Interview: Joe Perry of Aerosmith
Mon, 21 Jul 2014 15:51:03
Aerosmith are doing what they do best night after night on the appropriately titled "Let Rock Rule" tour. This time around, they’re joined by Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, and every night serves as proof of rock music’s undying fire in the 21st century. Most importantly though, Aerosmith are igniting a high energy set of classics spanning their entire career as well as a few diamonds-in-the-rough from the eighties and nineties. Plus, audiences get treated to rousing renditions from their latest opus, Music from Another Dimension! though. As far as concerts this summer are concerned, this is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll tour.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, legendary Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry talks the “Let Rock Rule” tour and Slash, looks back on Rocks, discusses his guitars, and opens up about his next musical endeavor. Also, his new book Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith drops October 5!
You’re dusting off some hidden gems on the "Let Rock Rule" tour for the set list...
Once the tour is up and running and all of the relative big things are taken care of, we have to deal with the set list. We really pay attention to it. On the last European leg, we’d never played half of the places we went to before this tour. We spend some time trying to figure out what kind of set people will want. We try and take everything into account like how close we are to a place we have played. Of course now with the internet, there’s another voice. It really is just a few people talking. Still, it’s another person weighing in. Sometimes, we get an idea from the meet-n-greet. The bottom line is, this particular set evolved over the European tour. The second-to-last gig we did was straight out hard rock festival. Deep Purple played. So, we loaded it up. When we came back to the States, we had this thought that we really stumbled on a good set. There’s enough of the old material in there. Like you said, there are a few gems. We’ll probably build a few more songs into the set from the last album, Music from Another Dimension!. We’d all like to get one or two songs in there from that record without taking away some of the gems—the Eighties and Nineties music. Our set list was really Seventies-heavy. It was fun to play that stuff. I think we got away from a lot of material that provided many people with their first Aerosmith experience. We use “Walk This Way” with Run-D.M.C. as a landmark since then. To some people, that was our first album. We hear that at the meet-n-greets. In Europe, people would say, “It’s crazy. I love your first single ‘Walk This Way’ with Run D.M.C.” That’s just another generation. Back then, we played a lot of those records. It was everything from Pump to Get a Grip to Nine Lives. It fell by the wayside over the last few years. Now, we’re bringing it back. We’re having a good time with the set. I hope everyone likes it.
How did “Freedom Fighter” come together? It fits really well alongside the classics, possessing that old school vibe.
Thanks, I appreciate that. I wrote about four or five songs for Music from Another Dimension! for me to sing. It’s always personal when you put a song on the record. I like to put some of the lyrics out there myself. Other ones I’ll give them to Steven to have a go at them. In fact, “Oh Yeah” was one of those songs. I started “Oh Yeah” around Just Push Play. We morphed it around and played with it. Finally, I came up with a riff for it. It was supposed to be funkier, and now it’s a straight up rocker. I was planning on singing it. Steven really loved the lyrics to it though. He was like, “Those are the best lyrics you’ve written in years”. He was one of the biggest advocates for the song. I was happy, but I was planning on singing it myself, as I said. Actually, my wife Billie said, “If he likes it, let him sing it. If he wants to get behind it, let him sing the shit out of it”. I told her, “That’s my song. I wrote the lyrics for you”. She was like, “Fuck that. Just fucking let him sing it!” [Laughs] Sure enough, he sang it, and he crushed it. We’ve been playing it quite a bit. I don’t know if it will come back into the set when we add a song or two from the new album though. As for “Freedom Fighter”, there was 2012 documentary about a guy who does documentaries. He went to Somalia or one of these countries. It was a story about warlords who were kidnapping kids and turning them into fighters and rebels. They go in and capture these kids in the middle of the night out of their families’ tents. The fact that this guy was there putting his life on the line to bring this story to the people was incredible. Otherwise, who would’ve heard about it? I was looking at the story on the computer at like five in the morning. By seven, I had written the lyrics.
Did you record it immediately?
Yeah, I went to the studio and hammered on it a little bit. I recorded a demo in a hotel room that basically put it together. The band played it and fucking rocked the shit out of it. We brought in a piano player named Zac Rae, and he just smoked it. I really wanted to play the song on this tour. The lyrics are important. In Europe, we actually put the lyrics on screen in English—since most people there can read English. It’s a little bit off the usual beaten path from Aerosmith lyrics, which are meant to entertain, be fun, and take your mind off your problems. We basically stay away from politics. On this one, I had to put it out there. I appreciate you asking about it.
Do you feel like you and Slash share a similar mindset when it comes to guitar playing? You both pull from the blues and English rock ‘n’ roll, yet maintain your own respective styles.
This is the thing about Slash that impressed me. He’s such a good lead guitar player in that sense. If you keep your ears opened, that’s where some of the good licks come from. They’re the noticeable riffs. It’s the counterpoint to the melody—what the vocalist is doing. You want to put something in there musically that people recognize. Slash has written some great riffs over the years. Jesus, the NFL uses them. They play his riffs in all of the stadiums. They’re classics. It sets your fire every time you hear it. My point is, I know Slash can play that West Coast style. I’ve heard him doing a little bit of finger tapping and that sort of thing. That’s not where his heart is. It’s more of a direct line from the blues. That West Coast style is a bit of a side step. It’s really inventive and different, but it’s about two steps away from the old blues. It’s a different style. In the Sixties and Seventies, the only styles for basic rock ‘n’ roll was rock and blues. The English cats heard the American music. It was the incredible wealth of music made by the giants like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and all of those guys. Then, the English put their spin on it. That’s what the kids in the suburb latched onto. Looking back at the different ways to go about playing rock ‘n’ roll and guitar, there are so many versions and ways. It’s basically the kind of music we like to listen to. I haven’t talked to Slash about this, but I would bet he’s as much of a fan of those early guys as I am.
