Interviewing Aerosmith: Classic band says new concert movie catches its best as it looks to the future

Interviewing Aerosmith: Classic band says new concert movie catches its best as it looks to the future

When classic rock band Aerosmith took the stage at England’s Donington Festival last June, the group’s members knew it was a special night.

The band burned through 19 tunes, including classic songs such as “Walk This Way,” “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion,” and other hits “Love In An Elevator,” “Janie’s Got A Gun,” “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” and “Dude Looks Like A Lady.”

Luckily, the band had hired English film director Dick Carruthers to film the set. Footage from the performance has been made into a concert movie, “Aerosmith Rocks Donington 2014,” that will be released Thursday for a single-night viewing in select theaters nationwide, including Carmike Promenade 16 in Center Valley.

Plans call for a DVD release. The last DVD Aerosmith released, 2013’s “Rock for the Rising Sun,” which chronicled the band’s 2011 tour of tsunami-ravaged Japan — debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Music Video chart.

The film is another career benchmark for Aerosmith, which in a career of more than 40 years has released 15 studio albums, all of which have gone gold or platinum, along with five live discs and more than a dozen compilations, with total sales of 83 million.

That makes the band among the Top 10 best-selling musical groups of all time. It was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

In a recent telephone news conference, Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford spoke about the new film, the band and its future.

Here’s an edited transcript of the call:

Hi, guys. Let me just ask you about the film. How did it come about? Why did you decide to do it? What do you think of it?

TOM HAMILTON: “We had a film that came out a few years ago called “Rock for the Rising Sun”. We had never been on tour there and were very anxious to get over there and bring something for our fans after that horrible, major disaster that they had there. We filmed it … I’m on the phone right now … We were there with our fans. We made a DVD out of it. It was pretty successful, very encouraging in terms of finding out that kind of stuff that our fans would love to hear, shows that we think are really classic Aerosmith shows.

“Something about a short tour. This was about one show. It’s great. People who liked “Rock for the Rising Sun” will love this one. Hopefully you’ll see it on Palladia. They’ll be playing it. I think it’s just going to be awesome. It’s Donington.”

At this point in your career how much of a priority is new music? I mean, are you guys writing new music? Do you foresee any new music in the soon future?

BRAD WHITFORD: “Well, that’s interesting. We’re not currently in the studio or anything. We’re not quite sure when we might get back in the studio. Right now, actually, Steven is working on a solo album that he’s been wanting to do for the last 20 years. I think a good deal of inspiration may come out of that. He may want to continue to write. Maybe at some point this year we might get into the studio and record some new music. Currently no plans. Our plan right now is we’re preparing for tour this summer.”

To what extent do you think that [Aerosmith singer] Steven [Tyler’s] appearance [as a judge] on “American Idol” helped [win new fans]?

BRAD WHITFORD: “I think that had a huge impact of Steven being on that TV show. Yeah, it’s made him an even bigger star than he ever was.”

TOM HAMILTON: “It’s funny. It’s not really all that clear. There’s been a lot of things we’ve been noticing. It’s not all statistically coming out the way it sounds. We always need to inspire our fans and people, especially you were mentioning kids. I mean, that is such a great thing that they are listening to [the albums] ‘Toys in the Attic’ or ‘Rocks’ and wanting them to come see us play because it’s such a pleasure to be able to bring that live, at this point in our career, which is 30 years after.

I read recently that [guitarist] Joe [Perry] likes to have some spontaneity, some improv in the music whereas [singer] Steven [Tyler] likes to be pretty much note perfect the same each night. I wondered if you could talk about whether that’s true, what that dynamic is like and where that puts you guys in the mix.

TOM HAMILTON: “That’s at the core of the dynamic of the band is Joe. He’s very ballsy. He really plays from the hip. He gets an idea, and it pops right out in the singers. Then sometimes is wishing, “Why isn’t he playing the chords under that spot?” Like the album. It just comes out with each jam. It’s awesome.

BRAD WHITFORD: “Joe’s a big fan of, I think, the kind of concerts we used to see as kids. It was an era of … We had bands like The Cream and Jimi Hendrix. It was a lot more impromptu stuff that would happen on stage. It made it very exciting. Joe’s a big fan of that approach. There is an element to Joe’s playing sometimes that will represent that.”

Do you guys have stuff in the vaults that you might one day go back and think about releasing some of these vintage and classic shows maybe?

