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Interview:
Aerosmith's back in the saddle, dysfunction and all
 

By GARY GRAFF
for Journal Register Newspapers

» See more SOUND CHECK

After nearly three of the most turbulent years in its history — which, for anyone familiar with the band, is saying something — Aerosmith is back in the saddle again.

And it’s even sitting up pretty straight.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer troupe from Boston — which has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide — is finishing work on “Music From Another Dimension!” its first new album in eight years and its first of all-new material since 2001. The set is due out Nov. 6, while its first single, “Legendary Child,” hit the Top 20 of the Billboard Rock Songs chart after debuting during the finale of this year’s “American Idol,” where Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler is a judge.

And bassist Tom Hamilton says having something fresh is making all the difference in the world for Aerosmith and its summer Global Warming Tour.

“We’re all feeling pretty good because we have all this new material that we feel really strongly about,” says Hamilton, 60, who co-founded Aerosmith with Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, and drummer Joey Kramer in 1970. “It really makes you feel like you’re walking out there with a loaded weapon.

“And I’ve been waiting for this for so long because I so want to be known as a band that is still firing on all cylinders. We could go out and work every year and play our same old songs year after year, but it would be a very uneasy feeling for me to think about not ever having an album of new material out. That’s not the kind of band we are.”

Of course, just three summers ago, Aerosmith was almost not a band at all anymore.

Tyler and the rest of the group became estranged — and not for the first time — after the singer fell off a stage ramp during a show that August in Sturgis, S.D. The rest of Aerosmith’s summer tour was canceled. Amid rumors that Tyler was using drugs again (he did go to the Betty Ford Clinic later that year to overcome an addiction to painkillers stemming from foot surgery), the group publicly contemplated replacing him, even approaching colleagues such as Lenny Kravitz and Sammy Hagar.

“I told them they were nuts,” Hagar remembers. “The other guys don’t like to hear it, but Steven IS Aerosmith. You don’t have him, you don’t have the band.”

Through a series of machinations — including a band meeting called by Tyler, through his attorney, in early 2010 — Aerosmith patched things up.

“It is one of the most dysfunctional bands on the planet, yet we’ve kept together,” says Tyler, 64, who published a frank autobiography, “Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?” last year. “Why? That’s the question. Why?

“Yes I fight with Joe Perry, but when we get together in a room we write songs that have greased generations — ‘Walk This Way,’ ‘Sweet Emotion,’ ‘Dream On,’ ‘Jaded.’ ... There’s magic there. When we get together in a room, magic happens. We are what we are, and nothing’s ever gonna dwarf what we’ve done for 40 years.”

Hamilton — who’s taken time off the road from the band while battling throat cancer since 2006 — says the key to Aerosmith’s current functionality is that the group has simply learned to handle that ingrained dysfunction.

“What we’ve gotten better at are knowing what’s really important enough to consider problems,” the bassist explains. “We’re better at knowing what to be angry about and what to let go — and most of it is stuff that you should let go of, and I think that’s true of life in general.

“I think we all know that we have this one thing that we’ve spent our lives building, and everybody treasures it and no one’s ready to just cast it off to the side because their feeling get hurt every once in awhile.”

Aerosmith’s latest reconciliation has had its hiccups, too. The group had returned to the road in 2010 and was plotting the new album when Tyler took the job on “American Idol” for the 2011 seasons. Whitford says the move was “a big surprise to us” and did send “shock waves” through the band; “It was like, ‘Wow, man, You’ve already got a job, don’t you? Aren’t you the lead singer in Aerosmith?”

But drummer Joey Kramer — whose own book “Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top” details a turbulent relationship with Tyler — says the “Idol” involvement has been “a very positive thing” for the band, exposing Aerosmith to a new and younger audience.

Meanwhile, the recording sessions moved from working with longtime cohort Marti Frederiksen to Jack Douglas, who produced Aerosmith’s key albums during the ’70s. “That was key,” says Hamilton. “We’ve had these songs that we’ve been really enthusiastic about but never have felt we had a producer or support from the record company for some of these more off-the-wall tracks that are very similar to what we were doing in the ’70s.

“Jack Douglas was our producer back then, and he has an ear for the weird stuff and how the weird stuff turns into great Aerosmith songs. So that’s the process that happened on this record.”

Some of the album’s 14 songs date back years, according to Hamilton. “Legendary Child,” for instance, was started during the sessions for 1993’s “Get a Grip.” Because of that, he says, the albums has “a lot of range. I think it just kind of reflects all the eras of our career, everything we’ve learned over the centuries — the ’70s era, just all-out riff rock songs, and then the later stuff that’s more melodic, ballady stuff so that we can have girls in our audience. It’s all there.”

Aerosmith wraps up its Global Warming Tour on Aug. 8. The group hasn’t announced any plans for more shows yet, but Hamilton expects Aerosmith activity will take wing as release approaches for “Music From Another Dimension!” And he’s not ruling out a possible return to the studio soon to continue working on new material so that there won’t be another eight-year gap between albums.

“I think we’ve built up a certain creative momentum with his record,” he says. “I have no idea when we’re going to be wanting to go into the studio again, but we have songs that are not on this album, so you never know.

“Right now I’m just so enjoying the fact that this is coming out. Sometimes I’ll just be out walking around or driving, and that realization that we have this album in the can hits me, and it’s a great feeling. For me, emotionally, it’s definitely a big deal.”

Aerosmith and Cheap Trick perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5, at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Lapeer Road at I-75. Tickets are $29.50-$149.50. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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