Interview: Joe Perry reflects on life in Aerosmith

Joe Perry

Even if you’re choosing not to factor in certain lifestyle decisions the members of Aerosmith made in their ’70s prime, the fact that all five musicians who played on the sessions for “Dream On” more than 40 years ago are still touring together is kind of miraculous.

And guitarist Joe Perry, for one, sounds incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play the hits that made him famous one more time with those guys. He even had nice things to say about the prospect of a Steven Tyler solo album when he checked in just before the tour launch to reflect on all things Aerosmith, from embracing the sound of their misspent youth on “Music from Another Dimension!” to a most unlikely pick for the ultimate Aerosmith album.

Question: How does it feel to get back out there on the road with Aerosmith?

Answer: I’m really looking forward to it. I haven’t played live for a while. And I think it’s gonna be a good tour. I wish it was gonna be longer, but we only have so much time. There’s some other things that people have planned and booked a long time before this tour started, so we’ve got just so many dates and I’m glad Phoenix is one of them.

Q: Has there been any talk of new material?

A: Back, say, 10 or 20 years ago, it seemed we had a lot more time to fool with. And at this point, we want to take advantage of every minute we have where the band can still get together and play. But then there’s also other things we want to do. We all have lives outside the band. So we want to balance that off. It always amazes me that the band is still together and it’s still the five of us. So we’re always talking about what we’re going to do with this two or three months or that bunch of time.

I know Steven is finally getting to work on his solo project he’s been talking about doing forever. So I’m really glad he’s got that going on. And there’s a couple projects I’ve been toying with that look like they’re gonna happen. But somewhere in there, I’d love to get in the studio with the guys and just blow to see if we can come up with some new stuff. I do know that we’ll be touring at the beginning of next year and then taking some more time off, at least from touring, so that opens up some space for another stint in the studio. It’s always on our minds. But like I said, everybody’s probably got a short list of things they want to do.

Q: I saw Steven perform at the Rolling Stone party on Super Bowl weekend and his voice sounded great.

A: Well, you know, it’s one of those things. You can take care of yourself and still wake up and have a sore throat. And on the other hand, you can party all night and the next day be in great shape. It’s a little bit out of your control, you know? And a lot of times, you think you’ve got it covered by doing certain things and laying off whatever, but hey, we’re all human and flesh and blood and you just never know. Fortunately, he’s got one of those voices that it’s on the money more often than not. So we’re blessed with that.

Q: How are things between the two of you these days?

A: Well, you know, it’s as good as can be. When we first started playing together, we both had the same vision and obviously, we had different views on how it was gonna happen, but somehow there was something there. And it still feels the same way. Of course, we know each other so much better. We’re like family. A lot of stuff has been blown out of proportion and we always get a laugh out of that. But it doesn’t get in the way of what we’re doing and what the band is doing.

And I’m really glad for him because, you know, he’s really wanted to do his solo thing for a long time. I’ve been fortunate enough to get five solo albums out and this is his first go at it. So I’m anxious to hear what he’s got.

Q: You sound very supportive. That’s cool.

A: Well, you know, it’s the only way the band’s gotten this far. We’ve had our ups and downs and we’re in an up phase right now.

Q: What did you think of the way the last Aerosmith album, “Music From Another Dimension!,” turned out?

A: I think I figured out, kind of, what the fans have been asking for all these years. “Why don’t you do another album like ‘Toys in the Attic’ or the second album or the first album or whatever?” There are certain things about those songs that you can try and recreate but the reason those songs are so powerful is because they’ve been around so many years. And it’s impossible to recreate that. You can write a great song but it’s gotta be around for 30 years. So we’ll just have to wait and see whether that one stands the test of time.

I think there were a couple songs in there that if you heard them live, you’d get off on them. It’s just that we didn’t get a chance to tour the record with the kind of emphasis that we did 30 years ago. And the whole industry has changed. The music has changed. It’s a whole different jungle out there. And I think that if some of those songs had come out at a different time, they might have gotten a little more notice. But the main thing is that they’re on there and if people like them and they ever put the record on, they’re there forever.

