Steven Tyler goes country

Steven Tyler moved down to Nashville, Tennessee to acclimate himself to all things melodically country. He thinks the change helped him produce some of the best songs he’s ever written. “It’s something in the water,” he claims. (Publicity photo)

Steven Tyler moved down to Nashville, Tennessee to acclimate himself to all things melodically country. He thinks the change helped him produce some of the best songs he’s ever written. “It’s something in the water,” he claims.
(Publicity photo)

By Ken Sharp

At age 68, Steven Tyler continues to surprise. Longtime Aerosmith fans might be scratching their heads with news that Tyler has just completed a country solo album, “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.” But upon closer listening to the band’s rich catalog, the DNA of country holds flavor in the group’s body of work. From the wistful delicacy of “Seasons of Wither” and “Dream On” to late ‘80s mega hits, “Cryin’,” “Amazing” and “What It Takes,” all of these aforementioned tracks and more stylistically fit comfortably alongside the pop-country hits of 2016. And adding further credence to that notion, the new album features Tyler’s country-fied rendition of one of the group’s biggest hits, “Janie’s Got A Gun.”

What sparked Steven’s idea to forge out alone and record his first solo album? “It kind of started when Aerosmith started putting little snippets in the press about lead singers and I’m not doing this and that and there were just little things every now and then that people in the band were saying about me doing a solo project. And you know, I love jumping — I’ve always jumped into things with both feet whether it was an Aerosmith album or this thing. I came to Nashville. I rented a house. Now I just bought a house so I’m living here full-on. It’s a musical mecca. It was very scary in the beginning. Scott Borchetta from Big Machine (Records) said, ‘I want you on my label.’ I said, ‘You know, let’s do it on a handshake.’ He said okay. And I said, ‘All right. But let’s wait two months because I want to see what we get for music. I don’t know what I’m going to get. I could get nothing. I could come down here and just…’ I didn’t know what I was going to get. It was risky. It was let’s just do it. And I started writing with people and within two months I got five of some of the greatest songs, I think, I’ve ever written or I’ve ever been part of in writing. Because I co-wrote with everyone down here and I think I’ve done some of my best work through this country head. Whatever it is that runs through Nashville, it’s like… it’s something in the water. Actually, the main route through Nashville is Route 440 and it’s… that’s what you tune all the instruments on planet earth to. An A note is 440. A friend noticed it and he brought it up and I just went, holy sh*t, what are the chances. But, you know, this town still has the passion for music. It hasn’t lost it through business and money, publishing. It may be big here but the music aspect still has the passion. The artists that come here come from all over the world to be part of it, and there’s so much music dripping out of this honeycomb of this town that I’m in it. I’m in it neck deep. I’m going to stay here. I’m going to live here. I love it here. And it was risky and it was scary and now the record’s done.”

tyler-countryWorking in the solo milieu away from the safe confines of Aerosmith, one wonders if there’s a newfound creativity and freedom Tyler experiences when separated from longtime collaborators like Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. “Well, I think with Aerosmith, like Joe Perry, he wrote all the licks, all the great licks. Brad wrote, ‘take me back to sweet Tallahassee. Home sweet home’… Whatever he put into ‘Last Child,’ that’s his moment. He can take that and that’s his forever. You know, ‘Dream On’ is mine forever. I get off the most in life in collaborating. But that doesn’t mean that when I sit back I go, ‘Damn.’ When I didn’t know anything at all about anything, I wrote ‘Dream On.’ So trust my intuition that when it goes … (begins to sing ‘Dream On’), when that part came and I went, ‘Oh sh*t,’ I can’t do that on a record. It sounds so stupid and goofy and I took a chance and just did it. I think that was a moment with Aerosmith. And everyone’s had their moments. But writing a solo record and going off with other people that I don’t know, never met, go to their house, drink coffee, bullsh*t for two hours and then get down to the nitty gritty of, ‘Well, what would you like to sing about?’ ‘Well, you know, I had this idea of the good, the bad, the ugly in me or we’re all somebody from somewhere or…’, and we actually write a song around it. And I go home and everyone’s got Pro Tools and down here everybody’s so talented and knows how to run the damn thing. And I don’t. But collaborating like that and writing and coming up with new melodies and new things, it’s just kind of like, well, I can sing on Maui. What would it be like to sing in Alaska and what would I sing about in Alaska? It’s kind of like that. I mean, I can call this a solo project but a lot of Aerosmith records were that as well. There were songs that I had in my back pocket and I brought it in but nothing is really a solo anything. It’s just going out like that. Steven Tyler out on a limb but I’m really nothing without that band and I’m nothing without Aerosmith and I’m nothing without my sobriety and I’m nothing without a lot of things. So this whole damn thing is a ‘we’ thing. But when you’re asking, and I love your question, those moments, man, when they hit, they hit hard. I got to get up and I’ll be sitting in my bed at night listening to songs that we wrote that day, and even the demos. I’d have to get out of bed, drop to my knees and just say ‘Thank you, God,’ because I don’t even know where the sh*t came from. But I believe you all out there are going to ask, you’re going to listen to this stuff and you’re going to agree with me, that it fell from the stars. I had nothing to do with this sh*t. It’s just Nashville. It’s something so magical about this town and me writing with all these people that whatever you hear, oh yeah, it was magic. A lot of work went into it and I got to produce, co-produce with Dann Huff and T Bone Burnett. But we just finished it and I’m on fire and I hope you got out of that those kind of moments when you write and you just go, ‘holy sh*t.’”

