have them see that… how could Tim Collins put that out in the media? If the letter said drugs, it would be drugs, but it didn’t. It was an honest, heartfelt letter that had to do with attitudes and egos and that’s what the band has always grappled with and always will. Every band does. This is how we’re dealing with it. I was there when we wrote the letter and was there through it all and I was with Steven every fucking day, day in and day out and I didn’t see any white powder on his nose or needles in his arm and I didn’t see his pupils dilated. My room was right next to his.
Many people are predicting the album with debut at #1. Is it important to you?
Perry: No. The way that the play lists are and the way that shit always changes it’s the last thing on my mind. I’d rather ave a record at #10 for two years than at #1 for one week. It’s not s big deal to get a #1 record now. All you’ve got to do is sell more records than anyone else that week.
How do you feel about the Internet in terms of using it to promote the new album?
Perry: I think it’s great. It’s another adventure for us to exchange information and it’s pretty cool. There’s no other venue where you can talk to your fans all over the world at the same time.
Are you online yourself?
Perry: No, I haven’t got time to watch The X-Files.
You’re into it?
Perry: Yeah, I have someone tape it.
When you have free time, what else do you do?
Perry: I go to the movies. Lay around the house. But it’s been so ling since I’ve had that kind of time that I don’t know,
Do you still find time to work out?
Perry: Yeah, I still do that, just to keep in shape. When it’s time to hit the road it’s a lot harder to start from nothing than it is if you’re in shape. I like being able to run up the stairs two at a time, whether I’m on the road or not.
You jammed with Stone Temple Pilots at Madison Square Garden; how did it feel to be on stage again?
Perry: It was great. It was fun. Playing in a big arena like that, the sound is bigger than life, so much different than playing with headphones on, in a little studio and to hear your guitar at 8000 db… and then to have those guys, after all the bullshit that went on when we asked them to tour with us, and “We’re not gonna tour with you ‘cause you sexist” and all that shit, it was all bullshit, It always was, it’s just record companies and management gets in the way and puts their spin on it.
Are you getting ready to rehearse for the tour?
Perry: Yeah, this tour we’ll probably spend about 10 days to two weeks of rehearsing every day. We’ll probably have a couple of weeks at Joey’s house rehearsing and from there we’ll move into a pre-production thing big enough for monitors and some lights. We’ll play with the whole crew and see what it’s like and then it will be three to five days in the first venue. Logistically it depends because it’s always different. We may be in Europe for five days or do it here and then go over there for one soundcheck. I don’t know yet.
You’ll be spending late spring/early summer in Europe.
Perry: Yeah, I’m looking forward to playing some festivals, we’ll probably do Donington. That’s one of the reasons I like playing Europe. I’m really excited to play these songs for people.
Will you play most of the new album?
Perry: Yeah. This album lends itself to playing live more than any other one. We’re gonna have to change the set list a lot from night to night, too.
Does that play havoc with the sound and light cues?
Perry: No, we’ll probably rehearse 30 songs before the tour starts. Our sound man, Kevin Elson, is a producer and he’s a brilliant engineer and producer. We could probably not rehearse at all and sound great ‘cause he’s great.
Are videos and MTV as important now as in the ‘80s?
Perry: Yes, I don’t think it has diminished at all. If it was MTV wouldn’t have come out with a new channel. We put a lot of money into it and do good ones. If you take the attitude, “We’re not going to spend all that money on a video that’s only gonna be played a couple of times” and do a cheesy video, it won’t. We put a lot of time and effort into what really is a movie to go along with the song. I believe a good video is one you can watch with the sound turned off, and if you add the song, it’s so much better. You have to have a high production value.
You are very involved in the creative process.
Perry: We have to be.
Do you enjoy doing them?
Perry: They’re tedious and hard to do but they’re fun. You get to fool around. One we went around the clock and swore we wouldn’t even again and we didn’t on “Love in an Elevator.” “Livin’ on the Edge” was pretty cool, a lot of the ideas ended up coming together. It was shot all over the world. Our little part of it was pretty good. I like “Janie’s Got a Gun,” too. That took us 10 hours to go. That’s my favorite video, the band isn’t trying to be actors.
What about your favorite album of yours? Which on would you put in a time capsule?
