A Conversation with Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith

By Roger Lotring

The summer of ’98 has certainly been eventful, if not memorable, for the members of Aerosmith. As the featured artist contributing to the soundtrack for the summer’s blockbuster film, Armageddon, the band was represented by four tracks, including two new songs, “What Kind Of Love Are You On,” and “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.” Driven by the popularity of the later track, the soundtrack reached the Number One position for sales on the Billboard album chart.

Simultaneously, in the midst of the lengthy tour supporting last year’s release, Nine Lives, the band was forced to postpone a number of scheduled performances when lead vocalist Steven Tyler tore his anterior cruciate ligament when he inadvertently hit himself in the knee with a mic stand during a show in Anchorage, Alaska, in early May. Then, in July, drummer Joey Kramer suffered burns on his hands, arms, and one leg in an accidental fire that occurred at a gasoline station while he was fueling his car. Again, even as Aerosmith’s popularity was swelling due to the success of Armageddon, the group was forced to postpone additional dates of the tour.

Now, with Tyler and Kramer both having fully recuperated, the Aerosmith machine is working its way through the gears back to full speed. With recent victories at the MTV Video Music Awards for “Pink” and “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” the band returned to the road, as well as announcing the release of the forthcoming live disc, A Little South Of Sanity.

Bassist Tom Hamilton phoned in to Prime Choice from the road to chat about the band’s upcoming performance at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford, Connecticut—practically the Boston-based band’s backyard. In addition to talking about some possible new inclusions to the band’s set, Tom discussed A Little South Of Sanity in comparison to the band’s first live release, 1978’s Live! Bootleg—and, naturally, the return of quintessential Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas, who sat behind the boards for classic albums such as Rocks and Toys In The Attic...

Roger Lotring- Greetings from New England.

Tom Hamilton- Yeah, that sounds good. [Chuckles]

You guys are now back out on the road, and it looks like you’re booked pretty well into December. I’m curious, how difficult was it for you to get back into a groove following Steven and Joey’s respective accidents?

It was kinda scary because [Laughs] it just came right back. We did our first show in Scranton last week, and we didn’t do any rehearsing for it, really, or any preparation. And we even added a couple of new songs, and the flow was just amazing. I have to give a lot of credit for that to the crew because the whole technical side of it and the sound side of it was just right back on there. Y’know, like a light switch.

Tour to tour, do you try to hire the same people? Is it kind of like a family?

Some of the people come back. We’ve got a lot of new crew on this one. There’s a particular guy that’s our crew chief who’s been with us for a long time. And then there’s three other actual backline crew guys that are new. Y’know, we’ve just been able to assemble such a great bunch of people. I mean, not only for how well they do their job, but how they get along, and how smoothly things run and the cooperation between ‘em.

You mentioned that prior to that show in Scranton, getting back out on the road, that you really didn’t put much rehearsal into it. Isn’t that kind of contradictory to Aerosmith’s nature? [Laughs]

Yeah, I would say—well, not so much recently. I guess we’ve kind of promoted ourselves out of the obsessive “we can’t do anything without rehearsing” idea. Everybody knows what they have to do on their own to make sure they’re prepared so that when we go to that soundcheck to add a new song, like “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” or “What Kind Of Love Are You On,” they’re ready to do it. Y’know, it used to be that either we would rehearse it like crazy, or we’d all get back together and only one person would’ve done their homework.

In a few weeks, you guys are going to be here in Connecticut in Hartford, which is practically your back yard.


Do you feel a greater sense of anticipation toward New England gigs?

Gee, I should say yes, shouldn’t I? [Roger Laughs] I think that a gig like Hartford is nice to look forward to because, y'know, we know the lay of the land. We kind of know what the audience is like, what to expect, what the venue’s like. So that’s one of the ones that we don’t have to worry about; we know it’s just going to be a fun gig. Sometimes when we’re playing a new facility or in a new country, or something like that, there might be a little bit of extra attention to it. But no, we’re just in—I don’t know if it’s because we’ve finally gotten to a level that we’ve been aiming for for awhile, as far as how we play, or whether it’s because we have so much confidence in our sound and what it sounds like out in front. We really believe we can just sit down anywhere and play. We’ve done tours recently that were combinations of small shows, huge shows, TV appearances—a lot of this comes from touring in Europe and Japan where you do a lot of TV and a whole medley of different types of gigs. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re comfortable doing just about any kind, so I can’t say that we really look to any show with any kind of apprehension. Oh, I guess you were asking about anticipation.