TOM HAMILTON: “You know, it’s funny. We have a pretty much an album’s worth of that that I think has just been gradually posted over the last 20 years on the Internet. It has some gems of some songs that we were really looking forward to using in some of our great songs. They had a really good one called ‘Meltdown,’ and a really great one called ‘Diamond Dance Romance.’ Some nice ethereal stuff. Over the years it just wound up getting … People were making an extra copy for themselves at the studio. Now you can find it online.”

Do you think either that stuff or entire concerts you think you might want to dig into?

TOM HAMILTON: “I would love to continue digging into that material. We did that on an album we put out two years ago called ‘Legendary Child.’ That’s from that era. We were pretty happy with how we finished it for ‘From Another Dimension’ album. If we get good at that, maybe it will create an avenue for some of these things to get finished and hit an Aerosmith album.”

You said you’re getting ready to tour this year. As you guys tour year after year obviously there’s a certain number of songs that Aerosmith has to play or you won’t go home with all your limbs intact. How much room is there to add that deep track or two? What kind of discussions do you have in order to make that happen?

BRAD WHITFORD: “That is an ongoing conversation, especially about deep tracks. We’re hoping to extract a few more deep tracks, especially for this summer. We’re eager to pull some stuff out of the hat that we haven’t played or maybe never played or only played a few times. We think it’s time to do that. We feel we need to do it. It’s just time. There’s a lot of great songs we don’t get out and represent to the crowd. I think they’re ready and we’re ready to do that. Hopefully we’re successful in doing that this year.”

Could elaborate on some of the elements that made the particular performance at Donington, the sequence in the film, so magical?

TOM HAMILTON: “It’s the set list that we played there, right Brad?”


TOM HAMILTON: “It was just a night where everything, not only just really set in for the band. The band was so tight that night, yet we could relax and just have fun. Get off on the insane crowd there. Man. Remember that, Brad? Finish us up.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Donington always held a special place for bands of all types, just to be invited at Donington has always been special. It just had a magic about it. We were excited just to be there.”

TOM HAMILTON: “Yeah, it’s a really legendary name in Britain.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “It didn’t dawn on us right away or we didn’t plan right away that we were going to be making a film out of it. It’s just … To be able to capture that moment like we did was great because it does hold a special place for all us rock and rollers.”

TOM HAMILTON: “We should mention that we had planned to film the show and got one of the best rock video, film directors around, named Dick Carruthers. He’s from England. He does a great job from that English point of view about rock bands. It’s a neat thing as far as our history goes. Anyway, that’s another reason that makes it a special DVD. It’s a night in the tour, but it’s also something that’s really filmed and interpreted beautifully. The sound is awesome. The band played really well that night.”

I was wondering what has been your opinions of some of the recent Aerosmith books that have come out? Joe Perry’s has come out most recently. Of course Steven did a book a couple of years back. What was your guys take on both of those titles?

TOM HAMILTON: “I think Joe’s book was a big success. Really, well written, depicting the story from his point of view. It’s very authentic. It’s for people who really are interested, want to learn the history of the band from the viewpoint of somebody that experienced it. Steven’s book is fun to read, but it’s also all over the place. It’s not really that concise, but it’s fun to read.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Yeah, I would have to agree that my favorite book was Joe’s book. I thought it was extremely well done and to me, there was more passion and romance in that book, the narrative of his story and his desire to do this thing. When he talked about growing up in Hopedale, Mass. Just the struggle just to get your hands on a guitar and live out this dream. It makes for an incredible story because he did it. He did it, and he did it in a very big way. I just thought it was extremely well written. It was definitely my favorite book about Aerosmith to this point.”

You guys originally got together back in 1970, Tom, when you met Joe and hooked up with Steven and Joey and soon Brad. Did you guys all know that you were in the presence of a special group of musicians? Did you have any inkling that you could still be possibly working together and playing together all these years later?

TOM HAMILTON: “That’s funny, Joe and I were playing as teenagers for years before Aerosmith. Funny.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Man, there’s just no way we could have imagined this far down the line still being out there being an important musical act. Absolutely no way we could have imagined that. In those days we were living day to day. There was a lot of just huge moments for us back then. The first time we heard ourselves on the radio and stuff. To imagine hear yourself on the radio 10 years later or 15 years later or 20 years later was not even the thought. No way.”

TOM HAMILTON: “I will say something though. Joe and I, we played in bands every summer up there. It was this enchanted summer lake area where all the kids from Boston and New York would come up. I lived up there in the country. It was just getting together with Joe every summer and putting a band together, and then doing it the next your with a different name and the next your with a different name.

