Aerosmith: By Making Up, We Entered New ‘Dimension!’–And ‘Stopped Being Kids in High School’

Chris Willman
Maximum Performance (NEW)

When will it come time to retire Aerosmith and put the band up in the attic along with those fabled toys?

No time very soon, if you listen to the band members, who expect to be a touring concern for some time to come. But continuing as a recording outfit? It took them 11 years since their last album of original material to come up with Music From Another Dimension!, which arrives in stores this week. So no one's suggesting there will be a quick follow-up. Or any follow-up, necessarily.

"It could be our last record we ever make," allows Tom Hamilton. "I mean, it's very possible. And it's been a long time since everybody really wanted to be up there. So I think everybody really wanted to make a statement… We sweated everything. We really mean it with every song. When we made Rocks, we had the whole rest of our lives if it didn't come out great. Now, that's not a huge chunk of time, I don't think. There was that built into it, like: Man, this might be your last chance, so f---ing get in there."

Agrees Joe Perry: "There were people very close to us thinking we would never make another record," the guitarist tells Yahoo! Music. "We knew there was another record in there; we just didn't know when. And I think we all went into this like Tom said—I mean, I make no bones about it. I don't know if we're gonna make another record. So everybody had a piece of something that they wanted to put on there."

"I don't know, we might have thought of it as the last record," says Steven Tyler. "You don't know." This could be the last time, this could be the last time, may be the last time… God only knows.

The one thing everyone knows is that Dimension is the last album under Aerosmith's eons-long Sony deal. But Perry couldn't be more adamant that this is no contractual obligation fulfillment toss-off record.

"It was really important that we all had a feeling that this record has turned into not just the next Aerosmith record," he says. "It's turned into a statement. It's kind of a cornerstone for us. How many bands are there out there with the same guys?" he wonders aloud, presumably referring to contemporaries who started out in the early '70s.

Er… ZZ Top, and… well…

"And they only have to worry about three guys! That's why they're still together," says Hamilton, suggesting that with greater group arithmetic comes much greater trouble.

With five, you get eggroll, or egg on the face when an attempt to get the entire quintet creatively invested in recording sessions blows up. There has been a lot of togetherness in the last 10 years, on the road, but also a lot of setbacks, when it comes to aborted album projects. So one of the ways Dimension! got done was by actively involving the members whose last names aren't Tyler or Perry as songwriters, and even singers (which is more apparent if you buy the deluxe edition).

Tyler explains that in the years between the '70s and now, "Joe and I would go on writing sabbaticals and write with Desmond (Child, the hit tunesmith) and whoever. And then we'd always come back with a couple of 500-pound tunes that were possible hit singles… and [the other members'] songs never got heard. It's just the truth. It breaks up a lot of bands."

This time, adds Tyler, "We'd sit in a room and play together, and before you knew it, Brad (Whitford) was heard. His song was done. Joe's four songs were done, and Tom had three songs that were done. Joey (Kramer)'s song was done. Suddenly we were a band again. And I know it sounds weird, but if you're married, you know when your wife says 'You don't listen to me…' It's stupid, but nothing works until you give it to her, because she wants it. She's hurt. 'Why don't you back me? You never support me. When my mom's here, you don't…' So guys get affected by that, being in a band. George Harrison and Ringo, they had the same f---ing problems."

The result is definitely a smorgasbord of Aerosmith through the years, and doesn't draw the line at only allowing Draw the Line-type sounds, though it generally errs on the side of getting Rocks off more than emphasizing Diane Warren-aided balladry.

"I think this record's probably more diverse than any of the ones before," says Perry. "Where does it fall? How do we like it? Well, in order to like something, you've got to have something you don't like. So it's a lot easier for me to pick the records I don't like and then work my way up. So, I really didn't like Done With Mirrors. I really, really didn't like Just Push Play—I still don't. And there are other records that I think that we did that are really good for their time, but I don't get a charge putting them on. But there are a couple that I do like to listen to once in a while, and this is one of them."

