Joe Perry and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith Discuss 'Pump' in 1990 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Aerosmith guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford from the March 1990 issue of Guitar World. Click here to see all the GW magazine covers from that year.
"Last night I looked at some pictures of us in the old days and I looked dead. I looked really dead. And I felt dead. I remember that." -- Joe Perry
Call it luck, fate or happenstance, but Aerosmith has survived. They side-stepped disaster and came back with a vengeance to reclaim their old turf and more. The group's latest album, Pump, is a deranged plunge into sex and the big beat that flips a bird at the slick, generic rantings of their youthful competition.
Unabashedly raw, rude and cocksure, Pump is more than Aerosmith's best album since ... ." It's Aerosmith's best album ever. Better than Rocks, better than Toys in the Attic. And better than any Aerosmith's Greatest Hits anyone could buy or sequence.
But the Aerosmith that created Pump is an altogether different animal than the classic version of the mid-Seventies.
Back then, the group was a non-stop rock 'n' roll party machine, living on the edge 24 hours a day and roaring into town in search of your sisters. They were Van Halen before there was Van Halen.
That Aerosmith is a memory, preserved only in the lust-heavy lyrics of singer Steven Tyler (the first songwriter to make a sexual metaphor of the FAX machine). The new, just-say-no Aerosmith kicks ass way, way harder than the old incarnation ever did. Bassist Tom Hamilton and drummer Joey Krammer have developed a sledgehammer attack that could anchor a battleship in a hurricane. But the heart of this band is where it's always been -- in the bump-and-grind guitar rush of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford.
The old Aerosmith went down the toilet when Perry and Whitford -- both of whom were integral to the band's sound and chemistry -- split from the group (Perry departed in 1979, as Night In The Ruts was being finished; Whitford left in 1981, during preproduction for Rock In A Hard Place).
Their reasons for departing were typical: drugs and alcohol, burnout, slave-driving management and creative, personal and financial tensions, the last despite a decade of sellout tours and hit albums.
"We were being told we owed money," says Whitford. 'You're in arrears of $80,000 or $100,000.'”
“They were even saying my room service bill was really high," adds Perry, who claims his solo deal came about when management said he was broke and needed the bucks it would bring in. ''Now, I used to have a lot of room service, but certainly not that much. I started counting the money we made in past years on my fingers and said 'Something's wrong here."'
Perry and Whitford rejoined Aerosmith in 1984 on the condition of a complete housecleaning. "No old management, no old road managers, no old coke buddies. None of the old shit," says Perry. "From getting ourselves clean to sweeping the whole business clean took years."
The decidedly mediocre Done With Mirrors reintroduced the group with a yawn, proving little more than that the band was alive and could actually produce a record. Rhythmically and lyrically leaden, its best feature was the reversal of all copy type on the sleeve -- a visual pun on the title.
The infinitely better followup, Permanent Vacation, yielded three Top 20 hits. Still, half the album sounded as if it could have been recorded by any pro rock band -- good product, but nothing extraordinary. Then came Pump -- stripped down, rock 'n' blues jambalaya. Definitive Aerosmith.
Guitar World met with Perry and Whitford at Aerosmith's cramped Boston rehearsal space. Signs of the band's new health consciousness were everywhere. Instead of empty beer cans, Crystal Sparkling Mineral Water bottles littered the studio. Two 100-wafer bottles of chewable vitamin C tablets sat atop Joe's amp. Still, some old habits die hard. At the foot of Steven Tyler's scarf-draped mic stand sat a crate full of raunchy, low-grade porn mags -- the kind with few words and titles such as Young Chicks and Motorcycle Sluts (to be fair, such reading material was scattered throughout the studio. But this placement appeared a little suspect).
Perry and Whitford looked fit, alert. Apart from their rock 'n' roll attire and faint New England accents, they appear to be exact opposites. Blond and recently bearded, Whitford speaks slowly and thoughtfully. Perry is the sharp fast-talker. Dark and lean, he radiates the benefits of his recent workout obsession. Both come off as extremely regular guys, lacking any rock star pretensions.
We retired to a quiet room and spoke among a crew of roaming cats.
GUITAR WORLD: Did things change a lot when you got back together?
BRAD WHITFORD: We did a lot of house cleaning during Done With Mirrors, but we hadn't swept our brains out yet. We were trying to use the same songwriting process we used in the mid-Seventies. We'd start with four or five songs and try to write the rest in the studio.
JOE PERRY: There were only eight or nine cuts on our records because that's all we would have. That worked for Rocks and Toys In The Attic because we were playing live a lot. We tried the same approach on Mirrors, but the ideas were not there. We realized by the end we were not happy with the record's quality.
WHITFORD: By the time Permanent Vacation came, we were in such a different head space. Suddenly we were much healthier and the music was flowing like it did in the early Seventies. Pump was written in the same way the first album was. We did tons and tons of playing and woodshedding -- just letting ideas flow.
What about changes in terms of guitar competition?
WHITFORD: We thought a lot about that, but Aerosmith's beauty is that it is an incredible band. I don't have to be concerned about being a virtuoso.
PERRY: I definitely felt some heat when the West Coast surge started. We were originally influenced by the English. They had a stranglehold -- if you had an English accent, chances are you were fucking happening. By the end of the Seventies it came around to having kneepads and striped guitars. We could feel that shift when Eddie came out with his classically based style. He put his guitar through an Echoplex and it was killer. I felt some heat, but it's a matter of focusing on what you got.
When Permanent Vacation hit, I was surprised how you guys were seen as very current -- not at all musty or old.
PERRY: The only negative thing I remember hearing was that some of the real hard core head-hitters accused us of "selling out." They were saying things like, "I don't know why you're doing a song like ‘Angel.'" I would counter with, "What about 'Dream On'?" The difference between us and a band like the Stones is we keep changing. Every album has a different texture. We're always re-upping. It doesn't seem too stagnant. I think we'd all be fucking bored if we put out an Eliminator and then came out with an Afterburner. That isn't how we do things.