Joe Perry and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith Discuss 'Pump' in 1990 Guitar World Interview
In this 1990 interview, Aerosmith guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford discuss their latest album, Pump, their gear and why the Beatles offered more than the Stones.
Yeah, a lot of bands who have a successful record say they're not going to repeat it, but they do. Pump sounds like you guys said, "Hey, we just had a big hit. We can do anything we want." Then actually did it.
WHITFORD: We never sit around and say, "It's gotta be more like that," or "We gotta be careful we don't do that." What's done is done.
Does it get harder to put out rock records as you get older? Does it affect you that your peers might not listen to rock anymore?
WHITFORD: Not really. It's got to clear with me first, and then I don't give a shit about anyone else. It's the same for everyone in this band.
PERRY: We're going to start getting some shots about our age, I'm sure. But who gives a shit? People like the music, and that's all that matters. I don't see anyone avoiding the Stones because DJ's make jokes about them being a part of the Geritol set. All it does is make the DJ's look stupid.
But do you ever reach a point where you say, "Hey, I'm playing to kids half my age"?
WHITFORD: It's wonderful it translates to so many people. I was reading this thing yesterday about Dr. Porsche. Back in the Forties he built this car because nobody else was building a car he liked. His theory was, "If I build a car I like, maybe some other people will appreciate it." That's what we've always done – played the music we like. It so happens that a lot of other people appreciate it. So I never had a problem. I really like what we do and I really like rock music. I like it so much I just produced a record for a Boston band called the Neighborhoods. I just love sitting in a control room working with guys playing guitar rock. That's still really where it's at for me.
What do you think of Permanent Vacation now?
PERRY: Some songs are real high points, and I think they get close to what Aerosmith is about. On other cuts I think we kind of went in the wrong direction because we were like trying to change our songwriting. After Mirrors we were ready to try anything. We'd been writing together for years and years, so it was good to have somebody come in and go, "Why don't you just try this?" People put us clown for that, but I wonder how an AC/DC record would sound if they'd pull somebody like Jim Vallance into the songwriting process. Would they get another one-song record with "Heatseeker," or would you get a whole album that was that cool?
In my notes, I wrote, Vacation good songs, good players, very professional, but a lot could be done by other bands."
WHITFORD: Vacation showed off all our influences -- a Beatles cut and "Heart's Done Time," which is what we were really all about. But then it drifts away from that. "Girl Keeps Coming Apart" is almost funky and dancy. We were searching.
PERRY: "Girl Keeps Coming Apart" was fun and a great workout. When I started playing the riff, that's exactly what I envisioned -- something funky and wild with horns pumping away. But when we played it live, it went right over our fan's heads. Phshew! We played our hearts out on that song, and it went right over their heads because our audience is not like that. They wanna hear rock 'n' roll. That's what Aerosmith is -- a rock 'n' roll band. So we found ourselves with our clicks in our hands on a lot of those songs. You can't do that. But I think they're good songs and everything was performed well. Except for one song, every thing was done to the max.
WHITFORD: What song?
PERRY: "Simorrah." It doesn't go anywhere. Where did it come from and where does it go? But you got to do that stuff -- you can't not try. So if I'm an Aerosmith fan, sitting there six months later, I'd say some of Vacation washes and some of it doesn't.
It's a long record. I guess "Simorrah" doesn't make the cassette you make for the car.
PERRY: That's exactly it. By the same token, when you put a bunch of songs on the record, sometimes things like "St. John" get overlooked.
WHITFORD: On Pump, because we had had more time to write and woodshed, that f1uff and stuff burned off. If you go in and play things for a few days, invariably you end up getting down more to blues and real street level rock. We didn't have to rush. If something was a bit fluffy it went out the window after five or six days. Pump is really more about Aerosmith.
It's great how you achieved such a loud, full sound, yet one that's relatively uncluttered. You can really hear individual parts, as opposed to Vacation's wall of sound.