Yeah, ‘cause it’s home.

There’s definitely some anticipation there, but it’s different than, say, playing our first show in Warsaw, where the anticipation was something else. It was like, “My God, we’re playing in a country that used to be the enemy.” Y’know, there’s all that kind of irony to it.

It’s been well over a year since Nine Lives was released. In fact, the upcoming show in Hartford will be your third in Connecticut since this tour actually started. I mean, given that, and the fact that, as you just mentioned, the tracks from the Armageddon soundtrack have been receiving a lot of attention, musically, is there anything different in store for the people in Connecticut when you play at the Meadows Music Theater?

Well, let’s see... that’s still a ways off. Possibly. Y’know, we wanna be careful that we don’t change the set to the point where people are disappointed. There’s certain songs we can’t take out of the set. But there are things we’re talking about adding in that might make it a bit different than the last time people saw us.

Any chance of some more obscure material. I mean, is there something that hasn’t been in the set that maybe you, personally, would look forward to playing?

Yeah, we’ve been talking about that a lot lately. Just the other night, we played a song from our second album called “S.O.S.”

Did you, really?!



Again, we didn’t even go into the tuning room and go over it. It’s funny... I look back on that song now, and it’s so completely simple. It’s part of a pattern that’s been just a repeating pattern in terms of how the song is put together. Ironically, as the years have gone by, when I get up onstage, for instance, if there’s a song where I think I don’t necessarily remember each part, it’s much easier to just kind of remember it at the last second before you go to the change than it used to be. [Tom and Roger both laugh] Which is good, because you can get into that brain freeze thing where you go, “Oh my God, here comes that part! I can’t remember what chord it is.” And then you’re like a deer in the headlights. But this one, we just threw it in the set and it just cranked. It’s really good, so, we’ll probably keep playing that one. Yeah, there’s others. I’d like to see us play—we have a song called “Home Tonight” that I think would be great in the set.


We’re seeing a lot of—y’know, people make posters with the songs they want to hear, and they hold ‘em up in the audience. The other night, they were holding up signs for “Spaced.” [Laughs] That would be a cool song to play. There’s a couple of songs from Draw The Line that we never even considered putting in the set that we may try. It’s weird, y’know? After you haven’t heard those albums for a long time, you go put ‘em back on and you get surprised. I remember what it was like to record the Draw The Line album, and it was... at least from the band chemistry side, it was... well, it was too much accent on chemistry. [Laughs] But I seem to remember that as a very frustrating process, and I tend to forget sometimes that some of the music on there is really cool. So, we’re going to look at some of that, and Brad’s been pushing to do “Adam’s Apple” for awhile, which would be awesome.

Oh, that would be great.

We heard a Who song the other night that we would love to cover.

Which one?

“Join Together.” I can just imagine playing that song on stage; it would be a gas.

I caught the show in New Haven back in January, and it was just a case of—I mean, I could put together a set in my head of everything by Aerosmith that I’d like to hear, and you guys would be onstage for, y’know, days. [Tom laughs] No, really. That’s gotta be really tough for you guys to put together a set list because not only are there so many great older tunes, but all of the stuff over the last ten or twelve years is equally received. As you mentioned before, there’s certain songs that you have to play. But I would imagine you guys could give good argument that there’s fifty songs that you probably “gotta play.”

Well, the thing that makes it hard is that our audience is kind of segmented, y’know? We’ve got the ones that really wanna hear the old, deeper stuff. And then we’ve got a lot of people in the audience that are there because they heard “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and decided to go see what they probably think of as a new band. So we have to be willing to have some blank faces out in the audience when we play some of this older stuff. There will be people—we’ll see the ecstatic ones—that we’re playing songs that they never expected to hear.

