- 12 Sep 19
30 years ago today, Aerosmith released their tenth studio album, Pump, featuring classics like 'Janie's Got A Gun', 'Love In An Elevator' and 'The Other Side'. To celebrate, we're revisiting our 1993 interview with the iconic band.
"Man, I don't think our generation's ever going to slack off. It was us guys who said, 'a blow job's great. Oral sex is fucking happening!'. How can we not be open to anything? We're never going to slow down. We're going to keep on raising hell 'til the Devil comes to take us away."
Er, right! Steven Tyler is responding, in typically understated fashion, to the preposterous suggestion that Aerosmith might one day run out of steam, jack in this rock 'n' roll lark and retire to a sprawling country estate where they can raise horses.
"Country estates?," barks the singer in mock indignation, "raising horses? What sort of fucking interview is this? People used to ask me, 'what do you reckon you'll be doing when you're 40?', and I told 'em, 'rocking out and kicking ass!'. Now it's, 'what do you reckon you'll be doing at 60?', and the answer's exactly the same. I'm always going to love Jimi Hendrix - 'Purple Haze' will still give me a hard-on when I'm hooked up to a life-support machine. Hey, even when I'm dead, they're going to have a hell of a job nailing the coffin lid down."
Never mind qualifying for a bus pass, there was a time when only a mug punter would have put anything more than an each-way bet on Steven Tyler reaching his thirtieth birthday. Himself and Joe Perry weren't nicknamed 'The Toxic Twins' because of their strenuous keep-fit regime and during Aerosmith's 1978 American tour, the frontman's chemical consumption had reached such epic proportions that a roadie had to be assigned the task of standing by the side of the stage and sprinting on every time there was a danger of him keeling over.
As Tyler reflected in the early Eighties, "I started taking drugs when I was 16 because it was the natural thing for anyone growing up in the States, or certainly in my home town, to do. Then it got to the point where I'd drink an eight-ounce glass of Jack Daniel's and fill my nose up with cocaine before I went on stage and I'd be flying, man.
"I once had three Porsches and I sold them all so I could snort up half of Peru. I was paying $1000 a gram for heroin and doing about three to five grams a week. I mean, I would've traded my nuts in for a good ounce of heroin in those days."
The band's management did their damnedest but with Aerosmith increasingly living their lives out in public, there was no way the duo's excesses could be kept under wraps and the press started recounting tales of near death experiences, car wrecks, hotel trashing and other drug related shenanigans.
"I don't think Steve and Joe should carry the entire rap for what happened in those days," reflects bassist Tom Hamilton as the 'smiths relax backstage before their show in Atlanta. "We all had to work out whether we were in it for the music, the show or the bullshit lifestyle. The 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week partying was fun at first but then it turned into a nightmare. I can remember both sides of the deal and I know which one I prefer."
"The basic problem was that we weren't very good at drinking," chips in guitarist Brad Whitford. "Some bands can get blasted and go on and play a brilliant show but we'd fall over, mess stuff up and generally make fools of ourselves. There's only so long you can do that before cracks start to appear and, in our case, it got so out of hand we had to take a break from each other."
"I don't walk around every day going, 'Jeez, I can't believe I'm alive'," resumes Tom, "but I look at what this group is able to do and I feel grateful that we managed to survive the craziness, that we got a second chance and that we're here now having fun and making music."
As Hamilton readily admits, Aerosmith fell victim to their own hype and started indulging in the sort of spoilt brat rock star antics that even the Spinal Tap scriptwriters would have rejected as being too fanciful. A Japanese promoter gave them sliced turkey instead of leaving it on the bone, so they demolished the dressing-room; the backstage area at the Toronto CNE Stadium was muddy, so they had to be ferried to the portaloos by limo. And that was their more reasonable behaviour.
"Yeah," winces Tom, "it did get a little silly."
What does Steven Tyler remember of the days when himself and his Toxic Twin propped up the South American economy between them.
"I don't particularly want to talk about drugs but what I will tell you is that I love to be a model to show people that there is hope - that there is something you can do about it if you get your asshole up around your ears. That's it. This asshole got himself away from it and, for the moment, I'm doing fucking okay."