Working with producer Jack Douglas, the co-architect of their seminal '70s albums, helped ensure that the train kept a-rolling like a vintage one. "We never sat down and said 'Hey, we have to make a record that sounds like Toys in the Attic," says Hamilton. "We wanted to do something that was true to our distant history without trying to concoct anything." Still, drummer Joey Kramer adds, "Having Jack there was like an old shoe."

Tyler: "Remember, it came from me falling off stage with ZZ and all that s--- and going into rehab and coming back out, and it was the last record with Sony. And I called up Rick Rubin, but it didn't feel like he really wanted to do a record with Aerosmith. And some of us got to talking that some of us had the same old problems as before, and if it's the last record, why not get Jack to do it?"

But that was after some likely-never-to-be-heard sessions with other producers over the years. They worked with Jack Douglas on their last album, 2004's Honkin' With Bobo, a collection of (mostly) blues covers, so it's not surprising that they did it again this time. Not surprising, that is, unless you'd read about the other trips to the studio they undertook in-between.

"We attempted a couple of times to start this album unsuccessfully," acknowledges Brad Whitford. "The chemistry wasn't right. We sat down with Brendan O'Brien. It was a very short-lived project and we weren't ready. We had no idea what his style was, but he had one and it really didn't fit. Brendan would say 'What have you got?' And I'd say 'Oh, I've got this lick,' and then Brendan would say 'Oh cool, what's the title of that?' 'I don't know.' 'Well, what's the chorus like?' 'I don't know.' And that would just unknowingly kind of kill it by asking these questions. Whereas with Jack Douglas, who really is like a member of the band, I'd go 'Hey Jack, check this out.' 'Oh, it's cool. That I think goes with that other thing you've got.' Whereas Brendan would kill the idea just by saying 'What's the chorus?' Not to put Brendan down or anything; he's a great producer. But he came in kind of cold, and I don't know when the last time was that he saw us play, or even if he ever saw us play."

Perry doesn't just make the case for this album being better than Just Push Play. He's willing to go so far as to say that "this is an important record. It's like a f---in' big giant piece of f---in' granite stuck in the ground of rock & roll… It does have earmarks of what a typical Aerosmith record is—though every Aerosmith record is unique. If you really want to get down to it, there's a precedent for everything we did on this record, whether it was a Diane Warren song, a f---in' jam song like 'Something' with me singing it, to a song Tom sang, to a song that Joey wrote. We've done that...

"Back in 1976, we were looking back at Led Zeppelin and the Stones and the Yardbirds and the Who and what they did. Only now, we've got a whole stack of s--- [of our own], so we don't have to go that far back. We've got our own precedents we can live up to. So it doesn't matter anymore. For the Diane Warren song, f---ing do it. If you want to put a ballad with Carrie Underwood singing on it—is that her name?—f---ing do it. Who cares? You know what I mean? Whatever feels good for us, let's go for it."

Funny that Perry should mention the Stones, because "Oh Yeah" on the new album is easily the Stones-iest song they've ever come up with —and that's saying a lot, considering that Aerosmith was dismissed by some wags in their very early days as an American Stones rip-off band. The tune is "a little Stonesy," Tyler concedes with a smile. "Just a tip of the hat." He says Kramer is playing drums on the track like Charlie Watts, which makes all the difference. "Charlie doesn't know how to play any other way. So Joey copped a little bit of that, and, hey. Just like 'Freedom Fighter'—that's a tip of the hat to AC/DC, a little bit."

Tyler is not just talking out of his behind when it comes to drumming. As Perry points out, when the band was first coming together, the singer was slated to become their drummer. Tyler is Aerosmith's drummer on the track "Something," which has Perry singing lead on his own solo composition. "When I first met Steven, at our first jam," recalls the guitarist, "he played drums, because that's his main instrument. I'd never heard anybody play drums like that—he was a great drummer. So it's funny that that particular two and a half minutes of music has got Steven playing drums and me playing guitar and it's basically just saying f--- it. Because when you listen to the guitar parts, they're all over the place; the drums are all over the place. It's just kind of a throwdown. There's a thing there that's kind of symbolic. Talk about from another dimension: I can sit and picture that jam way back at the barn back at Sonneby back in 1969, probably, playing with him sitting up there playing the drums. And then just a few months ago the same circumstance happened, him playing and flailing—and there it is."

