By Chad Berndtson
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Aerosmith has been active, off and on, for more than 40 years, so it’s a little weird to think that such a bastion of classic rock just might be entering a brave new era of doing things its way.
But having survived another few rounds of inter-band drama over the past decade, the band remains intact. And since releasing 2011’s solid but tepidly received “Music from Another Dimension,” they’re now free of all obligations to Sony and are officially free agents as far as labels are concerned.
“We haven’t even had time to dwell on it,” said guitarist Joe Perry, speaking by phone from a recent Aerosmith tour stop in Milan, Italy. “Even the social media aspect of the Internet and how that helps spread music, even in the last few years all these things have changed. We were focused on getting the last record done after 10 years and finally getting off Sony, so I don’t think we’ve settled down enough to realize the impact.”
Perry recently told Rolling Stone he wasn’t sure if Aerosmith would ever cut another album. Considering what keeps artists on the road and what’s changed about how to make money in the music business – something Perry thinks about often given that two of his sons are musicians – he concedes it’s not a priority.
“Look at artists like Billy Joel, who looks things in the face and says, ‘Why should I bother cutting another record?’” he said. “Fans want to hear certain songs. Unless you get a slam-dunk single on the record … well, when you’ve been around as long as we have, we have a repertoire built up that would let us go out and tour maybe another 20 years. So we’re going to go in and do another studio album? Is it really worth the time?”
What it means in the short-term is that while Aerosmith is touring - with Guns ‘n’ Roses legend Slash and his band also on the bill – fans won’t have to worry about scrimping on Aerosmith classics.
“When we did the [most recent] record, I tweeted to people and I asked, ‘How many new songs would you like to hear when we go out?’ And what came back was that if playing new songs meant cutting out their favorite songs, they really didn’t want to hear new songs,” Perry said. “The old days, you sold your records and made money when people played them, liked them and bought them. Now, anyone who actually wants it will buy it or bootleg it, and has already done that, and that’s it. So we’ll play a few songs off the record, but you have to be realistic that it’s clearly not going to get the response we get playing ‘Walk This Way.’”
Aerosmith’s next steps are up in the air, but Perry’s own plans are in place. On Oct. 7 comes “Rocks: My Life In and Out of Aerosmith,” an autobiography that will present his side of four-plus decades in one of rock’s most infamous bands. It’ll be the latest in a string of Aerosmith memoirs, which began with 2009’s “Hit Hard: A Story of Hitting Rock Bottom at the Top” from drummer Joey Kramer, and includes 2011’s “Does The Noise In My Head Bother You” by singer/frontman Steven Tyler. Bassist Tom Hamilton is also said to be working on a book, and then there’s the matter of 1997’s “Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith” by famed rock biographer Stephen Davis.
Each of those books has its own slant, and Perry – who co-wrote the book with David Ritz – is finally ready to offer his version.
“Something just felt right this time,” he said, acknowledging that he’s been asked about writing a book consistently over the last 20 years. “[My wife] Billie told me it’s time to do the book, and I had the help of close friends. It was a team effort – getting it done and getting it done right. I wanted all the good stuff and all the bad stuff. You know that ‘Walk This Way’ book was very much ‘VH1 behind the scenes,” predictable with all the things about us that became such a cliche. I wanted to put some teeth in what I was writing, so I dug down, and I’ve told some stories that I really didn’t want to have to talk about again or thought I would have to talk about again. It might surprise people.”
What motivated Perry was a simple question, he said: “How did I get here?“
“This is my story. Some people will read it, I think, and say maybe there’s a little too much of this or that in there,” he said. “I do write about the ‘70s and how everything we did was beyond belief, and then the small miracle of getting the band back together [in the ‘80s]. There’s not as much that’s been written about us in the ‘90s and 2000s, though, and I wanted to look at that because I’m not sure that people realize what it takes to keep a band together, especially when we all started having families and different lives. A lot of times the press would interpret that as the band splitting up, but it was really about keeping the band together with the same level of energy while finding your own path.”
Perry has another solo album on the way – his sixth if you count five with The Joe Perry Project and his 2005 “Joe Perry.” But he won’t deny that when taking the stage with Tyler, Kramer, Hamilton and guitarist Brad Whitford, it doesn’t take long to find a familiar streak of magic.
“Every year goes by and we have a whole batch of new fans seeing us for the first time, believe it or not – it’s been so long since the majority of our fans were the same age we are,” said Perry, who is 63. “We lived through a golden age of rock ’n’ roll, and so much has changed, but for us we really do still get a kick of out of getting on stage and playing together. We’ve all got families and a lot of kids and everyone’s gone about things in a different way, but the power of the five of us still together is still there. It’s an amazing thing. It’s not something you can buy and it’s not something you can bottle.”
Perry said he’s excited to be sharing much of the band’s summer tour with fellow rock ’n’ roll survivor Slash, whose band has an album, “World On Fire,” due in September.
“We’ve seen each other off and on. It’s one of those things: we met him when [Guns ‘n’ Roses] were first coming up, and we’ve managed to stay friends,” Perry said. “It’s been great to see him put that band together – they’re big enough now where they can tour all over.”
Aerosmith still delivering sweet emotions
By Chad Berndtson