'Fucking', as eagle-eyed readers will have spotted, is not only a favourite Steven Tyler pastime but his preferred verb, adjective and expletive too. "I guess you wouldn't want to introduce me to your mother - or your sister," he cackles good naturedly before adopting a more serious tone,
"I'm not a born-again puritan but I have four beautiful kids - a 1-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old - and I owe it to them to keep myself together. My eldest daughter has just switched from modelling to the movies and considering the dangers inherent in that profession, I think she may have learnt something from seeing her Dad hitting rock bottom and pulling himself up again."
Considering your own experiences, would you try and deter them from joining a band?
"Hell, no. Whatever they do, I'll support them. If they want to get into rock 'n' roll, fine. If they want to sell hot dogs on the sidewalk, great. I just hope they do it well and are happy."
Bombed out or not, Aerosmith produced some of the de-finitive Seventies' hard rock albums and, after a brief sabbatical at the start of the decade, went on to repeat the trick in the Eighties with Permanent Vacation and Pump both shipping platinum and finally establishing them as a worldwide phenomenon.
"We had the need to do it again," explains Hamilton. "We had the need to put the band back together and prove to ourselves, the public and the industry, that we weren't yesterday's men. We were lucky in that we had someone - Tim Collins, who's now our manager - with the balls to make us face facts we'd otherwise have ignored."
"It was a humbling experience," admits Brad Whitford. "Before the split, we'd been selling-out stadiums but on the Back In The Saddle tour it was strictly clubs and zero record company support. We couldn't complain - we'd let a lot of people down and it was a case of winning back trust."
It didn't take Aerosmith long to regain their swagger, Tyler and Perry both undergoing rehab programmes which, if not 100% successful, persuaded Geffen that they were sufficiently cleaned-up to be offered a new deal. The arrival of MTV was another turning point, the channel more than willing to accommodate the singer's shameless exhibitionism and allowing kids from even the hokiest parts of the country to discover their vulgar delights.
"MTV was important," Steve agrees, "because for the first time, non-gig goers were able to see as well as hear us and, yeah, we may not be oil paintings but we can throw a few shapes and do a few moves."
Let's dispense with the bullshit bravado for a moment. At 45 and with enough dosh stashed away to keep him in silk scarves and leather trousers for the rest of his life, there must be the odd occasion when that country estate starts looking mighty appealing.
"The bullshit-free answer is still no and that's because I have a need to keep on outdoing myself. The last album got to number two and sold four million copies - okay, we'll make sure this one goes all the way and sells five. You can always do better and I guess I've lived most my life hoping that I'm going to get this incredible burst of inspiration and write the ultimate song. It's an unobtainable dream but that doesn't stop you trying. Wasn't there some Irish group that said 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for'? Who were they?
"Also," he enthuses, ditching the MacPhisto impression, "there's nothing in the world - not even hot sex - that compares with the feeling you get when you're up there on stage, the girls in the front row are doing their thing and the rest of the crowd are going absolutely fucking crazy. When we play live, we're fulfilling a dream and we're lucky and privileged that our fans get off on songs like 'Young Lust', 'Toys In The Attic', 'Rats In The Cellar', 'Janie . . .' and 'Train Kept A Rollin'', as much as we do. I defy you to find anyone who's seen the Get A Grip tour and thinks that Aerosmith are 'going through the motions' or 'doing it for the money'. This is what keeps me alive."
There are three things, in my humble journalistic opinion, that you ought to know about Aerosmith's Get A Grip album. 1). It's not a heavy metal record; 2) People who've undergone humour by-pass surgery will find it highly offensive; and 3) Unless a family-size tube of KY Jelly's involved, nothing else will give you nearly as much pleasure this or any other year.
If that's failed to get the old juices flowing, perhaps I should mention the collaboration with Lenny Kravitz which condenses the entire Jimi Hendrix back catalogue into a four minute idolatry frenzy. The $64,000 question is how did Steve and the boys manage to prise yer' man away from Vanessa Paradis long enough to get him into the studio?
