Interview: Aerosmith's Tom Hamilton talks new tour, album and 'savoring'
Aerosmith will get back in the saddle again this summer with a new tour and the band’s first new studio album since 2004’s “Honkin’ on Bobo.” At a press conference held Wednesday at The Grove shopping center in Los Angeles, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Joey Kramer and Tom Hamilton (Brad Whitford is on tour with Experience Hendrix) revealed the new album will come out in a few months. The still-untitled project is co-produced by Jack Douglas, who produced such legendary albums as 1975’s “Toys in the Attic,” and 1976’s “Rocks; Tyler, and Marti Frederiksen. If Douglas is responsible for the band’s earliest success, Frederiksen has been a major part of the band’s mid-‘90s resurgence.
After the press conference, I sat down with bassist Hamilton for an exclusive one-on-one to talk about the fractious band’s past and the current state of their union, how he feels on stage, and what he really thought about the “60 Minutes” profile that ran a few weeks ago.
The Global Warming tour, which starts June 16, only covers 18 markets so far. Will there be a second leg?
We get out there when we can. Obviously, we have restrictions time-wise with Steven and we’re still working out how we’re going to do what we do in the time that we have.
So you don’t know if there will be a second leg?
I’m sure, in the fall, there most likely will be. I just don’t like to jinx it by saying, “Yes there will.” It’s extremely likely there will be another leg. That’s the plan.
Because we know nothing ever goes wrong in the Aerosmith camp...
God, I tell you, every show... we were just in South America and Japan. Every show was like adding a pearl on a string. You savor it and you gotta love it because we don’t have all the time in the world. We’ll see what happens.
Has playing live become more precious to you as you get older?
Yes, very much. Especially when it comes to touring outside of the country. Going places that we’ve either only been to a couple of times or never been to, or even going to Japan where we’ve been going for years, decades. You just want to savor every bit of it, really, because you see the looks on the faces of those people in the crowd and you think about the effort that it takes to go to a show. It’s expensive. A lot of the girls want to go and buy something special to wear. You have to park. You have to figure out how you’re going to do it and still get to work or school the next morning. You realize that — what people are doing to be able to come see you.
To this day, you still do meet and greets with fans before the show. Why?
It’s like a little shot of the pure essence of it because people are so nervous and they’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen in that meet and greet for a long time and what they’re going to say and you really get a feeling and a reminder of what it feels like to put your headphones on and get between your speakers and hear your favorite songs. So doing that before a show gives you a shot of that, that pure thing of why are we here.
My old boss used to say that the band was locked in a dance it couldn’t get out of... you love each other and hate each other and go on nonetheless.
We’re always on the verge of breaking up, you know. There’s always something to worry about all the time, you know, but we keep coming back. And a big part of why we keep coming back is because the phone is ringing and it’s our manager calling and saying, “Hey, your fans really want you to play. Do you want to go on tour?” “Yes.” So we go out there.
And there’s some chemistry, that happens when you’re together. Once you walk on stage does all the bad stuff float away?
It’s really amazing. Like a lot of the shows we did in South America were places we’ve never played before and there were definitely glances going around saying, “Wow, here was are. We’re playing Paraguay. Can you believe it?” A year ago, October, this past October, we were as close to breaking up as we’ve been in a long time, but we had four big shows that we had to do or we would have gotten our ass chewed off. We went out and did them and sure enough, we were not on speaking terms with Steven for a lot of things around that period, but when we got on stage, it was there. And it was a relief too.
What is the state of the union now?
Really good. We’re making plans and looking forward to the future. We’ve got this tour, we’re going to get this album out sometime between now and September.
After Aerosmith’s profile on “60 Minutes” a few weeks ago, you tweeted that you were still recovering from that. Any regrets that the band has been so public about your squabbles. Do you feel it detracts from the music?
I don’t think it detracts from the music, but when I saw that show, I went and immediately texted Steven and said “Good job,” and he texted back, ‘At what?” and I said, “60 Minutes.” You might not expect that we’d go back and forth. They wanted to get something a little bit deeper. It was kind of the same subject matter that we’ve talked about over and over, but a bit deeper. I think it was pretty painful the way they just kept nailing him. They kept setting him up and hitting him with these out-of-context remarks, you know, and it put him in a corner. I thought he behaved well in a corner, he defended himself. He said, “yeah, I’m that good.” And I’m like, thinking, “Yeah, you are. You are really good. Maybe not as good as you think you are, but you are really pretty good’” (laughs).
In the press conference you were talking about the new album, and reuniting with Jack Douglas. He did “Honkin.’....
But there was only one original on that album. We’re back to that process of pre-production, which Jack has always been a big part of. We learned how to make records with him and learned what we like in terms of how to arrange a song and all that stuff...It’s a beautiful thing because [Jack’s] into the weird and he will support the unusual. He will make sure everybody gets a chance to say what they want to say musically on an album.
So he’s a referee, as any producer is.
Yeah, but a lot of producers, they just want to get the thing that’s going to get on the radio and get it done. Keep the record company happy and get on to their next project. You don’t get that with Jack. He’s not sitting around making a phone call every time there’s a break about what his next project is going to be. He’s completely emotionally and mentally dedicated to what you’re doing.
Where are you in the recording process? Steven said you’ve been working on it for four months.
We’ve been working on it for much longer than four months. I think what Steven was talking about is the phase of being out in L.A. and the phase that results in the vocals getting done. We worked all last summer and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve been working on this record every day for years. Agonizing... We’ve got probably three-quarters or maybe even slightly more of the vocals [done].
Steven mentioned a song called “Legendary Child.” What’s that one sound like?
It’s a medium-tempo rocker. It’s a classic Aerosmith song. It rocks, but it has a very strong melodic content and a lot of spaces in there for Joe and Brad and everybody to lay down some riff that they want everybody to hear. It’s a song that wasn’t written yesterday. It’s been around for awhile, but never really recorded and we’ve never done the full-on pre-production and production of the song until now.
You referenced 1975 in the press conference, which, of course, was the year “Toys in the Attic” was released. Is that a good reference point for what you want to sound like on this album?
Yeah, without really saying that, you know. That’s sort of pathetic to say, “Let’s make an imitation of ‘Rocks’.” Those records were an accurate representation of our tastes back then in combination with Jack. I want to be fair: there’s a couple of songs produced by Marti Frederiksen, who’s an amazing songwriter and producer. But I mention Jack because he’s sort of the overlord of this whole thing. Yes, we longed for that process that’s based on our relationship with him.
What do you do when an Aerosmith song comes on the radio?
First thing I do is turn it up and I’m checking it out to see how it sounds compared to the song that was on before it and the one that’s on after it.
Even if it’s a classic song like “Walk This Way?”
You’re still thinking, “Wow, shit, I wish we would have done this, you know, or that part should have been twice as long.” That still happens.