Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on March Madness Music Festival, Summer Tour & Looking Toward 50-Year Anniversary

Aerosmith will kick off two months of international touring in May, but first the iconic band will rock the NCAA March Madness Music Festival’s closing night on Sunday in Phoenix.

The three days of music coinciding with college basketball’s Final Four will also include Keith Urban, The Chainsmokers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and more, leading up to Aerosmith’s set. And guitarist Joe Perry says the band is mixing things up for the occasion.

Perry tells Billboard he and his bandmates — Steven Tyler, Brad Whitford, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer — have been retooling their set list with some old favorites ahead of the upcoming tour and this performance at the March Madness Music Festival will give fans a good taste of what to expect this summer.

“There are some songs that we’re always gonna play … but then there are some other ones that were last on our set list 10, 20 years ago. So that’s been the focus and this particular show is perfect for us to come out and run some of these songs down,” says Perry. “Some bands might go and do this at a club, but Aerosmith doesn’t do anything small, you know. So we’ll try it out here.”

Speaking with Billboard, Perry discussed Aerosmith’s March Madness Music Festival headlining performance, the tour ahead, possible plans to record new music and reflected on the the Bad Boys From Boston’s upcoming 50-year anniversary.

How does preparing for a show like the NCAA March Madness Music Festival differ from your typical Aerosmith show?

We’re going on the road in May in Europe, so this is a good chance for us to unveil some of the new stuff we’ve been working on. We’re changing the set around quite a bit. And doing a show that’s part of a big event like this, the real reason we’re here is to celebrate the sport and so it’s a lot of fun to be a part of that party. It’s bigger than just doing an Aerosmith show or playing a regular festival, those are certainly a lot of fun but there’s a different kind of energy around playing this kind of event where it’s the culmination of — in this case — this month and the whole season of basketball.

What are some of those songs you haven’t played live in a while that you are going to be re-introducing? Any that you’re particularly excited about?

I know for sure that we will be doing “Nine Lives,” “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees),” a couple other songs like that that we would play side-by-side with some of the “Crazy,” “Cryin'” kind of songs… We might dust off “Big Ten Inch Record,” I don’t think that’s been in the set list for a while.

How have you decided which songs to re-introduce to your set list?

We all have our favorites and we put them on the board and sometimes we’ll run them down, play them a couple times, see how it feels and sometimes it makes the cut. Usually what we do is we’ll have our basic set and then we’ll have a list of songs that we can plug in at the last minute, and that’s kind of like having another 10 songs that you can pull out of the box — that’s about 35 songs, including the so called hits, that we could play and are all ready to go.

Are you still able to play for new audiences, or is mostly there the feeling of familiarity and playing for fans who have seen you a number of times before?

It seems like every year there are more places to play. I remember when we finally played every state when we were first touring everywhere and we finally played… I think it was Montana or something — that was the only state we hadn’t played — I remember back in the ’70s that was kind of a benchmark. But now it seems like you hear about somebody finally playing in Cuba or finally playing in Beijing, I mean just the fact that we’re playing in Russia as a regular stop on a European tour is amazing to me. I grew up right in the heart of the Cold War and to walk around Red Square — that is amazing to me still. I’ve got to say, this guitar has led me to some pretty amazing places.

It’s been almost five years since Aerosmith released an album. Do you have any plans to record new music? 

We were supposed to actually do a tour of the States this fall and we decided that we would wait because our 50th anniversary is coming up in three years — so we’re just kind of re-establishing our calendar. It’s given us some space in there. Steve and I have talked a little bit about doing a record with the other guys and I don’t know… We’ve got the time to do it now, we’ll see how it goes. I mean it would be great to do another record. We’ll have to see how the year plans out.

You mentioned your 50th anniversary coming up. It’s been the five of you for that whole time. What does that mean to you, sticking together for that long and really becoming arguably the biggest American rock band ever?

That’s a long fucking time, man. I mean, it’s been a lot of work keeping it together and it’s easy to see how bands don’t last; it’s just life. Part of it you can control — if everybody has the same goals, you work towards it through the rough spots and all that. And then there’s the stuff that happens that you don’t have control over and we’ve just been really lucky…. There are just so many things that can go wrong to tear a band apart. We’ve seen it all. The band’s had its periods where it hasn’t been that great, but there’s something about that dream that we always had when we first got together and we’re still all here, we’re taking it day-by-day.

There’s something about a band that’s been together for a long time, you just can’t bottle it. There’s no way you can replace what all this experience gives you…. And I know when my band is playing, we just give it up for the audience. And that’s why it’s never boring playing our hits — when I start playing those songs and I see the reaction, it’s never boring. I’ve been really, really lucky to be able to go off and do side projects and that kind of thing, because that also helps to keep the band strong. It’s a long time, but when we’re onstage it feels timeless. It’s funny, I would think I would feel kind of worn out, tired and too jaded to do this, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that way about other things in life, but not the band.

By  for Billboard