Aerosmith puts the ‘function’ in ‘dysfunction’
Steven Tyler is making Joe Perry laugh.
On the phone from a Chicago tour stop, the Aerosmith guitarist chuckles as his voluble singer describes the band’s upcoming album, “Music From Another Dimension,” as so right, “it’s the opposite of everything that’s wrong — and we still managed to do it!”
Later, Perry elicits a laugh from Tyler when he concedes that the motormouthed singer’s participation as a judge on the last two seasons of “American Idol” has been a boon to the band’s bottom line and notes, “That’s not the first time he’s heard that. I’ve told him that.”
“It feels great to hear it again,” replies Tyler.
After a tumultuous few years in which the 40-year-old Boston-bred band’s existence seemed to hang in the balance, the duo’s easy interplay probably sounds good to the group’s fans, as Aerosmith gears up to play the TD Garden with Cheap Trick Tuesday and Thursday. Tyler’s announcement on Thursday that he’s leaving the Fox reality show to rededicate himself to Aerosmith is another promising sign.
“I strayed from my first love, Aerosmith, and I’m back,” Tyler said in a statement released by Fox.
Commercial boon or not, Tyler’s participation in “American Idol” had been a source of tension for the group.
“We’re a band that started out in an apartment together, so if someone goes off and does something [and people are annoyed], I understand it. I didn’t quite get it back then,” Tyler says. “We worked together, and I was off making a ton of money and being on TV and I wasn’t with the band. And I even felt that in my heart. I felt it.”
But “Idol” was only the latest issue in several turbulent and acrimonious years that were kick-started, at least in public, by Tyler’s prescription-drug addiction relapse and subsequent fall offstage at a concert in 2009. That accident put him first in the hospital and then in rehab, effectively sidelining the group.
The quintet — including guitarist Brad Whitford, drummer Joey Kramer, and bassist Tom Hamilton — let loose their gripes in a recent edition of “60 Minutes.” Bandmates complained that Tyler was competitive, a perfectionist, and could be cruel. Tyler claimed that they rode his coattails.
But those issues seem to have been if not quite resolved, at least smoothed over, by three things: “Dimension” producer Jack Douglas, the music itself, and Aerosmith’s fans.
The first piece of the puzzle came with Douglas, the one decision on which all five bandmates voted unanimously.
The producer was behind the boards for most of Aerosmith’s early triumphs in the ’70s — “Rocks,” “Get Your Wings,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Draw the Line” — as well as their last release, 2004’s mostly covers affair “Honkin’ on Bobo.”
Douglas’s presence was, says Hamilton in a separate interview, “what created an atmosphere of real possibility for an entire album’s worth of material getting done. Because we basically learned how to make records with this guy. His way of working with us and relating to each individual band member is something that was established a long time ago, and it wasn’t like a new producer coming in and having to figure out how to work politically within the band. This was a guy who could completely cut through that kind of stuff.”
And that stuff remains the same, says Douglas by phone from San Francisco, before heading to Los Angeles to make a few “tiny little updates” to the album. Aerosmith’s first release of original material in over a decade was just pushed from a late August release to Nov. 6 — mainly for marketing purposes, says Douglas.
“Thirty-five years later, every single guy in that band and myself, we’re the exact same people, for good and for ill,” says Douglas. “So that means we can just look at each other and go, ‘Who’s [expletive]?’ Steven would say to me, ‘Oh, there’s that look.’ ”
When it came to the music itself, that look apparently proved effective for everyone.
“[Kramer] got a song on this album,” Douglas says. “Brad’s got a bunch of songs on it. And Tom has two gigantic contributions.”
Hamilton credits his songs in part to his own sense of urgency after battling throat cancer as well as the brotherly friction between band members.
“Steven needs to be reminded how much love and respect we have for him and for his talent and his energy,” says Hamilton. “I totally admire him for that, and I’m totally aware that Steven is the star of the band. He’s the guy who is a lot of the energy for our forward motion, but I just have to grit my teeth when I hear people in the press talk about that coattails thing and say well, all I can do is go up to my studio and bust my butt to come out with something that says, ‘No, there are other people in this band that have something to contribute.’ ”
Does Aerosmith actually require its same old dysfunctional song and dance to function?
“It is true, it’s all part of the mix, it really is,” says Hamilton with a laugh. “Usually, unfortunately for me, pain is my best motivator.”
“Of course we all wish it was easier,” says Tyler. “But the thing with this is we’ve got to do it all together. It’s got to be an all or nothing, and that’s been the fight all along, and I’m not sure if there is any other way. In the beginning we had something to prove, and even if these fights are juvenile we still all have something to prove. Joe’s got something to prove to me, I’ve got something to prove to him. I’ve got something to prove to management. I’ve got something to prove to the world.
“And the fact that we all have that and they’re aspirations, and they’re not laced in drugs and alcohol and fictitious things, it’s all laced in the reality [that] this band can make an album that will get the whole world to sing, now that’s a phenomenon.”
Then there are the fans, says Perry, specifically the band’s fans in South America and Japan, where Aerosmith toured last fall after completing basic tracks on “Dimension.”
“I think the thing that really glued it together was going back on the road,” says Perry. “The band just kept playing better and better and better. The fans were so supportive. It really spurred us to new life, because we’re a live band, and when you spend all that time onstage and you go back and listen to the tracks knowing that you’re going to be playing these songs next year, it really gives you a perspective that you just can’t get any other way.”
While the pair muse on all that has happened since their early days living together on Commonwealth Ave., Perry comments on how apt the new album’s title is. “We feel like we’ve gone through so many dimensions of music, of emotion, of life, and seen so many different scenes,” he says. “We joke about being the last band standing, but it’s not a joke anymore.”
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.