How does Tyler deal with being a solo artist for the very first time? “Well, it’s not like I’ve arrived as a solo artist. I think when I came to Nashville, I took a chance. I did not sign with Scott Borchetta right away. I said, ‘Let me see what I get.’ Because, hey, who knows? But after two months it just started coming heavy and hard. And I just wanted a record that, as they said in the old days, is like four or five deep which means there’s possibly — possibly — four or five singles. And as you know, country music still plays stuff with melody. I have a sorcerer’s grasp of melody, I like to think. So I’m a freak for that. And thank God they’re still playing it in country and I think they’re going to be all over songs like ‘Only Heaven’ (on the new album).”

T Bone Burnett, acclaimed for his work with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Elton John and Leon Russell among others, is one of the producers on board for Tyler’s solo debut. “I’d met T Bone a couple times checking out at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston or wherever I’d be. I’d see this tall guy lurking around and came up and introduced himself and so I met him a couple times. I certainly know the songs and music that he’s done. I went and did the show in Nashville and his wife is Callie and she goes, ‘You know, I’m married to T Bone.’ And I went, ‘Yeah.’ So there it was. I called T Bone up. I said, ‘Listen, I’d love to play you some stuff. Are you here?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m over at the House of Blues.’ So I played him three songs … I played him 11 songs and he loved three. And before I walked out he goes, ‘I’d love to do these.’ I said to him, ‘Can we please do them off the demos? I want to keep the demo vocals. I love the feeling and the vibe of the vocals. Can we … I don’t want to re-record them.’ He said, ‘Absolutely. I wouldn’t do it any other way.” And I knew right then and there that he felt the same things I did — the soul of the song. When you write a song it comes from your head, but then if the song is any good it starts talking back. It starts telling you what you meant. And once you get in that place it’s pay dirt. T Bone knows that premise. We kept it light and open. It was just such an honor working with somebody like T Bone that has that same feeling of minimalism and what it is in the song that really matters the most. So I love him to death.”

With Aerosmith on hiatus, there are understandably some fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that are conflicted with the news of band frontman Steven Tyler cutting a solo country record. “I love living through the risks that The Beatles played, with The Kinks, The Animals, Snoop Dogg and ‘Drop it like it’s Hot.’ I love risky sh*t. And, more often than not, when you feel risk it’s because people aren’t thinking, they’re just doing it and they’re willing to take a risk. It’s kind of like what I do and interestingly enough, I piss a lot of people off. But when it comes to music and jumping in and doing stuff like that and new stuff, it better speak for itself.”

Indeed, Tyler sees a clear corollary between the rock music he performs in Aerosmith and country music. “It’s all about melody and melody and I are not strangers. You know, it’s always: if you listen really close to some Aerosmith stuff, like the song ‘Once is Enough’ is very country. You know, ‘Cryin’’ (sings ‘there was a time when I was so brokenhearted’), I mean, if I didn’t put that kind of country twang on, you know. I’m not making fun of it but, it’s all about melody and really good melody. Hillary Lindsey (songwriter) turned me onto a part of my voice that I never even knew existed in a song called ‘Somebody New’ on this record. And the beauty of coming down here and working with a bunch of country folks is, A.) I was cut on country, B.) I am a country boy and C.) it was all about The Everly Brothers to me. And then coming down here I actually get a chance to, I think, a little more than — because Aerosmith’s a lot of rock. And even when I first brought ‘Dream On,’ it was more about all of our combined head space, you know, ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’’ and ‘Sweet Emotion’. But I’ve always had that ‘Dream On,’ ‘Angel’; I’ve been a sucker for melody and coming down to Nashville, and working with these folks it’s more melody and more about words and carving meaning out of stuff.”