"Hah, you're treading on thin ice there," he laughs. "We were over in France doing a gig with Guns N' Roses and he was backstage shooting shit, so we got talking about Hendrix and guitars and all that macho bandy stuff. We pretty much agreed to get together there and then and we didn't even have to ask his girlfriend's permission - whoever she may be!
"One of the things I didn't like about the old Steven is that when I used to go away and meet somebody new, we'd get so fucked up that by the next morning, I'd completely forgotten their name. I'd come to and it'd be, 'Shit! Where did my stash go, where are my rings and what happened to my shirt?'.
"There was also an ego problem - I couldn't have approached Dylan in the Seventies and said, 'Hey Bob, let's write a song', because, one, he probably wouldn't have known who I was and, two, he might have been better than me! Now it's, 'Fuck, I'm a musician. Let's sit down and talk and maybe jam out a tune'. Doing 'Line Up' on the new album with Lenny was a buzz. I love his music and he's an inspiring guy to be around."
Seeing as we're discussing the opposition, perhaps this is an opportune moment for us to trot out the rock 'n' roll equivalent to the Pepsi challenge. Steve, blindfolded, can you tell the difference between Pearl Jam and the Stone Temple Pilots?
"No, I can't. And my daughter, who's big into music, can't either. It's not just us sounding like our parents, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots are both doing the Led Zeppelin trip without really adding to what went before. Lenny's kind of retro too and, yeah, there are a couple of Hendrix riffs in there but listen to 'Let Love Rule' or 'Always On The Run' and tell me he's not an original."
So what was the last album he really got off on?
"Rage Against The Machine. That's a fucking happening record."
"I'm afraid I can't help listening to Nirvana," offers Brad, "without thinking of Cream - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I know I've been influenced by a lot of those classic blues guitarists but rather than copying them note for note, I try and add a new slant to what they themselves probably adapted from someone else. The trick is distinguishing between inspiration and plagiarism!"
The L.A. lipstick and mascara brigade may have given them a run for their money in the fashion stakes but, musically, Aerosmith had little or no competition in the eighties save for punky upstarts Guns N' Roses. Nowadays, the hard rock scene is as buoyant as it's ever been, and I wonder if Tom Hamilton feels they have to actively compete with the Faith No Mores and Chili Peppers of this world?
"I don't think of it so much in terms of competing with other bands as constantly proving that we can write songs people want to listen to. Concert business in the States is pretty slack right now but we're still selling-out and getting young kids coming to the shows, so I don't think grunge or speed metal or whatever else is 'in' this week has killed us off. We've had Megadeth, Jackyl and 4 Non-Blondes supporting us on this tour, who are all happening acts, and that keeps you on your toes."
I'm going to be wantonly politically incorrect here and admit that what I love most about Aerosmith are their gloriously crass lyrics.
Take 'Flesh', for instance, from the current album: "The prince of lust has met his match/ The witch has brewed her baddest batch/ His sword is sharp and hard as stone/ Her cauldron begs for one more bone".
You'd have to go back to the glory days of Whitesnake to find an entendre more doubled or tacky. Too obviously tongue-in-cheek to be offensive, I'd have thought, but not everyone would agree. How does Steve react to charges that tracks such as 'Flesh' and 'Love In An Elevator', with its infamous 'Mr. Tyler, going down?' line, are blatantly sexist?
"Well, I'm concerned about offending people who don't deserve to be offended but those feminists who complain about our lyrics obviously aren't getting laid enough. They don't have a lover, they get frustrated and they try to spoil everyone else's fun. That might sound cruel but when they miss the obvious humour of a song like 'Love In An Elevator', I can't see it any other way.
"I know when I get into an elevator," he continues warming to the theme, "I look around and half the guys have got their hands in their trousers playing pocket pool. They're standing there thinking, 'Wow, look at that fox!'. If only you could hear the dialogue that's going on in their heads.
"What's more," Tyler claims "I can absolutely positively guarantee you that those feminists have the same fantasies - everyone wants to fuck and be fucked.