On the other hand, I think if we had put out the 10 best songs on that record, it might have done better. But I think the band needed to get in the studio and really do a record like we used to. And that was everybody threw in songs. So from that point of view, it was just like doing one of the old records. But if we had done that record and then gone out and played those songs for a year, it might have had more of an impact.

Q: It does what it set out to do, which is recapture the spirit of that early stuff.

A: Well, that’s good. But you know, it’s a whole different era. There’s some stuff that sounds just like some of the songs off the first couple records. And if we had had a chance to really tour behind it and play the songs for people like we used to, they would have had more of an impact. But times change. And we can’t play as much as we used to. So it’s different. The bottom line is we’re still out there doing it. And we’re fortunate enough to be able to get out there and play some of the places we don’t get to play much anymore.

Over the years, we’ve had to cut down on the amount of gigs we can do on a tour and we’re having to pass up certain places depending on the routing. So I’m really glad we’re gonna get back to Phoenix again. It’s always been a great town for us. And my mother used to live in Sedona, so when we’d go through Phoenix, I would spend as much time there as I could.

Q: Are you doing much from that last album on this tour?

A: I’m not sure yet. I know everyone is handing around setlists and e-mailing each other and getting an idea of what we want to throw in there. And then, when we get to rehearsal, we’ll see if they come off with the power they should and carry the day, you know? They’re up against the backbone songs, the ones that we’ve just gotta play. So it’s tough.

When you’re playing songs like “Dream On” or “Back in the Saddle” or “Sweet Emotion,” as good as the newer songs might be — in 30 years, they might just have that same weight — but as far that show for that night, I think people are gonna want to hear the stuff they love the most. And if we put songs on there from the new record, it means we have to take songs off the set list that people would rather hear. It’s kind of a conundrum. And we spend a lot of time trying to work that out because we only have so many songs to play during the set and we want to give the fans the most we can.

Q: How does it feel for you to play “Dream On” or “Sweet Emotion” at this point?

A: Well, it’s just amazing because I have to think I can’t believe that we’re still out there doing it. And these songs that we put together 35 or 40 years ago can still carry the kind of weight that they do. It’s an amazing feeling to play some of those riffs and get that kind of reaction from the audience. I never get bored playing them. And I want to make them be the best they can be for the fans who are sitting there and have supported us all these years. Goddamn, you know? I can never see us doing a show without putting those songs in there.

Q: It would be kind of crazy.

A: Well, you know, for us, we play them every gig, but it’s the only time we’re gonna play that song in Phoenix for 10 years or who knows when we’ll get to come back. So we’ve got to give it everything we’ve got.

Q: Do you have a favorite Aerosmith album? Or, if someone didn’t know much Aerosmith and you were gonna turn them on to what you do, which album would you give them?

A: Well, I have to say that the first greatest-hits record gives a good cross-section of what Aerosmith is all about. But I don’t know if that would really count because you’re kind of cherry-picking what the fans have picked in the five years since the band put that first record out. For myself, a record I would pick up to listen to, I would have to say “Night in the Ruts.” We went through some tough times before that record. And we were just getting ready to dive into a tougher time. But it made us cut loose, man.

The band was playing great. And when Steven finished the lyrics, they fit perfect. The thing is that we never really toured behind that record. I left the band before it was finished. So I think it was one of those records that got overlooked. If it had come out at a different time, it might have been one of the top four records that we ever did. But it was kind of like a lame-duck record. I left. Then Brad left. And we never really played the songs on the road. So they never really got their day in the sun. But when I listen back to it, I go “Goddamn, the band was playing great.”

Q: That is a very odd choice but I love that album. It’s cool that you would say that.

A: Well, the thing is, it’s not like we listen to it pick songs off of it to play live. So the only time I’m gonna hear it is if I throw it on my CD player or my turntable or iPod. So it is an oddball choice but it’s got some great playing on it and I know the band was really into it. I think it’s a really good record.

By Ed Masley for The Arizona Republic