“Somewhere in there, Steven, who is also a summer kid from up there, would come up with his band. He had a band called the Strangers. Then he changed it a little bit, and they were called the Chain Reaction. They were unbelievable. It was the first time I’d ever seen Steven perform. He’d been playing up there at this place called the Barn, but [traditionally 00:21:49] Joe and I were too young to be allowed there. They were playing, so we would listen from the outside.

“If there was a big then Steven would come up. They were an amazing band. They didn’t really have any originals, but wow. When I first saw them play it blew me away. Then every summer, I think, Steven got frustrated and restless and would change the band. Then he’d do it again the following year and then the following year. Eventually he reached a dead end with it and decided he needed to break out of the way he’d been trying to do it.

“That’s when he saw Joe and I play at the Barn ironically. He said, ‘These guys, they’re pretty sloppy and loud, but man, they really play with energy. This could be fun.’ He’s like, shape that into something. Finally, Joe and Steven got together a few times. Joe and I talked about it. Steven at that point was playing drums in his band. He figured we wanted him to be the drummer. We’re like, ‘Hey, Steven, don’t worry about playing the drums. You can stand up from now on.’ Then we got Joey.

“Anyway, yeah, when things got especially married up between Steven and Joe, there was a good feeling that we could do what we wanted depending on how hard we worked at it.”

You guys have made your name, of course, in a string of major hits, and you play many of them in this show. How do you keep those big songs fresh for yourself after so many years?

TOM HAMILTON: You get a new audience every night, so that’s fresh. That affects how you feel as you play these songs. All these songs, you can play them one of two ways. You can either play them good or you can play them really good or you can play them bad. Every night you’re just trying as hard as you can to play that song the best you’ve ever played it. I guess it’s in the mindset.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “It’s easy to play a good song. We have a bunch of these great rock and roll riffs. Some stretch a little bit out of the rock mainstream, but they’re all really great songs. It makes it very easy to play them and to play them well because they just have a lot of energy, and they’re songs that we’ve all heard many times on the radio or in our cars. You just go back, and you revisit it. They’re just fun to do so it’s not a problem to play it well.”

I haven’t seen the film yet, but in the press release you guys mention the mud and rain on the day of the show. Talk a little bit about what the atmosphere was like that day.

TOM HAMILTON: “Oh, man. One thing about Donington, every time we’ve been there, it’s been probably the funkiest, most earthy audience band situation on the tour. Usually the crowd has been there for a few days, and it’s been raining guitars out. The last two times we played there, it rained all day long and into the opening act. Who was it? One of the opening acts is out there and it’s raining. Then, we always seem to luck out and it stops raining to a reasonable amount. We’re lucky that way.

“The audience gets a particular aroma between the mud and the people who just felt it was too far to go to the porti-cans. Whatever bodily fluids were happening makes up the dirt. It’s great. Oh my god. It smells like you’re on a farm.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “There’s so many different bands on that show. Then the crowd is so appreciative of everything they hear. It’s really an eclectic group of fans. They’re there to hear it all. It’s great because back where all the artists are, you see people you haven’t seen in a year or two years, so many friends from other bands and stuff. It’s a great little reunion as well. It makes it a lot of fun when you’re up on stage and all these guys from other bands are standing in the wings watching. It’s really fun.”

Hey, when you guys do a film performance like this, does it change your attitude going in or your approach when you know you’re being filmed for the big screen

TOM HAMILTON: “Yeah, you want to look as good as you can and still be OK with being a rocker and rough around the edges like we’re supposed to be.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “You kind of forget though. The best approach is to forget the cameras are there and just do it the way we do it every show. We try and deliver our best performance always. I don’t think we approach it too much differently other than there’s certainly a lot of planning and stuff before about where cameras are going to be and all that stuff, but then once you’re up there you forget about it.”

When you guys finished the film, obviously you get one shot at this. When you’re finished with it, was the band involved with much overdubbing or the mixing and editing of the film when it was finished?

TOM HAMILTON: “Not me. Did you do any overdubbing, Brad? I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody does. There’s none.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “No, it’s completely live. There we’re absolutely no fixes on it.”

You guys have been such a classic band for such a long time. Over time have you ever felt the need to modify your music style to keep up with changing times and to appeal to young crowds?

TOM HAMILTON: “Well, I don’t know. That’s not really one thing you’re describing. That’s part of a process where you generally look around like that. Say your question again. I had to swat a fly. I got distracted.”