As you might guess from Perry's comment about Underwood, the duet with her was not his idea, though he professes to have warmed up to it.

Recalls Tyler, "I sang it a little country, and one of the guys in the band said 'You know what, you need to re-sing it, because you're singing it too country,' and I said, 'Well, that's how I wrote it.' Marti Frederiksen, who wrote it with me, and were just talking about, if it gets on the radio, if it sounds like a country song, why not get one of them-thar people to sing on it? So I called Carrie up, because she's a friend of mine. She was in L.A. and was leaving the next morning, and I said 'Get over here quick!' And so Joe was… I'm not sure if Joe was there; I called him up. But the rest was history. She sang on it and it's just perfect. And because she did, will it be a hit? Positively. You f---ing think? She's so big! And it's not a bad song. That's pretty cool, right?"

"There was a little bit of resistance" within the band, acknowledges Whitford. "It didn't come from me. But I mean, I heard (the objection) like, 'This is an Aerosmith album, it should be all Aerosmith.' And it's like, wait a minute, do you have a problem when you listen to Bob Dylan's record and (some) guy's sitting in on guitar? No. It's cool, right?... If you're in a position where you call up Carrie and she says 'I'd love to come over,' then f---in' A! Those two voices together are absolutely mind-bending when they sing that thing. It's like God was looking down and smiling."

How do the famously sometimes-contentious Tyler and Perry deal with disputes after all these years? After all the talk about replacing the singer a few years ago, when he seemed in danger of becoming a permanent American Idol panelist, do they get back together and hug it out in a reconciliatory reunion meeting… or just immediately get back to work without all the gab?

Says Perry, "Well, for me, I deal with it right away. If Steven does or says something, I pick up the phone and talk to him right away to clear the air. He's pretty much the same way. It depends on the level of intensity, and the intensity has dropped a lot over the years, because we learned a long time ago not to make it as personal as it could be. And that's probably why we're still together—because we do have our disagreements, which I think is one of the reasons why the band is dynamic. Because it wouldn't be as good as it could be if we all thought the same way. It'd be kind of bland."

Blandness is certainly never a risk when Tyler is around. We asked him for his account of the last few years of Aerosmith and American Idol turmoil, and we got an earful.

Was the breakup of last year's Idol judging lineup anything like the coming apart of a rock group?

"Because it's television, it's different," Tyler tells us. "You could equate it maybe to a band, but a band has to get into a fight and argue to break up. Television, it's just the next moment. The producers are watching that and instead of going 'This is great,' they're thinking about how to make it greater the next year. It's Nielsen. I don't even know if they watch it; they just look at the numbers and go 'We need to change something.' So it came around the month that I used to get phone calls (about renewing a contract), and I went, 'Wait a minute.' I called Randy (Jackson) and I said, 'What's going on? Am I getting thrown off?' He goes, 'They haven't called me, either.' And then I called Jennifer, and she goes, 'I don't know what I'm doing.' So there was a month of 'Huh?' So finally one day I went, 'It just don't feel right. I'm quittin' now.' Then the next morning Jennifer quit, so what does that tell you? It just didn't feel right.

"And there wasn't enough money to pay me to sit around and not go out with Aerosmith… The first year was small [money-wise]. It was good money, but trust me, when I went back to them [the following year] and said 'Here's what I'm getting,' I put it in a piece of paper and handed it to 'em. I said, 'What would you rather do? Do a show called American Idol that's been out for 10 years, or go with a band that's been together (shouting) FOR FORTY YEARS? What do you think I'm going to do?' I said, 'I'm going with those guys. Unleeeessssss, you give me this!' That was a very funny moment. And they gave me what I wanted. I'm not a look-at-the-money guy—unless I get numbers like that.

