Steven's Lament

Near the end of an interview in which he's spilled his guts over the problems that surrounded Aerosmith's new CD, Nine Lives, '70s cock-rock icon Steven Tyler issues a few words of caution.

"You've got enough stuff to get me sued, buster," the singer says. "I would just say be careful, because you could make it sound like I'm blaming, blaming, blaming."

Indeed, Tyler had touched on many sensitive subjects over the course of the conversation, leaving little doubt about his still-singed feelings regarding the events surrounding the making of his group's 12th release of new material in 27 years. The release should have been just another triumphant moment in the Boston band's already hugely successful career. And as it turns out, Aerosmith did deliver a product good enough to produce multiplatinum sales.

But despite the impressive result, Nine Lives's completion left a trail of accusations, hurt feelings, creative differences and organizational shakeups that struck at the very core of Aerosmith. Over the course of the project, the band temporarily lost drummer Joey Kramer, who opted out of some recording sessions due to depression over his father's death; ditched an entire version of the release produced by Glen Ballard and then redid the CD with producer Kevin Shirley; endured rumors that Tyler had a drug relapse, something Tyler emphatically and angrily denies; reached the brink of breaking up before a group meeting resolved tensions; and parted ways with Tim Collins, the manager who had guided Aerosmith back to million-selling status after its highly publicized early '80s breakup.

It all began last March, when four of the band's five members -- Tyler, guitarists Joe Perry and Brad Whitford and bassist Tom Hamilton -- assembled in Miami to begin recording with Ballard (who produced Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill). At the outset of the sessions, the band was confronted with Kramer's decision not to participate, and they chose to record with session drummer Steve Ferrone. After three weeks in the studio with Ballard, the band faced other problems. There were differences over the direction some tracks were taking. Tyler and Ballard had been using tape loops, techno grooves and other sonic departures on a few tracks, and tapes of those early experiments had met with a chilly reception at the band's label, Sony/Columbia.

"I never really got a chance to mix the Glen Ballard stuff," Tyler says. "There were some takes that were sent to Sony unmixed, without Joey Kramer on it, and they heard it, and [said], 'Jeez, this doesn't really sound like Aerosmith.' The real truth of the matter is the songs were never mixed. Mixing, it's all in the mix."

Compounding the artistic uncertainties were rumors (which Tyler blames on former manager Collins) that the singer was using drugs. For a band that had seen drug use play a major role in its dissolution following Toys in the Attic, Rocks and other big-selling releases, the sensitivity to the drug issue can't be understated. Things came to a head when each of the other band members sent Tyler a letter (a step Tyler says was also instigated by Collins) complaining about his attitude during the sessions and suggesting that he get counseling. Tyler reacted angrily. With the group on the brink of disintegration, they decided to confront the turmoil head-on with a band meeting.

"I told them, 'This is not true,' " Tyler recalls. "I told the band I was ready to quit, that I heard Tim Collins was spreading rumors about me and I couldn't let the man manage me anymore."

In the end, Tyler regained the favor of his bandmates and Collins was dismissed. But Aerosmith couldn't salvage the Ballard sessions. Instead the group decided to enlist Shirley, known for his work with Silverchair, and redo the tracks to capture more of the raw, rocking sound fans had come to expect from the band. The resulting CD offers its share of patented bruising bluesy rockers, including "Crash" and the title track, as well as some more adventurous tracks, such as the Middle Eastern-flavored "Taste of India," the funky, groove-laden "Pink" and the wonderfully jagged rocker "The Farm," the last of which is spiced by some dynamic orchestrations and offbeat vocal flourishes.

"He's not called 'the Caveman' for nothing," Tyler says of Shirley. "Interestingly enough, the part that Joe and Brad and Tom and Joey wanted from Kevin Shirley -- that 'let's get back to Aerosmith's roots' thing -- it kind of stepped on the new direction in which I wanted to take the band. So about that, I'm a little pissed. But all in all, I love the album. Don't get me wrong. I'm just telling you personal little things, so when you hear something else that comes out someday [Tyler is considering a solo effort], you'll know where those ideas came from."

Still, Tyler doesn't look back on the Nine Lives sessions with any measure of fondness.

"In a nutshell, it was the worst album I've ever experienced doing. It was the worst time of my life," Tyler says. "I was left with my head in my hands wondering whether I was going to stay in this band or not." Tyler adds. "I will never swallow as much shit as I swallowed making this record again. That's just the way it is. I just won't."

Aerosmith performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, October 11, at the Summit, 10 Greenway Plaza. Tickets are $27.50 to $50. Marry Me Jane opens. For info, call 629-3700.

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Alan Sculley