Those early English guitar players morphed American music into their version of the blues. That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about Slash. He has stuck to his guns, and he’s been able to make a career himself. He’s a really strong guitar player in the sense that he’s got a good feel for where he sits in the scheme of things. He’s just going to keep playing—Guns N' Roses or not. Watching them go from being a club band and opening act to a solid headliner at stadiums…who knows how far they could have gone if they had stayed together? Putting out solo records, you’re always trying to find the right combination. I think he’s finally done with that with this last album he just finished. It rocks. With Myles Kennedy, I think he’s finally found his vehicle. It’s been great watching them play over all these years. Sharing the bill is really great.
What do you think of now, when you think of Rocks? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Well, I think it was the high point of the first generation of our career. That’s one of the things I talk about a lot in the book. We’re late bloomers. I started in the studio knowing absolutely nothing about recording. It was like, “Show up, shut up, play your club set, and make sure the tape’s running”. That was pretty much it for the first album and the second. Steven and I wrote a few new things together. We started to get our own voice. On Toys in the Attic, you could hear the band finally starting to hit its stride as far as the studio goes. Learning how to work in the studio and play live are two different things. That was the first record where we had to write some songs. Going into Rocks, we were really in full swing. We were seeing the effect of the songs we were writing on the audience. It just kept building and building. It took a lot of work. We were either in the studio or touring at all times. It was what you did back then. It was also what we were put on the planet to do. That’s what we did. The only thing was no one told us we could stop for a while and take a vacation [Laughs]. I took matters into my own hands and split. It was really a matter of survival. We all needed a break. Unfortunately, what we should’ve done is just take a fucking year off. That would’ve been enough. Actually, I had a really good time though. It was a lot of fun. The magic of Aerosmith was getting five guys on stage and them somehow electrifying an audience like that. It’s one of those things where you think, “I don’t know how the hell that happened”. Out of all these bands who have been playing and playing, we’re the ones who had something that really lit people up. We didn’t want to stop. It was just amazing thing. Rocks really stands up. That’s why I called my book Rocks. It really says a lot about the band and about the era. It also describes the band to this day. We did some shows in Europe, and they were some of the best we’ve ever played. That set list is part of it. We’re going to be working off the set for the whole American tour. We’ll throw a few songs in there from the new album. I’m hoping to get a few more in there from the Nineties.
Which guitar represents you the most?
I have to say there are two. I love Gibson. I have an ES-355 with my wife’s picture on it. It sounds really good. It’s a really awesome guitar. I use it in the studio and live. It can really step up and turn into a beast. For that kind of style of playing, that’s the go-to guitar. Then, there’s a guitar I just had worked on at Gibson. I wanted to get a Vibrato on there. It’s basically the best of both worlds—a Strat and a Gibson Les Paul. I’m still working on adjusting the prototype. It may turn out to be the next signature model. They’re really excited about it. It covers all the brands. Those are the guitars I’m playing mostly. There’s also a cat who makes guitar out in California. He goes out and finds two-hundred- or three-hundred-year-old wood. They’re called Echopark Guitars. I like to experiment with some of the stuff he makes. So, there are three guitars [Laughs]. They’re all based around the 1959-style neck with the fat frets. From the Strat point-of-view, I love the Vibrato Leo designed. It just doesn’t get any better. It’s either a Strat or Les Paul. It’s mashed together, and it works great.
What’s the plan for new music?
Well, it’s crazy. There was a hurricane that week Music from Another Dimension! came out. The president of the label left three weeks before it came out. We had a song on the G.I. JOE movie, and they pulled the movie to go back and film it in 3-D. Meanwhile, we found this out when we driving to play the new song on American Idol. We got a phone call the whole campaign was being pulled. It was like, “Yeah, but we’re playing the single this afternoon”. It was one of those things. The way the media is driven now it’s always about something new. Tomorrow, it’s a whole different headline. There are some really good songs on that record. I think it’s one of the best we’ve done in a long time. I think we should stick to our guns and keep making records like that and promote them our own way. Now that we’re off the label, we’ll figure out our own way. I really don’t know what’s coming up next. I know Steven wants to do a solo record. I’m halfway through a solo album right now. I’ve got about six songs I’m really excited about. I want to get into them as soon as possible. That’s the main focus now. I’ve got my book coming. It’ll probably be a month of signings and different things. We’re thinking of different ways to use the internet to promote it. We’re giving away four free songs if you buy the book. I think they’ll be really representative of some of my solo work. The record company was amenable, and they’ve been helpful along the line. Simon & Schuster has been really good. After that, I’ve got the record that’s right under my skin. I can’t wait to get back to it. Maybe next year Aerosmith will get together and do another record. We’ll see.
What’s your favorite Aerosmith song?
See our review of Music from Another Dimension! HERE!
See Joe Perry talk his first guitar on AllAxess.com here!