What I mean by that is throughout time have you felt the need to modify your sound to keep up with changing times and appeal to younger crowds?

TOM HAMILTON: “The thing is, is when new things come along, we’ affected by it the way everybody else is affected by it. You’re presented with it. Does it appeal to you or not? A lot of times it’s very full, these different eras of computer music we’re in now and guitar music and R&B. The way they sing is something we’ve been able to check out because we’ve been around for a century. We have our 100th anniversary next week on Tuesday if you’d like to come.”

BRAD WHITFORD: I think the closest we came to maybe an experience like that was when the opportunity came up with Rick Rubin and we did the track with Run DMC [“Walk This Way”]. That just kind of happened. That was a natural evolution of the music scene that we were lucky to be part of, bringing the rock and rap together.

“I think we’ve always tried to stay true to our musical roots and not … Consciously thinking about reaching an audience is usually the wrong way to go. Songs need to come from wherever they’ve always come from. When you try to write or adapt, can sometimes get in the way. I think you just have to continue to write and hopefully it reaches your audience just the way it always have.

“When we started out we had no audience. We just wrote the music we loved, and we learned that other people loved it to. That’s the way to go.”

TOM HAMILTON: “Yeah, that first album you get, it’s like a honeymoon album. You get to play the songs that you’ve been playing live for the last year or two. You record them, and they have all that vibe. Then two years later you have to start thinking about another album.

“You don’t really get the opportunity to do that anymore. Usually there’s the writing, the pre-production and the production. Then you play the song after you put it out. Whereas on your first album you get to play the material before you put it out, so you can really create your sound and how you want to play, how to you want to be seen.”

With this being released in the theaters, is there any concern about the spirit of the live performance being lost in the translation when it’s show in theaters?

TOM HAMILTON: “Not if it’s loud enough. No, it’s just great. It’s [inaudible 00:42:50]. It sounds so good. I mean, live albums for a lot of my life have always been like, “OK, I love them because I love what the band is playing, but yeah, I wish they sounded as strong as a studio album can sound.” We can do that now. It’s one of the amazing things about digital recordings is you can jack that level up so that when you watch it and when you listen to it, it’s hot and powerful and accurate.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “yeah, it’s a very accurate representation. You see it exactly as it happened. There’s not a single thing that was fixed on it. It is life as it happens. That comes across. No gimmicks.”

It occurs to me, some of the talk being about books a little earlier today, we’re talking to the two guys who haven’t written Aerosmith books. When are yours coming?

TOM HAMILTON: “You know, they say everybody on earth has at least one book in them. I feel actually a lot of feelings that I should figure out how to do that. I’d like to try actually writing it myself. I’m learning about what that process is, what it is and how it’s done. I enjoy writing. I don’t know. We’ll see. I have songs and demos of songs that I dream about some band playing whether Aerosmith gets to them or not. It’s a little excitement for me.”
BRAD WHITFORD: “Yeah, I don’t know. I kind of think the subject’s been pretty well documented. I don’t know if another book about it would … I don’t know. I have no plans myself to be writing any books about Aerosmith in the near future.”

The other thing in memory lane for you guys is Aerosmith has an anniversary every hour of any given day. This year it is 40 for “Toys in the Attic”, which was obviously a big one. What is your 2015 perspective on what that album meant, what it was like making it and everything like that?

TOM HAMILTON: “I think it was the first album where myself, and I think the band itself, felt really experienced in the studio and how to use the studio and better ways to arrange your music. We were able to do that on ‘Toys in the Attic.’ I just remember wanting to play better than I ever had on a record. That one and ‘Rocks,’ it was the same thing. Everybody, Brad and I, were putting songs in there, ‘Last Child.’ Then I had a song called ‘Sick as a Dog’ that are both awesome rockers.

BRAD WHITFORD: “You know, our first album was very easy for us because we had all the material ready. It was just a matter of recording it. The second became a challenge. The record company didn’t really believe in us anymore because we sold so little of our first album. We started ‘Toys in the Attic.’. We started to figure the process out, and the creative juices were really flowing. We were coming up with great material. It was a really, really fun project for us.

“Jack Douglas and his production was absolutely invaluable. We really started to develop a style in putting together the music. Jack came up with some absolutely classic mixes and productions of this stuff that still amazes me when I listen to it. I’m very proud of that record.”