That would be me.

[Tom laughs] We just have to make a decision to focus on that and be okay with the fact that there will be a lot of people in the audience that might not be jumping up and down and screaming for certain songs. We were just talking about this, actually, the other day. Something we need to look at is do we need to see the audience in a constant state of pre-orgasm for every single song. Maybe we can have some sort of esoteric parts of the set where we go a little deeper into the woods; I don’t know. But when I think about it, it excites me. I mean, playing “S.O.S.,” we decided to play that song ten minutes before we went on stage. It’s just great. It’s something to anticipate. It’s just kind of jumping off a cliff, but knowing that if you do it right, it’s going to be really cool.

Well, it helps keep that spontaneity.


I was looking at all the postponed gigs that were rescheduled, and it seems like most of them were, with the exception of Great Woods. Considering Boston is the band’s home town, I think a lot of fans in the area were wondering, “Well, why wasn’t that show rescheduled?”

Right. Well, it couldn’t be rescheduled. Not only because of our schedule, but because of their schedule. So, we’re looking at trying to do another New Year’s Eve gig at the Fleet Center.

That was the next question. I think there’s a lot of speculation from the people in this neck of the woods that maybe that will happen. New Year’s Eve shows must also be like a great big birthday party for you, I would imagine.

Yeah, that’s true, although Steven forgot to do the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday,” which was actually okay with me. In my family, birthdays were very approximate, and not made that big a deal of. Y’know, it was, “Oh,yeah, your birthday’s coming up, isn’t it?” No, it was a couple days ago. “Oh. Well, happy birthday.”

I want to congratulate you on your recent MTV Video Music Awards.

Oh, thanks.

I read your bit on the Aerosmith website detailing the hectic nature of being part of such a prominent band. After all this time, have you really gotten used to all the insanity? Or, do you ever just kind of stand back from the chaos and think, “Gee, y’know, I’m just Tom, a guy from New Hampshire who happens to play bass.”

I spent a lot of years when the band started trying to reconcile the fact that I was just this kid from New Hampshire, and how am I gonna fit into this role and be able to deal with all this stuff. There was a long time in my life when I felt like I was out of my league. It was all stuff that I didn’t really expect, y’know? I just had that kid’s fantasy of the music itself, and being on stage, playing to a big audience. And I definitely always loved the idea of being famous, but it definitely took me a while to realize how to sort of carry myself in some of these situations where people are throwing microphones in your face, and asking you questions, and you gotta figure out how to answer ‘em just right for whatever different medium you’re talking to—a lot of stuff that I never actually thought would be part of this. I actually love it now. I feel like I have my feet on the ground, and sometimes it’s fun to just be in the middle of that chaos. And do what you’re supposed to do: answer the questions, try to look decent for the camera, but at the same time, sort of just laugh at it. Really, what comes across in a lot of those situations is a really nice vibe. I mean, it’s frantic and it’s obnoxious, but you feel that there are people that are genuinely interested, and you have to be thankful for that.

A real sense of appreciation, maybe, at the bottom of all of it?

Yeah, yeah. And that’s something—I don’t know; a lot of new bands get to the point where they kind of take that for granted and get all bothered by it, and they wanna sit in their hotel rooms by themselves. And we went through that. I remember we had times where we told our manager no more press [Laughs], which is so naive. Y’know, just call ‘em up, no more press. “Alright.” But, I think, now, we’ve got a much deeper appreciation of what all that means. It’s like a manifestation of the fact that there’s a lot of people that are into the band, and that’s something that we treasure.

Let’s talk a little bit about your new double live album that’s coming out in about a month or so. Obviously, it’s a contractual obligation with Geffen Records. With that in mind, how much of an effort did the band actually put into the project?