Perry: This one. It has the sophistication, and the songwriting is at a level that we haven’t hit yet. The production and the sound of it, the production value is better than anything we’ve done. Obviously, it has roots in the ‘70s but I think we beat it. Joey’s drums never sounded better. It’s the way Kevin has the mics placed and the way he uses the room sounds. There’s no enhancement, no samples. It’s straight up.
How has Aerosmith managed to stay successful and keep current after two decades?
Perry: ‘Cause we’ve worked with other songwriters. We bring in new blood. “This is what I think an Aerosmith song should be.” You go, “Wow, that’s an interesting take on it.”
A new perspective?
Perry: Definitely, not just perspective, but new ideas.
Tell me about the writing process. Did you enjoy working in Florida?
Steven Tyler: I never had so much fun in my life. I was in the Marlin hotel room 306 and Glen Ballard was next door in 308 and me and Joe would spend all day writing with Glen, he had all his gear. We were writing and recording. I’d go into my room at night and sit at the table and sit there until the shit started flowing. At 6:00 in the morning I’d turn off the lights because the sun was coming in the window. It was a great time. By 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon I’d come out of my cave with a fresh set of lyrics. “Kiss Your Past Goodbye” took me two days to write the lyrics. “Pink” took me four days to write the lyrics, “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” took me about three days.
That song has my favorite line, “Don’t give me no lip I’ve got enough of my own.”
Tyler: I’ve been trying to get that in songs for years.
Did any of the songs give you trouble and take longer?
Tyler: I don’t think any of them really drove me out of my mind. “Hole in My Soul” took a while, Desmond [Child] and I got it in about a week.
Did you have the co-writers go to Florida to work with you?
Tyler: We wrote with a lot of people in Joe’s basement in Boston, Mark [Hudson] came to my house, Richie [Supa] came to my house. We wrote “Something’s Gotta Give” with Marti Frederiksen, fucking great. I wrote “Pink” with Glen Ballard and Richie. You’re going to catch more fish if you put more hooks on the line. I love it, the labor of love is such that I can sit with Joe and write them all or write with some other people and get some different takes. I wrote “Dream On” by myself, I wrote “Janie” by myself. It’s lonely in the basement by yourself. It’s more fun to sit in a room with a bunch of guys and laugh and hoot and holler, and at the end of the day you come up with a great song.
You’ve been working with Richie and Mark for years.
Tyler: Yeah. Richie Supa was with us at the very beginning. I was introduced to him in 1973 by David Krebs, we both sang at David’s wedding, I’ve always admired his stuff and wanted to write with him. All these songwriters you write with, it’s like a dream come true. I’ve always had a dream to write with Keith [Richards], and Elton [John] and I will someday. Someday I will sit in a room, and I will light their fires and they’ll light mine and we will come out with a Bon Scottism.
When you went to do this record did you have an idea in mind of what you wanted or did you just say, “Let’s see what develops?”
Tyler: Nah. “Let’s see what develops.” Of course, we got into “Taste of India,” that whole tantric electricity. I’m very into that. When you write you just start building, you build from experiences.
You were gonna call it Vindaloo, early on.
Tyler: Vindaloo was one of Joe’s [ideas], Does the Noise in My Head Bother You, was one of mine, there were a lot of cool-ass titles and we settled for Nine Lives.
Why that one?
Tyler: Joe and I went to see AC/DC and I love that fuckin’ band so much, stuff like “Girl’s Got Rhythm” and “Whole Lotta Rosie,” We came back and said let’s write… I missed the flavor of those kind of ballbuster songs. I just like stuff that grooves. And I think “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” really kids ass and grooves., and “Crash” is somewhere between Rocks and Toys in the Attic.
So you started working in Miami…
Tyler: Yeah. I loved it. I had a great time down there with the editor of Ocean Drive magazine. Sylvester Stallone came to my birthday party last year. I had a great time, I met Jack Nicholson, I was hanging with Jack and Oliver Stone. Michael Caine. Quincy Jones. I went fishing a lot. I loved the scene. I used to live in the clubs in the ‘70s. I had a blast. One of the reasons I liked some of the songs in Florida better was because I thought I sang them better down there. I just had a lot of fun doing them with Glen Ballard.
But you couldn’t finish the record with him.
