Interview: Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry Discuss Their New Album, 'Music From Another Dimension!'
Like it or not, he has a point. Coming up in the early Seventies, Aerosmith just missed out on the era when great rock bands like the Beatles, the Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Yardbirds and their peers had to do hokey mainstream TV variety shows—sandwiched, quite literally in some cases, between a mouse puppet and a tap dancer. But now that rock no longer dominates the music market as it once did, Aerosmith are indeed quite lucky to have a member with a willingness, and indeed a genuine talent, to shuck and jive on the 21st century equivalent of The Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Perry, for his part, acknowledges that it’s a different world these days.
“Classic rock means bands that have our heritage,” he says. “They have songs that were big in the classic era, from the Seventies and Eighties or whatever. But for it to be brand new, there’s not really a slot for that. ’Cause there are so few of us out there. Some of the new album sounds fresh and new—and it is. And it certainly echoes back to some of the early stuff. But there’s no playlist for that kind of stuff.”
So can one blame Tyler for playing the pop game? Rock music in the 21st century has become a subset of pop, which in turn is a subset of “entertainment,” which itself is a subset of “content.” And while an Aerosmith, ZZ Top or Bob Dylan will long be able to claim their little slice of the pie, the overall taste is quite different these days. Let’s just say there are a lot more corporate GMOs in the batter. Tyler is simply a guy with a clear sense of that, coupled with some strong survival instincts. While reality TV was never much of a stretch for aging rockers, Tyler is one of the people who made it okay for legitimate rock stars to do TV’s variety talent show format.
“I wasn’t sure about Idol either,” he admits. “But I jumped in with both feet, and if I get in trouble, I’m already in the market. I’m not one of those guys that goes, ‘Oh, I’m afraid of that market.’ I wanna be in everything. So I took Idol, and it turned out to be a great thing. And it brought Aerosmith’s catalog out after some cheap shots from some of the band members that what I did is like Ninja Turtle or something. [Perry indeed made an unfavorable comparison between American Idol and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.] “But it worked out to be great.”
But still, where does one, um, draw the line? Some of the ballads on Music from Another Dimension! impart a clear sense that Tyler has perhaps been listening to a little too much of that American Idol music of late. Ballads, of course, have always been a part of the Aerosmith package from day one. We entered the era of outside songwriters and formulaic power ballads during Aerosmith’s post-rehab comeback of the Eighties with albums like Permanent Vacation. But some of the ballads on Music from Another Dimension! cross outside the rock domain entirely, no matter how many guitar overdubs the band piles on. “All Fall Down,” penned by pop tunesmith Diane Warren, is particularly painful. One must usually enter a supermarket or dental office to hear songcraft of this caliber, although usually the singer is a little better at hitting the high notes.
“I definitely took a major left turn on ‘We All Fall Down,’ ” Tyler says. “And I did on ‘What Could Have Been Love’ and ‘Another Last Goodbye.’ ”
In recent years Tyler seems increasingly to be operating in his own private universe, one that crosses over into Aerosmith’s reality only on occasion. For instance, his bandmates didn’t find out about his duet with country star Carrie Underwood on “Can’t Stop Loving You”—one of the album’s better ballads—until after the vocals had been cut. The tune’s country flavor had been a sore point from the start, according to Tyler.
“It kind of irked some of the people in the band,” he says, “and some of the guys wanted me to re-sing it. But I thought, No, I wanna leave it like that. I’d always seen the song as a duet; it was kind of fuckin’ obvious. So I called up Carrie. I’d worked with her a lot on awards shows and things like that. Carrie was just about to leave L.A., but I said, ‘Come on over, quick.’ She came over that night and sang it within an hour. I didn’t even have time to mention anything to the band. Of course, that came with its own luggage.”
“Can’t Stop Loving You” is one of several ballads on Music from Another Dimension! that Tyler co-wrote with longtime Aerosmith collaborator and song doctor Marti Federiksen. Quite a few of them boast the kind of saccharine pop/R&B chord modulations that tend to induce nausea in nine out of 10 rock fans, but to the rest of the world scream, “...and the Grammy goes to....” Tyler, in fact is already fantasizing about a Grammy night duet with Adele.
“My vision was to sing with Adele at the Grammys and do ‘All Fall Down’ or ‘Another Last Goodbye,’ ” he says. “Because they’re very much like that, but also very much Aerosmith. So we’ll see how all this shit flies in today’s world.”
The corrupting influence of Hollywood, however, has always been sweetened by its sunny allure. There are worse things in life than a sojourn in L.A. While in town to work on the Aerosmith record, Perry also had an opportunity to connect with old friends, do a bit of networking and showbiz glad handing of his own.
“It was great just knowing that Slash and Waddy Wachtel are right down the road and I can see them, and talking with a lot of the movie soundtrack people,” he says. “L.A. was just an inspiring kind of place to be. It felt like going to Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. Everybody’s there. Everybody’s hanging around. Everybody’s talking about music. So it was a very creative time. The album would have taken on a different flavor otherwise. I’m not saying better or worse. But for me L.A. was, and is, a very creative place to be.”