Well, once we decided to do it, it wasn’t a contractual obligation anymore; it was, “We’re making an album,” and we want it to sound as great as we can make it sound. So, we have been recording every show since probably the middle of the Get A Grip tour. A lot of times, live albums are made—you bring in a big recording truck and record, say, six or eight gigs, then you derive your album from that. But this one, we brought around a little 24-track digital recording set-up for every show, and recorded every show. Because what happens is, some of the best moments come up out of nowhere, and those are always the nights when you don’t have a recording truck there, y’know? All of a sudden, we have a hundred versions of each song. We didn’t actually listen to each one of those, but when we had a particularly good night, or we played a certain song a certain way [that] we wanted to keep, we always flagged it and made a note of it. And, [we] took all the ones that we had flagged and gave those to Jack Douglas, who, you may remember, is the guy who produced Toys In The Attic, and Rocks, and Get Your Wings. He really knows more about what this band should sound like than anybody we’ve ever worked with. He went through ‘em, and he took these digital tapes and put ‘em through a process that made ‘em sound analog, and mixed it, and it sounds amazing.

Jack is such a prominent figure, as you just mentioned, in Aerosmith history. After so many years, how did he come to be involved with you guys, as far as producing and engineering again? Was it just a case of, like you just said, “He knows the material so well, let’s get him in here.”

Well, Jack went through a lot of the same things we went through in the 70’s and the 80’s. We were doing it as a group, and he was doing it kind of on his own, and we lost contact. It was just terrible, because we kept hearing things back that Jack was—he was on his way to the river Styx. And we expected that, at some point, the next thing we heard about Jack would be to come to the funeral. And then he got to a point where he just had a moment of clarity. [Laughs] He asked for help and got himself some help, and he came out of it! When he came out of it, he came right back to... Jack—y’know, a very vibrant, creative, spontaneous, gregarious, hard-working person. The guy is like... he’s so special as a person. I hate that term. It sounds like a touchy-feely term, but he’s just a great guy. He started coming around to the shows, and we would say, “Hey, what’s the sound like?” And he’d go out, and he’d listen from the sound board and come back and say, “Oh, you guys sound great!” After a couple more shows, he’d have some suggestions, and they always turned out to be good suggestions. He would talk to our sound man and make a couple suggestions that were well-received. Finally, we said, “Why don’t we have Jack listen to all these tapes and get his feedback on that?” It’s funny how, even after all those years, his role as our sort of musical guru, advisor, whatever, was still right there. Finally, we just said, “Look, why don’t you mix the record?” So he did. And not only that, but he did it with this guy, Jay Messina, who was our engineer on all those records. Is there any possibility that when you guys look to start doing another studio album that those guys will be involved?

There’s always a possibility. Y’know, I’d love to do an album someday where you don’t have to start right out saying, “Okay, you’re the producer,” and then you work with one person all the way through. It would be fun to just sort of suspend the whole career side of it, and go and just work with people as the impulse comes up, and see what happens without anything official about it. We’ll have to see, because that’s not the way the system wants you to do it. After listening to this new live album, I couldn’t help pulling out Live! Bootleg and giving it a listen. [Laughs] There’s a world of difference between the two live albums. Obviously, it’s been twenty years and an enormous lifestyle change since then. But what other changes would you characterize between the two discs?

When I listen to the Live! Bootleg album, for most of it, all I hear is the cocaine and the alcohol. A lot of the songs we just played too fast; we played ‘em too sloppy, and our priorities were somewhere different than where they are now. Our priorities now are making sure every song is in the pocket where it belongs. I would say that’s the difference with the new album: the tempos and the grooves; they’re at the right speed. It’s real easy for a band to get up on stage and get caught up in the adrenaline that’s in your veins, and in the desire to move the audience into a higher emotional level. And a lot of times, that comes out as playing louder and faster. That’s okay to push it a little bit. But if you go too far, you wind up killing the song, and killing the groove and the feeling that the song was written around in the beginning. So that’s what we did on a lot of Live! Bootleg. There’s another part of Live! Bootleg that was recorded in a club back before a lot of the bad stuff really started happening.

Right, like the James Brown tune.

Yeah, and you can hear the groove in that. You can hear the dedication to playing it properly. But then you listen to some other parts of the album, and you hear a band that’s out on the road pushing the edge—sometimes in good ways, but a lot of times in bad ways.