"But it was more sitting next to J.Lo," he swears, "and, really, the stuff we spoke about between commercial breaks you guys will never know. It made me blush. She was very something else, that woman. And Randy, too—we would bust her chops all the time, about being a girl, let's just say, and how she wore herself. She'd make me blush—and then it was three, two, one [applause]. She put me in my place and I loved it."

Has Tyler paid attention to the much-hyped beefs between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, in his and J.Lo's wake?

"Not really, I haven't. I can't speak. It may turn out to be something where one girl goes 'You know what? F--- you.' That may be the paradigm this year, that both of those girls are fuming... And they'll bleep it a lot. Maybe that's where it's going. They loved me last year when I went, 'Hellfire, save matches, f--- a duck, and…' I mean, when I cussed, the whole place went whoooaaaa, and I went, 'What? Are you f---ing kidding?' I even said something about 'f---' once and I said, 'You know what? Even though they just bleeped me, everyone at home said the word they just bleeped. And they couldn't bleep that!' And I was right."

As for how Aerosmith came back together, Tyler says, "When I look back, it was magic. Because I did have that accident on stage, and those guys were angry because it was a great tour. I was angry. It was a great tour and I f---ed it up by falling off the stage. Come on. I know what I did. And they were angry at me, and so I didn't get back to them, so they decided to look for other lead singers, which pissed me off even more, which made me go look at Idol, because I wasn't sure what I was gonna do.

"It was really perfect the way it went. It was not nice at the moment. I was totally incensed and hurt that a lot of those guys didn't call me back, but then, I had done something to them. It's the boys' club here. We can be rough with each other. And when you're high, you tend to take it personally. You know, half the things that they did… When I look back and I think, 'So let me see. They didn't come to the hospital when I got MEDIVAC-ED because I had a broken neck'… Today, I would have been [on the phone, saying] 'Uh, Brad, yeah, um, why don't you call your lead singer and he's in the hospital and he's on his back right now and they just put 40 stitches in the back of his head, so maybe you want to call him. His name is Steven. Bye!' I would have done stupid s--- like that and it would have been over. But when you're high on the drugs I was on at the time—which was Lunesta and stupid stuff just to be able to go on tour, because I had some feet operations, and I couldn't walk, and I was totally blown out of the water by the fact that I might not be able to be in Aerosmith again... It would be like if you suddenly couldn't use your you-know-what again. 'Honey, we can't do that!' That's how it was, literally. So I went on the drugs that I thought I could. They put me on these drugs. And I'm a drug addict/alcoholic. I can't be on any."

So is the answer to just say no, even to paid meds, and especially when you're trying to solve potentially fatal dysfunctional band dynamics? That would seem to be Tyler's message. But then he adds: "One of the real unknown secrets to this new album's success is that we're all like that now: f---ed up and on drugs." We're about 95 percent certain he's kidding there, but with Aerosmith, you never quite know for sure.

Perry has his own less tongue-in-cheek explanation for the band's happy (for now) reunion.

"One of the reasons we were able to get back together again was because we said 'What the f--- are we arguing about? What's the point here?' It was all about 'You motherf---er, how could you want to play it that fast' and 'You played it too fast, you made a mistake,' and then you'd be arguing about it for the next 24 hours. And it's like, wait a second. There's too much life out there to spend time being kids in high school. So that's where we grew up, when we came back together. That's a real basic thing we've learned.

"Even up to yesterday," Perry adds, candidly. "We had a meeting and it got heated. And certain dynamics work a certain way, and it went through what it had to go through. And then we all went down and looked at Steven's new motorcycle. It was kind of like, 'Okay, we're done with that, we did our business, and now, what are you doing tonight?'" It may not quite qualify as maturity from another dimension, but still, as Perry says: "That's major."