Q&A: Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on touring, Run-D.M.C. and Steven Tyler’s country album

Steven Tyler calls Joe Perry “one of the last great touring guitar legends.” Tyler should know: he’s watched Perry melt faces since 1970, when Aerosmith formed in Boston.

But the lead guitarist is also a thoughtful rock ‘n’ roll observer, and last fall, he released “Rocks: My Life in and Out of Aerosmith,” a memoir that covered his personal life and tumultuous career. Aerosmith’s had more lives than most cats, from their ’70s hard-rock days to an ’80s comeback that helped a hip-hop classic up the charts and on to an Oscar nomination for 1998 power ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” The band, hearing the clock ticking, are still road warriors in 2015: they’ll arrive at Ridgefield, Washington’s Amphitheater Northwest on July 28 as part of a brief summer tour.

I spoke with Perry in May, right after SPIN Magazine listed 1989’s “Pump” among its best albums of the last 30 years. We talked about the band’s persistence, its hip-hop legacy and singer Steven Tyler’s upcoming country debut. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Spin Magazine just did a list of the top 300 albums of the last 30 years and “Pump” was in there at No. 279. What do you think of that?

JP: There’s an awful lot of albums to come out in 30 years. I’m surprised – those kind of top whatever lists, I always find fascinating. To me, I would probably put it in the top three, but there are obviously 278 other records, there’s competition there. The fact it’s even on the list is good. I haven’t even seen the list, I didn’t know it was out.

It just came out this week. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was No. 1. 

JP: Really? That was a great record, it was ground-breaking as far as changing what the latest thing was. One thing that I’ve learned… there was that one point when our fans were the same age that we were. I called it the Blue Army. Then when that shifted, it seemed to be every three years, there’d be another shift — punk and then disco and then it was like, holy (expletive), we’re getting left behind. That’s when I learned that either you either stick to your guns, play what you want to play and you’re going to have to ups and downs if you’re gonna keep doing this. Don’t worry about it.

I think that Nirvana record was definitely the best, or at least the top three of that Seattle era of alternative music. Would I put “Are you Experienced” No 1, probably. But I’m from a different era than the Spin fans. Or I would put “Magical Mystery Tour” or “Sgt. Pepper.” Everybody has a record that changed their lives. Frankly, I’m surprised we’re on the list at all. For us, it was definitely a high point in our career, “Pump.”

You released your memoir last year. Did writing that give you a new perspective on some of those events or the albums you’ve made?

JP: Without a doubt. I’ve always felt that an album is kind of a reflection of what the band is going through. Every band, they have their different reasons for being together. You have to look at those kind of things when you look at the reasons albums get done and what’s going on behind it. Doing a book like that was definitely an adventure in figuring that out. You got a couple of months when you’re really close, working really tight with the other guys in your band and it reflects some of the stuff that’s going on, the time before you actually go in the studio — whether you’re ready to kill each other or you just had an incredible tour.

How is the state of band now?

JP: I think it’s as good as can be expected. I think everybody loves being in this band and playing live but also we all have families, we all have stuff that we love to do outside. It’s not like we have this feeling, “Well, we have plenty of time to kill.” At this point in our career, we’re looking at the amount of time we really have to get out there and do what we do. I have to say, the last gigs we did on the last tour, the band played better than I can remember. It’s like all the stuff we’ve learned over the years was all there on the table in front of us. That’s why we did that DVD that’s coming out of the Donington show. It felt like we were at our peak. I know that we’re feeling that going into this next tour.

One other thing I’ve learned is at the end of any tour, everything works so well. It’s like a big machine, you’ve got the setlist down, you got the show down and everything’s working and it’s easy, physically. Everybody’s in the best shape and all that stuff, and you think that’s what it’s going to be when you hit the stage for the next tour. Then you realize it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this is a lot harder than I remember.’ This year we’re going to do a little more rehearsal than usual, so we’ll hit the stage running in the best shape we can be. And we’re just looking forward to it, we’re only doing something like 16 shows this summer, so we want to make every one count.

Steven Tyler is working on a country solo album. Have you gotten to hear any of that stuff?

JP: Actually, I haven’t. He was going to play it on “American Idol” and I missed that night. But yeah, I’m definitely anxious to hear it.

You’ve done your share of solo albums. When one of you goes off and works on something else, does any of that come with you back to Aerosmith?

JP: Oh, yeah, I think it’s important for the band to go off and do different things, otherwise you can get really stale. You go out there and play the same stuff and you really don’t bring much back to the party. I hope Steven has success with this one, I know he’s been wanting to do it for a really long time, but I think this is the first time he’s really been able to focus.

You seem pretty involved on Twitter and connecting with fans there, is that something you enjoy?

JP: Yeah, I think it’s important. Some days you just don’t feel like it but other days it’s a lot of fun to hear what the fans have to say. It’s definitely a way to stay in touch, well, just in a way that you just could never do before. The only other way in the old days would be to walk around the mall, you know what I mean? That was always a roll of the dice.

It’s really made it a small world. Things can happen and get online and you know that anybody from Iceland to Santa Barbara can be on there and say whatever they want. It’s a really fascinating thing, especially coming up from an era that I came up in.

Doing “Walk This Way” with Run-D.M.C. was a big moment in hip-hop in 1986. Now artists such as Kanye West and Jay Z are headlining rock festivals — what do you think of the progress hip-hop’s made?

JP: If you want to hear the musicologist’s point of view, it’s kind of an evolution from the blues. I see such a direct lineage from the blues to hip-hop, to rap, and then it kind of blending together with what we did. Back then, the guys in Run-D.M.C. did not want to hear electric guitars on their music. They were doing something new. They had stripped down the music to its basic element, of this beat that you can dance to. You didn’t need anything else but a microphone and like what’s his name said, two turntables and a microphone (editor’s note: Beck, in “Where It’s At”) and you’re good to go. The guys would rap about what was going on in their lives, which is pretty much what blues is all about.

Adding music to it, in our case, electric guitars, I think it was inevitable. It was a good thing that Rick Rubin thought of it and the guys at Run-D.M.C. said “All right, let’s go with it,” and we were there to actually put the guitars on there. It actually was a good lesson in Aerosmith’s roots as far as R&B and funk, because if we didn’t have that kind of background, I don’t think that I would’ve written that riff to start with. The whole thing just came together.

The fans vote by going to the shows and buying the music and obviously they (liked) what was going on and they have the final say. So I’m just glad to have been part of it. It just seems like a natural thing, that it would be in the arenas now and in the stadiums and all over radio, because it’s exciting music and people love it. More power to it.

By David Greenwald for Oregon Live