Ain't no stopping Aerosmith

Not only have Aerosmith survived a lifetime of excess but these Jurassic relics of rock's golden age still know how to turn it up to 11.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith performs on stage in Abu Dhabi in 2009. Philip Cheung / The National
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith performs on stage in Abu Dhabi in 2009. Philip Cheung / The National

Four decades ago, no sane person would have put money on Aerosmith still being alive in 2012, never mind still touring the globe and fronting mega-sized stadium shows in their 60s. Fronted by the original chemical brothers of American hard rock, the singer Steven Tyler and the guitarist Joe Perry, the notoriously debauched Bostonian five-piece have a long track record of feuds, fights, fall-outs and drug rehab sessions. As recently as three years ago, they seemed to be heading for a terminal split as Tyler broke off communication with his band-mates, hinting at a solo career.

And yet, on a brief London stopover to launch their latest comeback album, both the singer and the guitarist share the easy chemistry of an experienced comedy double act. A lithe 64-year-old, Tyler is the clown, constantly joking and pulling faces; 62-year-old Perry is the straight man, his voice a low, slow rumble. Wrapped inside floor-length greatcoats and swooshy scarves, their long manes expensively streaked and tousled, they look like rare birds of very exotic plumage. Jurassic relics from rock's Stone Age, their craggy faces like Easter Island statues perched atop shrivelled supermodel bodies, Aerosmith undoubtedly belong to an endangered species today. But they also remain the most successful US rock band in history, with album sales beyond 150 million.

The first all-new Aerosmith album in 11 years, Music From Another Dimension! is a slick affair that takes no chances with its audience's tastes, covering every musical base from blues to metal, country to punk, cheesy power ballads to sleazy party anthems. It also features a host of star guests including Julian Lennon, Carrie Underwood and Johnny Depp.

"I needed a guitar," Perry explains. "Johnny's got a great guitar collection and he's a really good musician. He was down at the studio a couple of times so I asked if I could borrow one of his axes. About two in the morning, it was time to do the background vocals, and usually whoever's left in the studio gets in front of the microphone. Johnny was there with one of his buddies, so he's on the record."

Music From Another Dimension! was mostly recorded in Los Angeles rather than Aerosmith's usual Boston studio base, partly to accommodate Tyler's bizarre stint as a judge on the TV talent show American Idol. This surprise career move came as a shock to the rest of the band, who responded with claims that they were seeking a replacement singer. Lenny Kravitz was even reportedly shortlisted for the job. With relations between them now thawed, both Perry and Tyler insist rumours of a custody battle between the band and the TV show were highly exaggerated.

"It wasn't so much that he did American Idol, it was that we found out from the press, because he didn't tell anybody," Perry explains. "I told him it would have been nice if he had asked us, and he said: 'Well I was afraid you wouldn't want me to do it …' Literally, in that many words, that was it. Then everything else kind of snowballed from there."

Tyler jokes that the main lesson he learnt from American Idol was "don't pick it, it may get infected". But he stresses he always made his TV work fit in with his band commitments. "It was fun to sit next to J Lo and Randy [Jackson] but it's not Aerosmith," the singer nods. "As I told them at the beginning of the second year: 'You better give me the money I want otherwise I'm going to go out with the guys I've been with for 40 years'."

Whatever tensions it may have caused, Perry concedes American Idol was good for Aerosmith, boosting the band's profile after years away from the limelight. "It worked pretty well, it got us in the papers, they spelt our name right," the guitarist grins. "That whole thing about it not being cool, maybe 20 years ago we wouldn't have gone on the show, but fans get their music from so many places now. TV is still important - it introduced a whole new generation of fans to Aerosmith."

Aerosmith have already begun touring the new album in the US, with further dates due this month and in December. A world tour will follow next year that may last up to 18 months. Whether the band will play the UAE isn't yet known, but last time they were in Abu Dhabi during Grand Prix week in 2009, Aerosmith seemed to teeter on the verge of disintegration, with Tyler said at the time to have quit the band and Perry reported to have been considering looking for a replacement lead singer. American rock's last surviving dinosaurs are not ready for extinction yet.

"There's no finish line with this band," Tyler grins. "We want to be the last band standing, whatever that means. I still love to be a wild child on stage."

"We've got kids, and our kids have kids, but we're still playing this rock 'n' roll thing," Perry shrugs. "People will listen to it forever, I think. How they hear it, and how bands play it, will change. But there is something that happens when you get on stage and time stops. We still love to do that, and apparently the audience does, too."

Music From Another Dimension! will be released on November 6 through Columbia Records.

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Published: November 1, 2012 04:00 AM


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