"It's all about humour and having a good time and taking the piss out of certain things. We're Monty Python with electric guitars."
Although I'm sure the lads do a damn fine 'Parrot Sketch', you'll be relieved to hear that 'The Lumberjack Song' and 'Eric The Half A Bee' haven't made it into the set on this tour, although knowing Tyler's roguish sense of humour they could pop up any night now as an encore.
Staying with lyrics for a moment - there's been a lot of discussion recently about 'gangsta' rap and the violence it may or may not provoke. Does Steve ever find that sort of overtly militant approach intimidating or, indeed, offensive?
"After a certain point, yeah. The blacks and the Hispanics have been stuck in a ghetto and white American society is doing its best to keep them there. NWA, Public Enemy and all those other hardcore rap acts have a right to be angry - what they don't have, though, is the right to be anti other minorities and go round shouting, 'Yo, I'm going to shoot you motherfucker!'. You only have to look at the L.A. riots to see how critical the situation has become but I have faith in the open-mindedness of kids today and, given time, I believe that society will change and that anger will be able to run its course."
Aerosmith are well aware that rap also has its positive side - their 1986 update of 'Walk This Way' with Run DMC not only exposing both outfits to a new audience but demonstrating that the dividing line between black and white music was becoming increasingly blurred.
"Rick Rubin suggested the collaboration," Brad explains, "and we did the song in five or six hours. It was real quick and I think that buzz, that liveness comes across on the record. I liked the idea of the video - the wall between the two bands being torn down. I know it was kind of corny but sometimes, when you want to make a point, you can't afford to be subtle. When so much rock 'n' roll comes from black guys playing the blues, it's always disappointed me that Aerosmith attract a mainly white audience. I suppose there are bigots on both sides but hopefully us doing that with Run DMC chipped away at a few prejudices."
Whatever about a social conscience - and the numerous benefits they play every year prove they do have one - Aerosmith are still an awesome live force and would rather deep-fry their dingly dangly bits in oil than short-change an audience. (Sometimes I wonder, Stuart. Where the fuck do you dredge the metaphors up from? - Ed) Although very much a five man band, you don't need to be a Mastermind contestant to work out who runs the show and with all that charisma running rampant, I'm amazed Steven Tyler's never taken his talents to Hollywood.
"I've wanted to," he protests, "but the others have always said, 'No man, we've got an album to record', or, 'we've got to go on tour'. Actually, they've probably done me a favour because rock stars tend to make lousy actors. Take Mick Jagger and David Bowie - I love those guys to death on stage but on screen, they can't cut it. Sting's maybe the exception to the rule, he's okay."
You did manage to wangle your animated way onto The Simpsons, though.
"Yeah, the caricature was funny. I got a little pissed off with that 'yi-yi-yi-yi-yah' crap but the rest of the group reckon that's how I sound in real life, so we'll let 'em off. We were sitting in the studio while the guy did his piece - he looked worried when I arrived but when he realised he wasn't going to get hit, he settled down. Getting invited onto a show like The Simpsons is flattering, especially when 90% of the country watch it every week. My only regret is I never got to try a 'Flaming Mo'."
In time-honoured tradition, I've left the corniest question to last. When the Aerosmith bandwagon trundles into Dublin on October 27th for their Point headliner, will it be just another date in a seemingly endless world tour or are they actually looking forward to coming here?
"Oh no," he replies with obvious enthusiasm, "Dublin is a trip. One good thing about being in Europe is that you get to travel by road and when we passed through Ireland last Thanksgiving, we were screaming 'stop the bus!' every five minutes and getting off to take a look around. The tour manager's going nuts because we're due to soundcheck in half-an-hour and we're getting a guided tour of the local castle! The countryside and the girls and the guys and talking to the farmers - it was a beautiful experience." Of course, being a married man, his interest in our fair Irish colleens is purely platonic.
"Yeah, right. What do you think?"
There's no need to think - the salacious leer spreading across Steven Tyler's face says it all!
- Film & TV
- 30 Dec 20