Joe Perry of Aerosmith Talks This Way

By Bob Gulla

Throughout its three-decade run of making music, Aerosmith has never seen the kind of popularity it sees today. A strange and miraculous phenomenon -- considering that 15 years ago, the band was on the verge of self-destruction, hobbled by drugs and dissension and couldnít buy an audience.

When Aerosmith did release an album, such as A Night in the Ruts, the industry nearly keeled over laughing. "Theyíd never get radio play again," they said. "No one cares anymore." Now look whoís keeled over laughing.

With a long string of No. 1 radio hits and a cracking new live album, A Little South of Sanity hovering high on the charts, Aerosmith finds itself once again, a little north of the pack.

"It truly is nothing short of a miracle," admits guitarist Joe Perry, from a tour stop somewhere in the Central Time zone. "Being here 27 years down the road can only have happened through some divine intervention." Much can happen in three decades and, in Aerosmithís case, there isnít much the band hasnít seen -- from death-wish drug addictions and bitter break-ups to legal harangues and a drummer that quite nearly spontaneously combusted at a gas pump (thank you, Spinal Tap!).

But today, after weathering many a storm, the Bad Boys from Boston are back; back on the charts, back on the radio, back in sold-out arenas, back and better than ever. Perry, the bandís lead guitarist, is flying high.

CDnow: The bandís live sound has always been a little dodgy, but A Little South of Sanity sounds excellent. What have you changed?

"The ballads are the songs that get us on the radio and if it gets people to buy our album, then great. For me itís another way to play some tasty guitar."

Joe Perry: In the past, it was always a battle onstage. Of course, my guitar had to be the loudest thing and I used to think that the vocals were just something to take up the space between my solos. But in the last 15 years, Iíve become more sensitive to what Steven (Tyler, vocalist) needs. If he says my guitarís too loud, I believe him. I know my guitarís getting pumped into the house, but heís just skin and bone and him having to scream isnít serving me, the band or him. Were Aerosmith audiences different in the past? Were they coming to your shows for different reasons?

In those early days concerts were a tribal thing. We were the bonfire that people danced around -- whether it was us, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple or anyone else. We provided the heat and the audience just kind of played off of us. Now people are more selective about what they hear and weíve been able to accommodate them with high-tech equipment that gives us fantastic sound. Itís not a tribal thing anymore.

Youíve been together as a band over 25 years. Why do you think youíve been able to stay together that long?

If our first record had sold three million and every record after that had sold three million, and the band just cruised along making every record the same, weíd most likely be broken up by now. But since there was so much tumult we feel weíve never gotten it right. Itís always been some trend or some mishap, whether itís punk rock, grunge, electronica, people saying guitar music is dead, or whether itís one of us getting seriously hurt.

Now we finally have the chance to create our music without the record company or anything else getting in our way. We can finally get out there and reclaim our ground.

Is there any music you hear today that you can identify with?

"Every time I hear a Chuck Berry song I get chills down my spine. That feeling will never go away."

Every time I hear a new Pearl Jam song I like it. Theyíre a little serious though. Two of my favorite bands besides Nirvana, are Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains, but Iím pissed neither one can keep it together. STP might have a shot, but I donít think Layne (Staley of Alice in Chains) is coming back any time soon. You can probably identify with their drug problems, right?

Sure, weíve gone through that same thing. Weíve had our singer fall down on stage. Layne may not have fallen -- he just doesnít show up. At least Steven showed up and then heíd fall down.

But, yeah, weíve seen the movie. Itís hard to watch bands go through that because you know thereís nothing you can do. Iíve been in the middle of it. No oneís gonna turn it around except you. When youíre in the middle of it, you know itís the hardest fucking thing. Eventually theyíll either kick it, die or end up in jail.

Thatís another part of the miracle of Aerosmith.

Yeah, we were fortunate to be on the living side of it ourselves. It couldíve easily gone the other way. Letís just say that we learned how to do everything wrong and somehow got through it. I identified very strongly with that movie, This Is Spinal Tap!

The live album has a nice cross-section of rockers and ballads. Has it bothered you that the critics have gotten down on the band for its ballads?

Not all the girls like blues and hard rock, and it gives people a breather from the harder stuff. Over the years Iíve developed a taste for it. For me itís another way to play some tasty guitar. Clearly, the ballads are the songs that get us on the radio and if it gets people to buy our album, then great. Iím not gonna sit here and tell you "Angel" is the best thing weíve ever done, but Iím an entertainer and when I see how entertained people are when we play that song, my job is done.

You seem really excited about the bandís future. Can you fill us in on what the new material is like?

Weíre gonna start getting funkier again. Thereís a sound on the Nine Lives album that I like. Thereís also a sound we got in Miami for the same recording sessions that we never used which Iíd like to incorporate. Itís got the grittiness of the Nine Lives stuff, but itís driven by a loop and itís more danceable and funky. Iím just really excited about going in and making this next record.

Any idea what youíd be doing now if those people who said youíd never get back on the radio again were right? If you werenít going in to make another record? If you didnít have Aerosmith?

Iíd probably still be playing, still trying to make it, even at my age. I have friends at home that are still trying to make it. Iíd definitely still be in music, ícause every time I hear a Chuck Berry song I get chills down my spine. That feeling will never go away.

So when will enough be enough?

Thereís no cut-off date. I applaud the Stones every time they go out, not because itís great that we donít have to be the oldest ones doing it, but because Iím a fan. Itís only rock ní roll, right?