Embarking on his first solo tour, Steven also fills in fans on what they can expect. “It’s called Out on a Limb. It kicks off  at the Venetian in Vegas. It’s the most phenomenal band called Loving Mary that I get to sing with. We’re doing some 25 to 30 dates. I’m doing a bunch of songs that I wrote for Aerosmith. Like ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ and ‘Dream On,’ I do. But, you know, it’s more about the country songs and I get a chance to, as you say, storyteller. With Aerosmith, I don’t really … you know, the audience pays a lot of money. It’s 20,000 of them out there. They want to hear the hits and we got to bang, bang, bang, bang one to the other to the other. And I love it, it keeps me young. Also, we’re just finishing up the record.”

As he hits the road without his fellow Aerosmith bandmates for the very first time, Steven notes he’s most looking forward to “the looks on people’s faces when we rip into either this new version of ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’ that I put together and it’s going to be on the record. It’s a little bit darker than the other version, but, it’s countrified a little and the look on people’s faces when I rip ‘Into Only Heaven’ and ‘We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.’ It’s like the same thing — I didn’t know what was going to happen when Aerosmith first made it. But I did notice the looks on people’s faces when they kind of liked it, and I’m just looking forward to that again. I’m in such a high place right now because Nashville’s been so good to me in the last year and a half. And I managed to put together 15 to 16 songs that  just came out much better than I ever expected. I’m looking forward to playing all those songs live. And the music is good and it’s … I mean, the vibe here in Nashville is ridiculous. The passion, the soul. There’s still a big soul beating here, whereas in a lot of other places where it used to, it’s kind of dead because business took over. Here, it’s still alive and the passion fuels that and I’m right stuck in the middle of it. So I’m loving it and I can’t wait to get on the tour with my country band, if you will. “

Beyond the solo tour, there are plans for Aerosmith to reconvene later in the year for a short trek, and reports are circulating that in 2017 the band will head out on a Farewell Tour that could last for several years. “I mean, I love Aerosmith and I’m looking forward to going on tour in South America this October, November. But this is a real hoot. I’ve never done a solo anything and I kind of got jealous that the other guys in the band did. So I took a year off. It’s been a little bit longer but I think you’ll like what you hear.”

Speaking of Aerosmith, the band’s dangerous dalliances in substance abuse is well known. How did Tyler and Joe Perry, dubbed “The Toxic Twins,” manage to remain creative while fighting their own battles with drink and drugs? “Well, I got a great answer for that. What Albert Einstein said, ‘Knowledge will never replace imagination.’ The few brain cells — I like to think a few, it’s probably a lot — I lost going through that era, I almost feel like saying if I jump down the rabbit hole could I not tell you about someone I met named Alice? I have this crazy passion and love of life. And I’m always speaking out of line and out of turn and out of this and out of that. (People say) ‘You’re out of your mind.’ ‘Well, good, I’d rather be out of my mind than in a place that you’re in,’ I would say to these people. It’s just that I’ve always had a vivid imagination. Grew up as a country boy in Sunapee, New Hampshire. So I played with bugs and birds and Mother Nature and all that sh*t. I used to trap. We had 300 acres. An Italian, middle-of-the-road, low-class family up in New England — they bought it in 1930 for three grand. But I grew up there and then my winters I grew up in the Bronx where I got beaten up and called all kinds of names. And so I got the best of both worlds and somewhere in there along with being best friends with Joe Perry and loving the band so much and being called the “Toxic Twins,” we were able to pull out of our asses and dance between the notes and find that magic lyric to get those songs. I can’t help but blame my father because he went to Juilliard and I grew up under the piano, literally. I know you wrote about this before but when they brought me home from the hospital I was put (there)  — apartments back then were 8 x 10 living rooms. That was it. So the piano, my father would play piano, classical practice and then go off and have his, teaching the people he taught. So I grew up listening to the notes of music, so melody’s always been my forte. So when I listen back — Christ, sometimes I go to Maui and I just listen to the body of work that the band Aerosmith has done and it’s f**king astounding. And I just say my prayers at night, I just say thank you, God, keep my passion because I love going out onstage and playing something so f**king great, that I think, and can’t wait the next day to try it again. And this new country record, I think you’re going to hear stuff that’s, I mean, certainly Aerosmith couldn’t have done it because, you know, in that sense it’s solo. Because I got to run it by five guys, we are a band — four other guys. But in this sense, I got to write with people and co-produce with T Bone Burnett and everything was open and wild and easy and free and why not and it’s all in there. I’m grateful that I haven’t sat back on my laurels. I really took a chance on this country record and it just turned out so much better than I ever thought. So the sky is the limit from here on out. 

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