"Everybody peaks in their own time," says Aerosmith guitaris Joe Perry. "With Aerosmith, I think that we were just fumbling along in the '70s, making all the mistakes just the right way, you know? And now we're building on it, and I think that we still have a lot left to say. I don't think that we've written our best songs, I don't think that we've played our best shows."
Given Aerosmith's track record -- nine platinum albums, 13 Top-40 singles and a history that stretches back to 1970 -- Perry's statement might seem a tad modest. After all, most rock bands would happily retire on a reputation like Aerosmith's.
Aerosmith, though, isn't about to rest on its laurels. Tuesday, the band will release "Get a Grip," its 11th album (not counting concert recordings and greatest-hits collections); a world tour will follow in early June. Moreover, the band's future is set, thanks to an already-inked $30 million deal with Sony Music that takes effect two albums from now. (The band is currently signed to Geffen.)
But Perry couldn't care less about all that. For now, all he can think about is how much fun it's going to be to hit the road behind this album.
"I can't wait to play these songs live," he says, over the phone from his hometown of Boston. "It's like, when I sit around and think about all the [stuff] we've got to do -- more videos, stuff that doesn't have to do with playing -- I just know that in a month and a half, the only thing that I'll have to be worried about is playing 'Crying' on stage.
"It's going to be great, you know?"
It hasn't always been, however. In fact, there was a time about a decade ago when even die-hard Aerosmith fans wondered if the band would ever make it back in the saddle again.
In 1983, Aerosmith was a shambles. Despite having been one of the most influential and successful rock acts of the late '70s (only KISS loomed larger on the metal circuit), hard drugs and heavy touring had taken their toll.
Perry bailed out in 1979, and fellow guitarist Brad Whitford followed a year later, although their solo careers ended up just as stalled as the band itself. A reunion tour hit the road in '84, but was plagued by onstage fights and other problems. For a while, it seemed as if Aerosmith would never pull itself together.
But by 1986, the quintet -- cleaned up, straightened up and smartened up -- was on the comeback trail. And they've never looked back.
"You know, we got our muse taken away from us, and we found it again," says singer Steven Tyler. "And all that goes with that is what keeps it alive."
"You've got to love it, too," adds Perry. "If you get into it for the wrong reasons -- if you're just in it for the 'T and A' and the money -- eventually, you're going to get that. And then you're going to say, 'What am I in this for?'
"That's one of the things that we learned when we were at our low point in the early '80s. So now, we're in this to have a band, and to have the best band we can. It's not about, 'Well, I can do it without that guy.' That's not what it's about, man."
What it is about, say Tyler and Perry, is the Aerosmith groove. Unlike other hard rock outfits, which either bludgeon the beat or sink into simplistic boogie rhythms, there has always been something fairly funky about Aerosmith's sound. It isn't just that the group used to include James Brown tunes in its repertoire (check the version of "Mother Popcorn" on the 1978 album "Live Bootleg"); from such early hits as "Walk This Way" and "Same Old Song and Dance" to more recent material like "Love in an Elevator" and the current "Livin' on the Edge," Aerosmith's best work has always emphasized the band's ability to groove.
"I think the easiest thing for us to do is get a groove that cooks," says
Perry. "But the real trick is getting it so it sounds like it's the first time you heard it -- just put that one little twist on it so it sounds fresh and you want to hear it over and over again. That's the hard part."
"But we do write the songs, we don't just throw them together," adds Tyler. "There's some thought's going into it for each part and piece, so it's kind of tailored to do what you're hearing. I mean, we've got the groove, and then I have to come up with lyrics that kind of tie in with the groove. Like 'Eat the Rich,' for instance. I had a real hard time coming up with lyrics that matched the groovaciousness of that song. I waited and I waited -- it took me about a year."
Tyler and Perry admit that they didn't follow their usual writing routine while working on "Get a Grip." But they deny reports that Geffen had rejected an early version of the album, asking that the band come up with more hit-oriented material.