Joe Perry of Aerosmith Talks "Rock Stars of Science", "Sons of Guns", and Making "Freedom Fighter" with Johnny Depp
Fri, 14 Sep 2012 09:47:32
Anytime you reach a position of notoriety the best thing you can do is give back.
Legendary Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry certainly does so. Life's always been bigger than just music for Perry, and that's what makes him such an iconic artist. Right now, as the Founding Father of the Geoffrey Beene's Rock Stars of Science campaign, he's helping bring together two seemingly disparate entities—rock stars and scientists. Ultimately, he's shedding light on the fact that the men and women curing diseases and furthering humanity are the real rock stars. He'll be featured alongside the Geoffrey Beene Dream Team in a profile of GQ's "Men of the Year" edition this December.
Perry is everywhere these days. On September 19 at 9pm ET, he'll also make an appearance on Discovery Channel's Sons of Guns on the "Three Cannons and a Rock Star". Plus, Aerosmith's next masterpiece Music From Another Dimension! will blast rock music out of this world on November 6.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Joe Perry of Aerosmith opens up about Geoffrey Beene's Rock Stars of Science, Sons of Guns, "Legendary Child", and working with Johnny Depp on "Freedom Fighter".
What makes Rock Stars of Science different from other charities?
It's a really unique idea that started off with a GQ photo shoot bringing scientists and rock stars together. The bottom line is there are rock stars in every field. These research scientists are probably the most important people on the planet. They're helping cure our diseases and everything. A lot of them don't get the credit and recognition they deserve. The fallout is a lot of kids don't get interested in science. Some of them want to be rock stars, performers, or athletes. We're losing a lot of scientists. A lot of people I talked to at the photo shoot were from out of the country. They were from Ireland or Italy, and they're doing research here. We're not training as many scientists. Kids seem to want to go into fields that are more glamorous or make more money. I don't think it's just the money either. Part of it is the excitement. However, there is a lot of excitement in those scientific fields. Being able to talk the scientists, I see a lot of parallels between what they do and I do. The only difference is they don't end up in the gossip columns. It's a whole different thing. They certainly have their awards, but they don't get that press like a movie star does. Maybe they discover something, and you read a little blurb in the paper, but there's no glamor to it. The thinking behind this is to bring the two together. My involvement is personal. One of my best friends just went through a situation. My father died of cancer. I don't think there's anybody out there who isn't touched right now. I'm sure you know somebody, either a friend or relative, who's affected by it. It's very rare to find someone who isn't, and the numbers are growing. The work that these guys are doing is so important. When I was approached to do it, I was like, "You tell me when and where. I'll be there". What's the question? This is too big and important not to do.
You're using your platform in Aerosmith to push crucial causes such as this. That's highly commendable.
Well, that's one of the benefits of spending a life in this career. I feel so blessed and lucky to have a career in something I love to do. It's of the utmost importance to give something back. I've got to think that's why I'm still walking and talking. It's not a career that has a lot of longevity. When I was growing up and first starting, bands either broke up or members died. You didn't look down the road and say, "I'm going to do this for the rest of my life". When I was a teenager, it was like, "Let's see if we can get through another month". To be in this position, there's a reason for everything. For me, that reason is to be able to help give something back.
So, how much fun was it being on Sons of Guns?
Being a strong believer and upholder of the second amendment and the whole constitution, I've been collecting guns ever since my father gave me his father's .22 pistol back when I was very young and he showed me how to use it. I've always been fascinated and interested in firearms. I collect all kinds, but my main interest is in the older weapons. When the show came on, my kids told me to check it out. We watched it a couple of times, and I thought it'd be fun to get on there with the guys. The whole family shoots, and we're all into. We made a few phone calls, and I got along really well with Will Hayden. We carved out some time and made a trip down to Baton Rouge, LA, and they had the cameras rolling. It was a lot of fun. It was great hanging out down there. Personally, it helped out with my collection and I learned a lot while I was down there.
Do you and your kids go to the range together or go hunting?
We hunt once in a while. Very rarely do we hunt. The only time I hunt is if it's for something I'm going to eat. I don't even do that very often. It's more about getting into the woods and nature. I'm fascinated by history. I don't collect just guns. I collect old knives and swords. I have a bronze sword from the Greek era that I found at an antiquities store. I collect everything, but I'm most fascinated by the black powder era. That's what we talked about when we were down there at Sons of Guns. We'll go shooting at the range together. We'll talk about some firearm that was used back when the pirates were sailing or during the First World War. Sometimes, it doesn't even involve shooting. We'll talk about the machinery and that part of it. My kids are into the mechanics of things at one level or another. A couple of my boys are motor-heads. One of them is rebuilding an old Honda right now. He's actually hand wiring the electrical harness. That's a bonding thing as well because I love to ride. All of that ties together. It's a family thing.
Do you have any favorite riffs on Music From Another Dimension!? "Legendary Child" is heavy.
Well, very often I'll try a different guitar. I'm always looking for the newest guitar synthesizer or foot pedal—basically anything that can change the sound of the guitar for inspiration. Sometimes, I'll even try to write a song on a different instrument. That can spark a new riff. For "Legendary Child", I'd gotten a new guitar synth almost 20 years ago. That main riff was one of the first things I played when I plugged this thing in. At the time, it was the latest one. We pulled it out of the box, plugged it in, and started fooling it. This riff started coming out. I've had that for quite a while. In fact, it makes an appearance twice on the album. We couldn't really figure out where to put it. After all these years, there was something about it that was really catchy, but we never found a place for it. It found its way into "Legendary Child", but we also placed it in another track. It's funny because when we started going through some of the tunes we had stockpiled, we realized that riff had made two appearances [Laughs]. Rather than say, "We used it once so we can't use it again", we said, "It sounds good in that song as well". There it is. That particular riff stuck in my head, and it ended up on the record twice. We'd identify these songs by singing the riffs to each other. This riff was from around the time after Permanent Vacation.
What's the story behind "Freedom Fighter" and your collaboration with Johnny Depp?
Once Steven and I were out in L.A., he was working on American Idol, which was basically two days a week. The rest of the time we were in the studio. It was so inspiring living out there in L.A. and rubbing elbows with so many musicians. Johnny Depp was one of them. I have to rate him as a first-class musician. As great as an actor as he is, he's also right there as a musician. I guess the acting thing outweighed the music thing way back when, but he's a musician through and through. I'd be hanging out with Waddy Wachtel, Slash, and all of these guys that live out there. Usually, I never get to talk to them living in Boston. It was a very inspiring time. I felt like there was a vibe or energy missing from the record, and I wrote "Freedom Fighter". There was something going on in the news at the time that inspired the lyrics. It talks about people who are freedom fighters, but they're not necessarily using bombs and guns. They report. They get out there, put their asses on the line, and speak the truth. The cameramen get the truth and bring it to people. The song is a tribute to those freedom fighters. I wanted to get that down. Johnny was there the day I was laying the tracks. When it came time to do the background vocals, and he sang them.
Are you excited for new Aerosmith?