Aerosmith headed to Japan in November 2011 with more than a little trepidation. A devastating earthquake and tsunami in March of that year led to a nuclear disaster that caused many bands to cancel planned Japanese tours.
"We were uneasy about the radiation," says Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. "We definitely went over with Geiger counters and kind of watched the levels. It was pretty scary. You just don't think about it here in America and it isn't on CNN much, but they're living with it every day."
Japan has been a huge market for Aerosmith, going all the way back to the mid-Seventies, but the band wondered if they were ready for a rock tour so soon after the tragedy. "We weren't sure if they were ready to come out and celebrate," says Steven Tyler. "After we got there, we found out that they were still in shock, but they needed a little shot in the arm of rock & roll."
The band's longtime videographer, Casey Patrick Tebo, filmed all the shows, as well as the band's offstage interactions with fans as they traveled through the country. "He said to us, 'Hey guys, I think we've got something here,'" says Perry. "He started putting it together and we realized it would make a great documentary. We originally wanted to do it for the Japanese fans, but it turned into something bigger than that."
The finished product, Rock for the Rising Sun, hit shelves on June 25th. The show mixes big hits like "Love in an Elevator," "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way" with deeper album cuts like "Boogie Man" and "No More No More."
Though there is little evidence of band discord on the DVD, the Japanese tour came less than two years after one of the most tumultuous periods in Aerosmith's extremely rocky history. In the summer of 2009, Tyler fell off the stage while performing in Sturgis, South Dakota. He suffered severe injuries (including a broken shoulder) and the band was forced to cancel the remainder of their tour.
Tyler claims that nobody in the band visited or called him in the hospital. He was further enraged when they went public with their desire to hire a new singer, also noting that they believed he was back on drugs. "I didn't fall off that stage because I was high," Tyler says today. "As my beautiful girlfriend Erin Brady said at the time, 'You were much higher three years ago.' The weather was bad. It was a bad night. . . . Also, I wasn't the only guy in the band using at that time."
The singer ultimately headed to rehab, but before he left, the band's management suggested he somehow find a way to finish the tour, possibly in a motorized wheelchair. "Another time they suggested I sit on a stool," he says. "I had some terrible surgery on my feet and I just couldn't stand. Joe suggested I sit on a stool too. I said to him, 'You go learn the fucking ukulele. You sit down next to me.' It's a strange dealio between this band and me . . . Look, I got calls from the singers they were calling. They'd go, 'What the fuck's going on, man? I can't sing your shit. Why are they asking me to do that?'"
All the turmoil caused Tyler to part ways with Aerosmith's management and hire his own team. "The band still has the same managers they had when they said they were looking for another singer," says Tyler. "Imagine what it's like for me to sit in a room with them and go, 'Really, right now? Really, the fuck right now?' But look – life is about looking the other way sometimes. When all this shit was going on, I told the guys, 'Look, I'm strong. I'm fuckin' on fire. We're gonna do another record. We're gonna do a tour.'"
Joe Perry insists all the drama was blown out of proportion. "A lot of that was blown up by the media," he says. "I think a lot of things got taken out of context, and that's pretty much the big picture. The internal workings of the band aren't that different than they've ever been, but because of the circumstances and Steven's visibility and all that stuff with American Idol, it just got blown out of proportion."
Aerosmith returned to the road in the summer of 2010, but toward the end of the tour the band learned from the media that Tyler had taken a job as a judge on American Idol. He didn't sit any of them down to tell them the news. Perry initially blasted Tyler to the press, famously saying that American Idol is "one step above Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles . . . I don't want Aerosmith's name involved with it. We have nothing to do with it."
Rumors again began to swirl that Aerosmith were once again seeking a new singer, but Tyler convinced the band that he'd be able to balance his television duties with the recording of a new Aerosmith record. Perry also softened his criticism of Idol, and even appeared on the show a couple of times. Recording on Music From Another Dimension! began in 2011 and carried on for the next year.