Tyler: It was the saddest seven weeks of my life, all because of Tim Collins. He kept me away from the studio finishing anything with Glen Ballard and when Sony asked Glen to send some tapes, Glen mixed them himself – Joe and I weren’t there. It was supposed to be co-production. It was different and it was risky and it scared people.
Sony wanted you to re-record. What was your reaction?
Tyler: That I didn’t want to. Joe Perry didn’t get the sound he wanted in Florida and he’s my brother. I respected that and went with it. We decided to pick up our bootstraps and march through the flames again. There were three songs that I would not have done over, however Kevin Shirley did a genius job bringing the best of Aerosmith out in the other ones. But I think Glen Ballard is a genius and I’m gonna work with him in the future.
Were you upset he couldn’t see it through with you?
Tyler: Yes, I was upset. You see, we weren’t finished with the record. It was pulled out from under Glen. I felt bad about that. Tim Collins had sent Glen a letter to cease and desist, there’s trouble in paradise, the band is breaking up and Steven’s on drugs and don’t let Steven in the studio, blah, blah, blah.
Can you explain?
Tyler: Tim Collins used to be a very shining light in my life, and there was a day where his light went out. It’s all about the light. When I’m down in Florida and I’m manifesting the light, and I’m in creative mode… more often than not you become the dart board for people’s fears, doubts, and insecurities. A magnet for them.
A manager is supposed to help you in your career, not to go to the press with lies about your addictions. Tim had told Joey that I wanted him thrown out of the band and told Tom I wanted him out of the band. When we came back from Florida in May, after the five months, there was a seven-week period, nobody called me because Tim had told the band that I was getting high, having a good old time in Florida with Sly Stallone and the models, and that I wanted another drummer and bass player. All those things are not true. The band sent me a letter, and I said, “What are you fucking talking about? I just got finished writing the best album we got!” I said to them when we met in L.A., “What were you thinking? What the fuck did I do?” In fact, any behaviors people might think are drug behaviors, I’m a fucking songwriter. Sure, I was having fun down there, I went to a couple of clubs. So what? At this time, I was ready to quit the band. When I told them everything was false, they went, Holy shit, we’ve been manipulated.” It was a game and a setup. We had a meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston and asked Tim to step down. He didn’t get us sober, we got us sober. He was the best manager we could have in the beginning because he had the same problems we had, and we worked through them together.
We went to meetings together, we talked things out. But he owes a lot of apologies to a lot of people, me being the first and foremost. The band was around before Tim Collins, and it will be around after Tim Collins. No manager or publishing company or booking agency ever makes the band. They do things for bands, but you’ve got to be a band first for everything to work. We’ve weathered so much that this is nothing, so we decided to see it through.
If you did quit the band, what would you have done?
Tyler: That’s easy, I’d have done a solo project, produced other people. I would have grieved, but I think rock ‘n’ roll is about having fun – happy, joyous and free. Nothing is worth that much pain. Every album’s got agita, you can’t write a song without it, but I don’t want to deal with lies and misconceptions anymore. To have a swing out knockdown fight over a song and have to defend myself when someone’s lying about me. I don’t want to be in a band like that. Now it’s clear I’ve got to put sunglasses on, it’s a whole new sun. Everyone’s gonna hear. This record, the floodgates were opened. You’ll hear the freedom. When we re-recorded this Tim was gone. It was ice off the lake. You can’t imagine what grows in fertile soil.
You went back in the studio with Kevin Shirley in New York. What was that like?
Tyler: It was fun because Kevin is a rock head. He’s a great engineer/producer who really knows how to get a great rock sound. Look what he did with Silverchair. Joe and Brad were dying to find someone who could make guitars sound like that and that’s why we used him. We had our creative differences; however, the end product was good. He got me to do things I hadn’t done in Florida and in that respect he was the perfect thing for Aerosmith at the time.
In terms of the final result, are you happy?
Tyler: I am very happy.
Was it worth all the horrible stuff you went through?
Tyler: No. I would never do it again, I will never go through that again, I will never allow others to put me through that again. I believe you can make records and have fun. This was not a fun experience for Steven.
You’re doing a video for “Falling in Love…”
Tyler: Yeah, in L.A. Michael Bay is directing it.
Do you enjoy making videos?