TOM HAMILTON: “It was kind of a sweet spot that we hit.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Definitely. “

TOM HAMILTON: “It’s neat to think about those anniversaries and those important milestones in time. I just don’t really think about it that much. I don’t know. I guess I’m a little casual about that one.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “I think it would be fun to do. I think I’d love to do that, maybe make a more intimate setting and do “Toys” and “Rocks” and invite some of our friends from the music industry who claim to have been influenced. Have people sit in and join us on playing back some of that stuff. I think it would be really cool.”

TOM HAMILTON: “That is an awesome idea. Write that one down, Brad.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Yeah, I’ve got it.”

Sounds like it would make for a good DVD.

TOM HAMILTON: “Ah, man. It would. The way we use the effects in the studio of that record, the stuff that Jack came, ideas of his and Steven’s and Joe’s about sonic experimentation and all that. It was really harder making records back then. It is now too, but we were riding a wave of recording technology getting better when we did “Toys in the Attic”. I mean, if you listen to the sound of “Get Your Wings”, and then you listen to the sound of “Toys in the Attic”, you’ll see how much progress there was in just a few years in recording technology and our own personal technology in terms of our playing it, the engineers and everything. “

The Boston music scene was so vibrant in the 60s, 70s and 80s with bands like you and the Spandells and Jay Geils Band and later things like Cars and Boston. What was it like to be part of that music scene, and what do you think it is about the city that spawns musicians?

TOM HAMILTON: “There’s tons of students there from all over the world, especially now. So many people now are playing an instrument, playing guitar or something. That was much more rare back then.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “Yeah, it was a melting pot. I think that had a lot to do with that because you had so many young people there and people right at the age of discovering so many college students. Thousands, thousands, tens of thousands, all discovering about life and about what they were going to do and what they really liked and didn’t like. We came out of that.

“Certainly not out of college. None of us were … We didn’t have any real big college experiences, other than performing for the students. That was a great experience. We played at BU a lot, rehearsed at BU. We met people from all over the place starting out in Boston. It was, I guess, just a great place for it to happen. I don’t know, I really can’t put my finger on anything other than that. It happened. It was a great music scene. Boston is still huge. The Cars, you’ll never not hear the Cars on the radio.

TOM HAMILTON: Remember the Stone Teenage coffeehouse, Brad?


TOM HAMILTON: “There was this place. It had a couple of different names like a lot of these places. I think the Unicorn was something like that. We used to go there to hear this band called the Modern Lovers. It was Jonathan Richman. Jonathan Richman is this very quirky but fun to watch singer and writer. We used to see those guys play. One of the guys, the drummer, was in the cars. The keyboard player is a very accomplished producer now. He’s done a lot of big records.”


TOM HAMILTON: “It was neat seeing these people. Billy Schwier. He came out. What was the band he was in before that, Brad? Ah, shoot. “

BRAD WHITFORD: “Oh, gosh.”

TOM HAMILTON: “A really good band. You would think, “OK, these guys are going to be the next ones out of Boston.” It wound up being him, sort of making a record on his own and finding a different band, I think. You couldn’t really play originals in clubs back then in Boston. If you played in those places, they wanted you to play top 40 covers. The people would come, hear the songs that they like and hang around and drink.

“Later on we were playing in places like that, but at the beginning we had to go anywhere we could do a combination of our favorite songs plus a smattering of ours as they get developed.

BRAD WHITFORD: “Yeah, which meant we didn’t play a lot in the Boston area. We had a booking agent that would get a lot of work outside of Boston. It allowed us to play a lot more of our own music, because we were right in the middle of that “You’ve got to play the top 40,” which we couldn’t do, we didn’t want to do, and we didn’t know the songs. We could do ours songs that we knew. We knew lots of Stones and Zeppelin and Yard Birds. That’s what we wanted to do.”

TOM HAMILTON: “We used to play at the Navy Club in Boston. It was such a great gig because you would go over there, they would take you in the kitchen at a big table and feed you until you’re stuffed. We would play our songs and a mixture of Yard Birds and Zeppelin and Stones and blues songs and stuff. They would just dance their asses off. These guys must have been people who just got on shore leave or something. That was a fun gig. We used to play our originals there. They didn’t care as long as they could dance. This is Joe Perry talking, “As long as they can dance, they’re open to hearing a strange song or a new song.”

BRAD WHITFORD: “As long as there was girls to dance with.”

TOM HAMILTON: “Exactly.”

By John J. Moser for The Morning Call

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