One of the things for me, personally, that I like about A Little South Of Sanity, is when I hear it now, being thirty-one years old, I get a big smile on my face. It’s kind of a realization that as far as a live band, a live album, Aerosmith is finally everything that, when I was a lot younger, I knew they could be.

Hmm... that’s funny, ‘cause that’s a good description of it. Our dynamics are a lot more steady now. The thing is, we use ear monitors now. So, we can actually interact with each other more. Actually, not all of us use ‘em, but I do, Joey does, and Steven does. Sometimes Brad does. And the result is that no matter where you are—y’know, you can do your performing thing where you move to different areas of the stage, but you don’t lose your ability to hear what people are doing. I mean, I can be over on the left wing of the stage, [and] not only can I hear myself the way I need to hear me, but I can hear little things Joey’s doing, I can hear stuff that Joe’s doing on his guitar. And so you get a little bit more interaction going on. Without those things, it’s either extremely loud and all you can really hear is the drums, or, it’s all muffled, and all you can hear is the drums.

Will there be a home video to accompany the live album?

Not specifically to go with the live album. I think at the end of this tour there’s probably going to be something.

Like maybe a full show?

I don’t know; we haven’t really talked about anything. All I know is that we’ve got tons of footage from all the stuff we’ve been doing on this tour, and there will probably be some kind of home longform video.

I just ask because I’ve seen the band both before and after, shall we say. Most of the video stuff, I think, as far as actual live performance that’s available is kind of from before. It might be kind of neat to have something that’s representative of what you guys are doing now, and what you’re capable of.

Well, we’ve got a lot of stuff. We’ve got stuff from the Armageddon opening down in Florida; we’ve got stuff from the huge festivals we did in Europe that came out really, really good. We’ve been working with Mike Clink a lot on the road when we do live stuff, and he’s just great at recording this band live. So, we’ve got some good stuff. But, y’know, we’re always into the multimedia thing, so we’re always talking about multimedia stuff we could do. We wanted to put some multimedia on the live album, but I just don’t think we could’ve gotten it together in time; we were too busy getting the material itself ready.

I’m told that you’re the computer geek of the band. [Snickers] Such as it is.

The band seems to be on the forefront of exploring new technology, such as CD-ROMs and the internet. How much of that is a result of your influence?

Well, as far as the band participating in putting out multimedia material and doing a couple of things that we’ve done, like the first live—what would you call it—chat. That’s something that we’re all fascinated by because we come from the days when there was just your music and the radio. And there wasn’t even anything on TV, really. Later on, there were a couple of shows, like In Concert and Midnight Special.

Don Kirschner.

Yeah. But really, that was it, y’know? Nobody ever thought of this as being any kind of a TV or real visual thing, outside of live shows. And then we start hearing whispers about all this incredible stuff that’s coming down the pike. And, y’know, we love gadgets; we love technology, and it all has a kind of science fiction quality to us. I think that we all, without really talking about it with each other, decided that we wanted to be part of whatever came down the pike. I am such a gadget freak. I mean, I remember when I was about fifteen years old, all I wanted was one of these new, tiny, Sony tape recorders. [Roger Laughs] It was a little reel-to-reel. There was no cassettes or anything; it was like a miniature reel-to-reel. I was just obsessed with it. I asked for it for Christmas, and about three weeks before Christmas, I started searching my parents’ closet when they were out. I used to take it out every other day, play with it, and carefully repack it and put it back in the closet. I love computers. I don’t think I’m that great at it, but I’m getting better. I’m actually shopping for a laptop.

Yeah, aren’t those cool?

They are really cool. But the one I have now is kind of slow.

Unannounced, do you ever visit the chat room on your website and talk with fans?

No. I think the reason why is because there’s something I don’t have in my laptop, software-wise, that I need. I get some kind of message. It says what I need and would you like to download it. And I go to download it, and then I get some screen that I don’t understand and I get blocked. The thing about Windows is at some point, no matter who you are, it’ll try to lead you along the path of where you want to go for a few steps. But if you don’t find what you’re looking for in a few steps, then it goes into the technical jargon that nobody understands. And I just get pissed off and shut it off.