Tyler: It’s fun. I like making these little mini movies and I get to put my two cents in. There’s always something in each video that no one’s ever seen.
Which of your videos is your favorite and he most fun to make?
Tyler: “Cryin’” was pretty cool. I had a good time doing that.
Which was the least?
Tyler: “Love in an Elevator,” 26 hours straight.
I think “Taste of India” would make a great video. Is that the second single?
Tyler: I don’t know what it’s gonna be. I hope it’s “India,” I hope it’s “Kiss Your Past Goodbye,” I hope it’s “Hole in My Soul,” there’s so many songs I’d like to hear on CHR radio. I listen to what’s out there today. [Soundgarden’s] “Black Hole Sun,” I love that song and I think “Kiss Your Past Goodbye” is in that vein.
I’ve heard “Fall Together” and I’m disappointed that it’s just for the Japanese version.
Tyler: We decided to do 13 songs and that was the first one to go. I love it too; I think it’s one of the best songs on the album. I was really pissed that it’s not on there, but I don’t want to get into it. It’s called being in a band, you gotta… I can only fight so much. By that time, I didn’t have any fight left in me. The good news is it’s a b-side of the single in the States. I think that one was Dean Grakal and myself, I remember helping Mark on the lyrics on the phone. Mark played me the guitar line on the phone, and I said, “Send me that right now.” He sent it in and we started working on the lyrics and it knocked me out. I loved it.
When you have so many classics and a new album, how do you decide what to play live?
Tyler: When we’re on tour and doing four shows a week I can only do two hours otherwise my throat’s gone. We’ll switch the sets around, every night we’ll do something new and different. That’s the only way to do it. One night we do “Toys in the Attic,” and the next night we go “Janie’s Got a Gun,” next night we do “Rats in the Cellar,” “Let the Music Do the Talking.”
What song that you haven’t done in a whole might be on the set?
Tyler: “Nobody’s Fault,” “One Way Street” maybe.
Any surprise club gigs planned to warm up for the tour?
Tyler: I don’t know. If we’re gonna work on songs, we like to go somewhere where we can spend some time working them out, a couple days, you know.
What about awards shows, like the Grammys?
Tyler: No Grammys. I’ll sit home and watch them. I’ll get Mia and Liv.
How do you feel when you see Liv’s movies?
Tyler: I love it. It’s like listening to my records for the first time on the radio. It’s like, “Wow, man, look at Liv!” She’s so good. I get lost in her characters every time. That Thing You Do was more like her… Stealing Beauty wasn’t Liv. She really had that character down. I got lost in the character.
Does Mia act, too?
Tyler: Yeah, she did Off-Off Broadway last summer, The Taxicab Chronicles. She wants to finish high school this year and get into college next year. She wants to do entertainment business management.
Maybe she can manage you.
Tyler: She’s so smart. I’d let her.
She doesn’t want to keep acting?
How about your daughter Chelsea and your son Taj?
Tyler: They’re doing great.
How old are they now?
Tyler: Five and eight.
Either of them show any musical talent?
Tyler: Chelsea plays the drums and Taj plays harmonica. Unbelievable to watch these to together.
What advice would you give them or any young musician?
Tyler: If you’ve got a dream go for it and don’t let anyone get in your way. Use your anger, use the energy of the people that don’t want you to do it and turn it around into a positive, put it into your art.
You’ve had the opportunity to use your anger this year.
Tyler: Yeah. Enough is enough. I feel like the ice is off the lake. It’s really a cool feeling.
Do you think the internet is a good tool to promote the record, and will you use it?
Tyler: Yeah, we plan on taking it all the way, in fact, we have CD-ROM information that’s going on our CD. CD Plus. You’ll be able to put on our CD and access a website.
Do you go online at all?
Tyler: Yeah. I go on once in a while, I sit there for 20 minutes defending who I am so it’s silly. I’d rather go on when everybody knows who it is and it’s an event.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, you’ve managed to stay a band. How do you account for Aerosmith’s longevity?
Tyler: I still feel that my best song, I haven’t written it yet and that Aerosmith is a Ferrari. It’s a snowboard from hell, a vehicle unlike any other on the planet. There are a million Ferraris and a million snowboards but there’s only one Aerosmith. Every time I get up there on stage and I look around at my band, it gives me a feeling unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced on the planet.