This coming November, embattled rock veterans Aerosmith are releasing Music from Another Dimension, their first album of new material since 2001's Just Push Play. The band, now entering 42 years of existence, comes with decades of decadent, drug-addled, combative baggage, but somehow they continue to keep the train a-rollin'.
For all the infighting, rehab stints, Steven Tyler's American Idol dalliance and the random power ballad, the group has managed to survive relatively unscathed. No one has died, lost a limb or been convicted of anything major. As much as you would want the family of blood brothers from Bawston to pack it in, Aerosmith's story isn't finished quite yet.
Lead guitarist Joe Perry has been the Keith to lead singer Tyler's Mick for five decades, minus the solo stint in the early '80s when he and rhythm guitarist Brad Whitford left in frustration over drug use within the band. That isn't to say that Perry was a saint — he was one of the "Toxic Twins," after all.
The pair returned to the fold for 1985's Done With Mirrors. The latter-day Aerosmith seems to be a business first and a band a close second, seeing that they tour every year in some capacity. In fact, Perry says touring is what keeps them kicking as a band.
"It's just what we do," he affirms. "There's a lot of stuff I would like to do other than being on the road, but we get a charge out of doing it. I love traveling; we get restless. It gets rough in spots, but it's in our blood."
Whenever Tyler goes off the rails — physically or figuratively — Perry seems to be the voice of reason, the straight man to the singer's notorious cutup. The image of Tyler as an off-cue and glittery grandmother in a cruise-ship karaoke bar is a popular one.
In the 21st century, Aerosmith's onstage chemistry has become a show unto itself. During the band's previous Houston-area appearance, in August of 2010 in The Woodlands, it was clear that Perry and Tyler were at odds. Tyler would pester Perry during solos, and the guitarist would shoo him away. When Tyler hit the mike to lay down a line of textbook front-man patois, Perry would rev up the next tune to drown him out.
Even after all the antagonism, they played "Dream On," with Tyler disclaiming beforehand, "This concert is real. Everything you hear in the press is bullshit. And if you don't believe that, dream on." Fair enough — a shot at the journos in the crowd. They closed the concert with early Fleetwood Mac chestnut "Rattlesnake Shake," the first song the Aeroforce ever learned together.
About the criticism, Perry says, "We've been doing this for so long that we don't take it to heart. It is what it is, and it would be awful boring (otherwise)." The effect of social media only magnifies any perceived hiccups, but the guitarist calls his and Tyler's onstage sparring "what he brings to the party."
"If someone in the press puts something out there, it gets magnified, and I have to spend half an interview explaining that shit, which is probably why I am writing my autobiography," adds Perry.
In 2011, Tyler put out his own adventuresome tell-all tome, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?, which seems to have only exasperated difficulties within the band, though touring continued and recording for Dimension forged on. Drummer Joey Kramer was less than complimentary of Tyler in his 2009 memoir, branding the front man (and former drummer) a studio control freak.
For his part, Perry's own version of the past half-century is due in fall 2013. Is it a direct answer to some of Tyler's literary flights of fancy?
"I would like to show what it's been like being a middle-class, white, suburban kid with no connection to the music and entertainment business to find rock and roll and show where it took me," he says. "Hopefully, along the way I can give my point of view when it comes to Aerosmith history."
Everyone has their view of the past 42 years, but Perry thinks his side of the story should make for an amazing ride. For one thing, there hasn't been much said about his time away from the band as a solo act.
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After such a long layover from the band's onetime album/tour creative cycle, working on Dimension forced Aerosmith to coalesce again. The new record has more or less been in gestation since 2010, when drummer Kramer told the Houston Press about the first from-scratch sessions. Tyler's detour into a judge's role on American Idol didn't exactly help matters either. Thankfully, he just announced his Idol departure which surely made Aero fans happy. But it's not so easy to make that happen — it took someone from the outside.
This time around they have re-enlisted producer Jack Douglas, who helped sprinkle fairy dust on the band's earliest and biggest hits. The last time Douglas and Aerosmith collaborated on an original album was for 1982's Rock in a Hard Place, though he helped on 2004's album of blues covers, Honkin' on Bobo. The new material Perry describes sounds like vintage Aerosmith all right.
"When I put on the headphones, I hear Brad on one side, me on the other, with Steven coming up the middle and Joey slamming away with Tom, and it just puts me right in the middle of the room," he says.