By Chris Riemenschneider
Steven Tyler has one week off from touring before the holidays, and he spent
two days of it in Los Angeles recording with, he said, "One of the biggest
bands in the world, and they're getting back together. He wouldn't say who,
though (never mind the fact that he recently narrated VH1's Legends episode on
Led Zeppelin). The night he returned home to Boston, he made some popcorn,
curled up in front of his entertainment center and watched Inventing the Abbotts,
a new-to-video drama starring his lovely daughter Liv Tyler.
"I never got a chance to see it. I knew it would be good," Tyler said.
The next day, it was back to Aerosmith business and time to do an interview. Standing outside a shopping mall, a cigar in his mouth and a cellular phone in his hand, Tyler was at a loss.
"My wife's inside doing some Christmas shopping," he said, sounding a little embarrased. "I wish I had time to do the shopping myself, but what can I do? We're the geniuses who only gave ourselves a week off before the holidays, and then I feel like a schmuck when I'm standing with my friends around Christmas time and they say, 'Thanks a lot for the present, Steven,' and I have to say, 'Please don't make me guess what it is.'"
While the 49-year-old singer is obviously short on time, he was nonetheless eager to oblige an interview. He's happy there's still plenty of interest in Aerosmith. Heck, he's happy Aerosmith is still even together.
The title of Aerosmith's new record sums up the way Tyler and company feel about their continued success: Nine Lives. The record went to No. 1 its first week of release in April and soon gained platinum status. Though neither radio stations or MTV seemed very interested in playing any of the singles, "Fallin in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)" and "Pink,'' and the album has slipped down the charts, Tyler said he's more proud of this record than he is any other.
"Just the fact that I can still sit down and write a song with Joe Perry, and a couple of months later go out in front of an audience and perform it with the band -- that's what matters to me,'' he said. "And after what we went through last year, it matters all the more now."
Indeed, Nine Lives is the album that almost didn't happen. Tyler said the period that surrounding its making was "the worst six months ever for me, personally, and probably for the band.''
Aerosmith's recording sessions with Alanis Morissette collaborator Glen Ballard in late 1996 were scrapped, and the album was delayed. That's when rumors started flying, everywhere from Rolling Stone magazine to the band's inner circle. It was speculated that some of the members were back to their old addictions, that they weren't getting along, that some of them might be replaced, or that the band might even split.
Tyler admits that things were rough-roing.
"It started with Joey (Kramer, drummer) having a nervous breakdown and went downhill from there,'' he said.
Kramer went into a period of seclusion following the death of his father, which forced the band to use a session drummer while recording with Ballard. That, said Tyler, was the main problem with those sessions, but Kramer certainly wasn't to blame for the band's troubles.
Someone was, though, according to Tyler: The band's longtime manager Tim Collins, whom the band fired after a nasty bout of infighting and seething emotions.
"He tried to break the group up,'' Tyler said. "He was going around telling some of the members that I wanted to kick them out. He was pouring fuel onto any of our fires. Then, when we finally cut him out of the picture, he was going around making up nasty shit about us."
The one thing that still angers Tyler the most about Collins is the ex-manager's contention that he saved the band from its addictions in the middle '80s and steered them to the success of 1987's comeback album, Permanent Vacation.
"Everyone knows that you can't make someone sober up. They've got to do it on their own,'' Tyler said.
Aerosmith's struggles with addiction -- and pretty much everything else the band has confronted in its 27 years together -- is spelled out in the new book Walk This Way, a sort of collective autobiography. Well-received by the band's fans and critics alike, Walk This Way features input from all five original members (who are, of course, all still in the band) as well as from ex-wives, ex-roadies and seemingly any other ex the band has known over the years.
Tyler said the band at first wasn't crazy about the idea of the book, which was put together by writer Stephen Davis (Led Zeppelin's Hammer of the Gods). But he said the band has always been open about its problems, so they figured, what could it hurt? In the end, he said, the book didn't hurt the band and, in fact, eventually offered them a sense of healing.
"There's a lot of magic in the truth,'' Tyler said. "If you read the book, it's about surviving, which is the essence of what this band is about."
"The industry has been at our balls since we began. We've put up with assholes like (Collins), and we've put up with the damage that we did to ourselves. But we survived.''
The set the band is currently playing on tour includes classic-rock hits such as "Dream On'' and "Sweet Emotion,'' MTV standards like "Cryin'" and "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)," plus one new song that may be the most appropriate song of the evening, "Kiss Your Past Goodbye." Tyler believes the set is a two-hour testament of the strength of a band that's gone through so much.
"Actually, it's up to about two-and-a-half hours now,'' he said, pausing before letting out a develish "he-he-he."