Whether they're wrestling over songs or sparring in the studio, the band's in fighting form, says Joe Perry. Here he talks about recording at home, touring and the spontaneous nature of Just Push Play.

by Rebecca Rankin

The phrase "America's greatest rock band" and the name "Aerosmith" have been in close proximity lately. And why not? The Boston rockers have got classic riffs, a whiff of excess, and an almost-crazed vitality. Boasting a frontman who still favors strut and screech, a guitar god who puts a wicked spin on the Keith Richards slouch, and one of the world's most piston-pumping rhythm sections, these pop veterans have an explosive spirit.

Since their 1989 comeback with Pump, Aerosmith have employed the talents of high-vis producers and outside songwriters like Desmond Child. This time around, however, they bet the farm on their own production savvy. Just Push Play - album No. 13 if you're counting - is their rawest record in years, with the raunch attack given added muscle by the Tower of Power horns on "Trip Hoppin'" and some coy whispering from Liv Tyler on "Avant Garden."

The disc entered the chart at No. 2 the same week the guys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Kid Rock. VH1's Rebecca Rankin cornered Joe Perry to ask him about making the extravagant video for "Jaded," wrestling creatively with his bandmates, and keeping his wife awake at night.

Rebecca Rankin: There are a lot of special effects in the "Jaded" video; you've used them before. How was [the process of making it] different from past videos?

Joe Perry: Every video's different. [Director] Francis [Lawrence] was very specific about what he wanted. We wanted to take some of the ideas of the Cirque du Soleil show and bring them into the video. It was marvelously opulent and sexual, and the colors were great. It was the first time I'd ever walked onto a set and got goose bumps. When I saw that first shot, the big staircase with all those performers, and that giraffe, I felt like I was in a Fellini movie. It was incredible. It's like making a three-minute movie. It costs as much, and so it's a real luxury to have an opportunity to do that. And I love animals.

Rankin: Just to see it transform ... I'm sure it's awesome seeing the final cut, too.

Perry: It's funny, because when they get the first edits back, they have notes written on the screen like, "Steven's head will turn into a horse here." Or "Joe will be in the fireplace." So you have to kind of take it for granted that some of that stuff is going to work.

Rankin: You and Steven worked on this album, heart and soul. You built a studio in your home, and you also produced the disc. Give me an idea of why, after all this time, you said, "OK, now we're gonna do it ourselves."

Perry: Steven and I always felt we put in all the time that we could to make our records what they are. All through the '70s we shared production credit with Jack Douglas. We've put in a lot of time ... and we don't feel like we've actually put in that much more time producing the record ourselves than we would have if we had [worked with] somebody else.

I don't want to come off sounding like, "We'll never work with another producer again, and all those other guys sucked." We learned a lot from them. We worked with some great guys. But we just felt like we wanted to take what we were doing in the creative moment of writing and have that be the record. When Steven sang vocals for the first time, those were the keeper vocals. When I played guitar solos, those were the keeper solos. I'd always taken some of my solos off the demos and flown them over onto the record when we've gone in to [the final recording process].

I've built a studio with the idea that if we do demos down there, my solos and my guitar parts are going to sound as good as they can sound. The thing turned into a monster, and everybody that was down there would go, "Oh, you guys should do the record here." And we said, "Well, let's start." So we started writing down there, and our so-called demos sounded like they could be on the radio tomorrow. With that kind of feeling, we just kept carrying on.

[The studio is] actually in the basement of my house, and that's where we recorded. But we [also] built a studio in a house right next door that I bought for other reasons. We have horses and we wanted to a have a little more land, so we bought this place and looked over there and said, "Oh, there's an empty room we're not using, let's put a studio in there, too." So we put in a big mixing room, and that's where we mixed the record.

I have to say that my family was very accepting about this. At any given day there would be about 40 people at the house, and the only instrument my wife minded hearing after 10:00 was guitar. She didn't mind the bass, which I find offensive.

Rankin: She didn't mind snare drum?

Perry: No, not at all. We'd be down there at 1 in the morning, thundering away on the drums and the bass and all that. But for some reason, the guitar would be ... I don't know.

[The sessions were] just a great experience for everybody, because it was just so loose and there was nobody there. There were no boundaries. We played night and day. We don't need a coach anymore, and I looked at producers a lot like coaches, kind of like organizing things.

Rankin: You've worked with other songwriters; you've done it by yourselves. Is there one way that's easier, one way that's harder?

Perry: Anytime you write a song, it's a wrestling match, because you're trying to figure out if what you're putting out there is going to catch anyone else's ear besides your own. There's a lot of push and pull. I do it with Steven, which I've done for 30 years, or you bring someone else into the mix and you do it with them.

Lately we've found it more exciting to work with other people, just to bring it into the mix. Steven and I have sat there in an empty room with a blank piece of tape, me with a guitar in my hand and he at the keyboard, a lot of times. And I'm not saying we won't sit down alone and write great songs again, but for now it's fun to bring other people in, and bring in some fresh ideas. All I do is sit down there and try to get into a good headspace and let it flow. And when you have other people that think the same way, you've just got to turn the tape on and let it happen. And if you're blessed that day to come up with a song, there it is. If not, you try again tomorrow.

Rankin: You're making it sound like this was an easy one to do.

Perry: I don't think they're ever easy. It's just that there was one less person in the room to argue with. We still got in our fights. But it's about music, and that's really what it should be about. It shouldn't be about ... I mean, we had our days. We have our days. You can hear the fighting, and thundering notes through the floor. "What are they yelling about now?" But like I say, it's a wrestling match. Nothing good comes easy.

Rankin: Tell me a little bit about your touring plans.

Perry: Touring is easy, because we know what we're going to do from day to day. And it's been so crazy up until now. I'm looking forward to it, to get some relaxation. We get to go out there and play. I don't have to worry about anything, except making sure I have enough underwear packed. We're going to tour the world. Up until now, it's been so crazy ... it's been an incredible, creative time for us, but it's also been very hectic.

Rankin: Talk a little bit about performing with Kid Rock [at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards]. What was that like?

Perry: I'm a fan of Kid Rock's. I love the records, and when we heard we had a chance to work with him, it sounded like a lot of fun. The whole idea of breaking down the wall, in the audience, and coming down the aisle and playing "Walk This Way" - it was exciting for us to do it. Meeting him and hanging out with him for a little while and seeing what his thing is.

I think the best part of that was the rehearsal, the day before, when we were all on the stage just hanging out. The [actual performance] goes by so fast. I think we were on the stage for 30 seconds. It's almost like you can't absorb it. [It's like,] "What did we do? We got dressed for this?" So at the rehearsals you can get a little more out of it. Very often, that's where you get to meet people. They're on the road, we're on the road, you admire their work and you never get to meet them. So it's the rehearsals where you can rub elbows and hang out and find out what they're about.