PERRY: That whole wall-of- sound is the worst thing about Vacation.
WHITFORD: We hated that. When you see us live there's a guitar here and a guitar there, and that's the way we like to keep it in the studio. It keeps a record listenable.
I notice that when you guys are really on, it's as if no one is actually playing the beat -- it's just there. It's when everybody tries to hammer the beat that it's lost and things feel too heavy.
PERRY: As far as rhythm goes, all these notes going up and down are just an excuse to build the rhythm. The ultimate thing is the rhythm track. The snare drum is what fucking happens. That's the primal thing that holds it together. I think it's what Aerosmith is -- how five guys get that rhythm locked in their minds then add stuff, adding color to make it interesting.
Maybe the feel I'm hearing is that suggested rhythm? Or maybe it's the way things are kept sparse.
WHITFORD: It's all part of it. Creating a feel comes from experience and experience only. You have to play a long time or practice a lot. You also have to be able to listen. Did you ever see any of those old clips of big bands from the Thirties and Forties on David Sanborn's “Sunday Night Live” show? The whole band is sitting there with smiles on their faces, holding their horns. There's not a lot happening but, man, the groove is deadly.
WHITFORD: Yeah. These guys stand up and blow their solos, sit down, play their part and everybody's got these shit-eating grins on their face. You just go, "Wow!" All of a sudden you know why they're smiling -- because it's just so locked in. That takes a lot of practice and experience and study. A lot of bands miss the mark. They just hammer away.
PERRY: That's where a lot of metal bands lose me. It's really important to be able to swing. Steven was the one who turned me on to picking apart songs and figuring out why. It's easy to put on a Deep Purple record and say, "That sounds great." But why? Part of it is individual practice, but by playing together, a talent of meshing happens. There's a talent Aerosmith has when we're all playing together -- it's really special. Like when you hear the Beatles playing together, it's always better than when they're apart, ya know? Not to say we're as good as the Beatles,
It's funny you mention the Beatles. You guys always took flack for being the American Stones. But listening to your records, the thing that stands out with Aerosmith at its best is sort of a hard rock extension of the Beatles’ last few albums – very song-oriented rock 'n' roll.
PERRY: I think people who wrote the Stones comparison stuff did it because of the way we looked and that's all. We never really sounded like the Stones. We're in the business to make music, not fashion statements, but that's what they picked up on. The Beatles had a lot more to offer, musically. If you listen to some of the heavier John Lennon things, you can hear where Zepplin got a lot of their stuff. I mean, there was some heavy shit in there. I know Steven's really influenced by the Beatles. We all are. And regardless of all that stuff about the Stones, the Beatles were nastier in a lot of ways. A lot of their music got glossed over because of their image -- another case of image. But listen to the sound of “Revolution.” Man, that is a fucking monster.
And most of the stuff on Revolver.
PERRY: Yeah. Distorted guitars and fucking nutsiness.
WHITFORD: Some of the best guitar tones ever were by the Bettles, on old ZZ Top records and, of course, the Hendrix records. But the Beatles had some killer, killer guitar sounds.
That's another Beatles comparison. Pump has amazing guitar tones. There's none of that "Let's plug in the distortion and crank it" stuff. You actually hear different guitar sounds.
WHITFORD: We try not to let the amplifier get in the way too much of how the guitar sounds. A lot of times, amplifiers will kill you. You get on stage, crank up your amp and think that's how you sound big. In the studio it's exactly the opposite. If you go in the studio and put your amp on 10, the guitar is gone. Then you start with "Let's double it and get it to sound bigger." Then it's gone twice as bad. Now I bring in one of my favorite Marshalls and, instead of running it at 8 or 9, I run it at 1 or 1.5. Suddenly, the amp's out of the picture and the guitar is in the picture. That's how you do it. Miking techniques are really important too, but basically, you've got to have a good guitar -- and if you can play it, that helps too. But you can't let the amplifier get in the way.
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