Interview: Aerosmith Guitarist Joe Perry (2010)
Presently, Aerosmith are sitting on a handful of tunes that have been worked up during these aborted sessions over the years, though Perry says at this point he doesn’t know if any of this material will surface on the eventual album. One thing he is adamant about, however, is that he would like to see the new disc—the last in their contract with Sony—recapture a greater semblance of the band’s bluesy, rough-and-tumble Seventies sound, an element starkly absent in the polished pop of recent hits like “Jaded” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” But while Aerosmith’s glossier material is generally credited as being the work of Tyler (and his predilection for utilizing outside songwriters), Perry isn’t so quick to write these songs off entirely. “Playing some of the songs Steven’s wanted to play hasn’t exactly hurt us,” he admits. “But we used to write songs that we figured would play well in front of an audience, instead of jumping all over the place trying to write hits. People spend their careers trying to figure out what makes a hit single. But I learned a long time ago that you can’t anticipate what people want, because it’s always going to change. So fuck it. Play what you want to play.”
It should be noted that what Perry has wanted to play has also served the band well over the years. It was his distillation of the sound and style of British heavy blues rock pioneers like Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green into something more riffy, accessible and, essentially, American that was in large part responsible for launching Aerosmith into the stratosphere in the Seventies. And if Steven Tyler has always been recognized as the face—and mouth—of Aerosmith, Joe Perry is no doubt the band’s rock and roll soul. Throughout the band’s history, Perry’s unflappable, perennially cool guitar-god persona has anchored Tyler’s extroverted live-wire act to great effect. He’s the dark, dangerous and slightly enigmatic axman perfectly content to let his guitar do all the talking.
Not surprisingly, then, Perry is understated about his role in the band and even his own skills, going so far as to call himself “not that great a guitar player.” “I basically help lay the bed down,” he says. “I just concentrate on the songs. And most of the stuff I play I don’t plan. A lot of people, I notice that if they play a lead, they can go back and play it again. Most of the time I can’t. Once I’ve done it and it’s over, I really have a hard time doing it the same way. Because it doesn’t come from any sense of scales or technical know-how. It’s all just attitude.”
He’s considerably more effusive when discussing his co-guitarist of almost 40 years, Brad Whitford: “He thinks musically,” Perry says of his less-lauded bandmate. “He knows a lot more about music. He’s a great lead player, and he’s got a really good style. I remember back when we were doing the Pump record, he was ripping up some solos, and I was like, ‘Man, where are you getting that?’ He still does that stuff, only he just keeps topping himself. I always learn stuff from Brad musically, because I don’t have a very good ear. There’s a lot of times I’ll forget what I play, and he’ll show me. There aren’t many people who can play the way he can and still work with four other guys like us.”
Perry goes on to cite classic Aerosmith tracks like “Last Child” and “Kings and Queens” as among his favorite Brad Whitford contributions to the band’s canon. When asked what he considers to be his own shining moments, however, his choices are decidedly more esoteric. “There’s a song on the Joe Perry record [from 2005] called ‘Can’t Compare,’ where the notes I’m playing just speak and tell a story,” he says. “And then I really like ‘Wooden Ships,’ the instrumental on my most recent one [Have Guitar, Will Travel].” As for his best work with Aerosmith? “It’s probably on a song that hasn’t come out yet,” Perry says. “It’s called ‘Meltdown.’ And I think the solo that I put on there is pretty close to what I would consider just right. I nailed it. It’s one of our new ones, and hopefully we’ll be able to use it on the new record.”
According to Perry, the upcoming album, Aerosmith’s 14th studio effort of new material, will finally be completed next year. But right now, the band is enjoying just being back out on the road together. “With Steven coming back, he’s probably happier than I’ve seen him in a long time,” Perry says. “And he’s healthier, stronger and singing better. It’s amazing. So we’re gonna tour at least through the summer, and then there’s talk about Japan and the Far East and some other places. I think now that the band’s up and running again and sounding good, we should stay on the road as long as we can. There’s been so much starting and stopping over the last couple years, I’d like to feel like we finally did a full tour. After that we’ll do the record. And then, we’ll see.”
And so the Aerosmith train just keeps a-rollin’. “It’s funny,” Perry continues. “There were times in the Seventies when people would see us and go, ‘They’re not gonna live another three months.’ But for some reason we’ve always managed to keep going. And I wonder about how we’ve been able to do it. So sometimes I just have to shake my head. Because there’s not many bands out there who have been around for as long as we have, and who still have all their original members, and that are still doing new and bigger things the way we are. So it’s kinda like there’s no template for what’s to come.”
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