"I was filming Idol when we recorded the thing, so I had to move into a hotel," says Tyler. "We worked eight hours at night. I had to write the lyrics, the melody . . . I had to fuckin' carve these things into songs. I had a blast working with Joe again, but it was really tough for me and my girlfriend. I just wasn't seeing her much." (Tyler and Brady broke up earlier this year.)
Music from Another Dimension! was the band's first album of original material in 11 years, but it received mixed reviews from critics and quickly fell off the charts. They supported it with a world tour, but most shows featured just one or two new songs. "That's simply because the band hasn't stopped anywhere to rehearse," says Tyler. "Everybody lives somewhere else. We're gonna add a few more songs. Joe wants to do 'Freedom Fighters' and I want to do 'Out Go the Lights.' We'll see what happens."
The group has a dozen dates on the books through the rest of the year, including another trip to Japan and then a handful of stops in Central America. "Everybody is sober again," says Tyler. "We're in a great fucking place."
No dates are booked for 2014, and for now Perry and Tyler plan to devote time to separate projects. "The band has been working really hard for the past two and a half years," says Perry. "We need some time off."
Perry is working on a memoir with writer David Ritz. He plans on releasing it in the fall of 2014. "I had to work with a ghostwriter," says Perry. "I could have written it myself, but it would have read like a journal. I'm just not a writer. David is one of the best people to shape my words into a book. There aren't too many people like him. I'm going to spend a lot of time next year promoting the book."
Unsurprisingly, there are some periods of his life that Perry can't recall very clearly. "There are two- or three-month blocks where I have to get somebody to kind of ring the chime," the guitarist says. "Somebody that I know that was there with me at the time can remind me. But the real problem is when a lot of stuff happens in a short amount of time. Getting the chronology right is a bitch. But my wife has been by my side for the last 30 years, pretty much the whole time. She can jog my memory. I've also been in touch with other people, and I have to dig through the old Circus magazines. Once you get a timeline together, it really helps you jog your memory."
Meanwhile, Tyler is slowly amassing material for his first solo album. He hasn't started to formally record yet, but he's been writing with his longtime collaborator Marti Frederiksen. He hopes the album will come out in October or November of 2014. "It might be hard to decide when I write a song whether or not it should go on an Aerosmith album," he says. "What is a Steven Tyler solo album? Is it a bunch of songs like 'Dream On?' That's already on an Aerosmith album. It'll just be a different people playing it. I don't know. I just want to have some fun."
After working solely with Aerosmith for the past four decades, Tyler is looking forward to the freedom of recording with other musicians. "I've got pieces of me that are a little bit more than Aerosmith," he says. "This gives me the freedom to write a song on trashcan lids or with the Boston Pops or an oboe and a harpsichord . . . Working on my own is a weird thought. It's kind of like being married and your wife says you can go hang out with your girlfriend."
No matter what happens with his solo album, Tyler insists he's firmly committed to Aerosmith. "The band is still here, and I love it," he says. "It's interesting that Joe has done five or six solo albums and there's never been an interviewer that's asked him if that means he's leaving Aerosmith. The band is still together, and this is just a solo project."
Work on the album will likely slow down while Tyler undergoes knee surgery later this year. "My knee is giving out," he says. "I had ACL reconstructions, and in November I'm getting knee replacement surgery. It'll take me about three or four months to recover . . . I've had so many operations on my knees and feet that just to be standing is a miracle. But to turn around and do one of my spins where I don't fall, that's the shit! But hey, all these years have taken their toll on me."
Even as they enter their mid-60s, nobody in the band is even contemplating retirement. "As long as I can sing, I'm up there," says Tyler. "I know Joe wants to keep going. Remember, when one guy goes, it's not the original band. But as long as Joe and I wanna keep going . . . Look, we just love to play. Without a doubt, when they colonize the moon, we'll be up there as a lounge act."
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This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone: Aerosmith Drop Live DVD, Plot Solo Projects for 2014