Global Bass Online August/September 2001
BY CHRISTOPHER BUTTNER
Several days before the interview ‘Back in the Saddle’
from ROCKS came on the radio and it gave me goose bumps.
This song has to be one of my all time favorite Aerosmith songs, if not
one of my all time favorite hard rock tunes.
“One of the most gratifying moments for me as a bassist
was figuring out the bassline to this song,” I tell Tom during our interview.
“That’s a bizarre one,” Tom says about his
contribution to the song. “Joe
Perry played six-string bass and I doubled his part on bass.
It’s a strange part, it’s got serious string skipping and even for me
it’s still a challenge to play well.”
It’s amazing that after a 30-year career in one of the
most successful rock bands in history, Tom Hamilton can remain so humble about
his playing and his position in music history.
But, during the course of our one hour and ten minute phone conversation,
Tom Hamilton, one half of the most powerful rhythm sections in all of Rock and
Roll, and the author of what is probably the most widely recognized, if not
greatest bass lines of all times, “Sweet Emotion”, revealed himself to be
probably the most thoughtful and well-spoken interviewee I have ever
“I have a tendency to analyze my musical playing style,
influences and musical education background quite a bit,” I tell Tom.
“I have to honestly say that when playing the bass was the most fun -
and where I have learned the most about groove and rhythm - was when I was
playing Aerosmith tunes in cover bands.”
Tom sounds sincerely taken a back and, after a brief pause,
simply states, “Wow… Thank you.”
Tom Hamilton’s bass parts are some of the most
interestingly creative, groove-oriented, monster ‘pocket’, yet stylistically
intricate, passages I have ever played on the instrument.
Six music teachers over ten years could not educate me more about feel,
style, composition and the basic enjoyment of playing the bass or being a part
of a rhythm section, then when I sat down and wood-shedded to, or performed,
songs from Aerosmith’s ‘Get Your Wings’, ‘Toys In The Attic’, and ‘
Therefore, I as continually analyzed my 29-year history
with the bass guitar, as the time grew closer to my telephone interview with
Tom, I became more and more nervous and anxious, slipping right back into
16-year old “fan mode”. Why the
hell was I getting so damn nervous? I’ve
been in the music business for over a decade and interviewed and met hundreds of
celebrities and pros, but I have not been this nervous since I, by accident, met
Robert Plant 15 years ago in an airport.
Phone Rings: “Hello,
Christopher, it’s Tom!” announces Tom Hamilton.
My office is like the Nixon White House.
I can hit a button on any one of three tape recorders, hooked into three
telephone lines and be recording a conversation before the caller even confirms
whom he is speaking to.
Each telephone line is interfaced with one of those little
‘mic line’ widgets you get from Radio Shack.
These are really cool little gizmos that allow you to plug into a
recorder and tape your phone conversations with a fair degree of intelligible
audio quality – keep in mind, they are made by Radio Shack, so ‘quality’
is a totally subjective term.
I use this system to record every damn important interview
and it’s never NOT worked before. In
fact, I made sure everything was ready thirty minutes prior to Tom’s call as I
sat at my desk saying, “Testing, one, two, three, Testing, one, two, three,”
into the phone and monitoring level checks on a $35 Sony micro cassette
recorder, as if I were taking level checks behind the desk of a massive 96
channel console at an actual Aerosmith recording session.
I’m instantly set upon by the technology demons; my Sony
micro cassette recorder fails to record the conversation.
This interview was arranged five days ago, the questions are all done,
the publicist was amazing pulling this together for me, it’s 9 a.m., I’ve
only had one cup of coffee, the recorder was working perfectly 20 minutes ago,
I’m on deadline to get this interview into article form in four days, and
CHRIST!!!! WHY IS THIS F**KING S**T
Tom starts to make small talk as I profusely apologize like
a mental patient. Why am I so damn
nervous I can’t even overcome minor technical difficulties thrown at me by a
microcassette recorder? I have
worked with some of the biggest names in the music business and I have never
been so nervous about an interview. It’s
at this point that I’m hitting a point of clarity that the man I'm speaking to
has probably been the single most significant musical influence in my life.
When that happens to a musician, you cannot not get nervous, and – for
lack of a better term – awestruck by the significance of the impact this
person, and his contribution to his band’s music, has made on you as a
During the conversational foreplay, as I fumble with the
recorder, I introduce Tom to the term “Gear Queer”. This comes about when we start to discuss technology, why it
fails, and how much we love it and keep indulging in the sickness of acquiring
more and more of it to – supposedly – make our lives easier.
“Do you ever read STUFF magazines?” asks Tom?
“I love STUFF! All
that cool gear. Do you get T3
Magazine? That’s another really
great ‘Gear Queer' magazine.”
Tom starts to laugh, “Gear Queer? (Laughs). That’s
great. I read STUFF magazine
because I’m a total Gearhead. I
just love toys. But, the last time
I read STUFF, when I got to the end of the magazine, I was thinking about all
the things that would be cool to have, and all the manuals that would come with
them. I realized that I would never
be able to get current on how to use all the stuff.
I’m the kind of guy, I buy a piece of equipment, I learn basically how
to use it, and then there is about three quarters of the manual I never get to,
because I go out and buy another piece of new equipment.”
I inquire, “Are you talking about everything from your
backline gear to your pedal boxes to what you have in your component rack in
your living room stereo system?”
“And the studio,” Tom deadpans. “Not to mention the computer my kids use.”
“I’m like that too.
I have to have the best of everything, from the Palm Pilot to the laptop
to the gizmo I just bought because it had the coolest blinking lights and it
serves no purpose except to look really cool.”
Tom segues, “I just had a tour of the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame yesterday.” (Author’s
note: Aerosmith was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).
“It was unbelievable. It
was really cool seeing the gear, the really historic guitars and amplifiers.”
Tom cracks up, “Yea!”
We get off on a tangent talking about the new Experience
Music Project in Seattle before we come back around to the conversation
with Tom stating, “They have a really amazing John Lennon exhibit at the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame. A whole room
full of his hand-written lyrics. They
even have the spectacles he was wearing when he was shot.
It’s quite moving because there are spots of his blood on the
I think, “Uh-oh… conversation getting heavy, change
subject.” And this is where I
say, “This morning, I realized it’s amazing how influential I consider you
to be. I believe I learned the most
about groove, foundation and style from copping all of your bass parts.”
“ I appreciate that. But you didn’t learn the mistakes!” Tom quips.
I laugh. “Mistakes
are the Mother of Education,” I point out.
“Ahhh, there are no mistakes,” Tom jokes.
The tape recorder comes to life and so begins my interview with Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton:
Define yourself as a musician. Do
you feel your style and contribution to Aerosmith is an influence on other
don’t really look at it as my style as a bass player is an influence.
I look at it as my role as a member of the band, the band’s music and
whatever influence I have on the way the band’s music sounds when it’s
recorded is one thing. But I think
our songs, and our music in general, is a big influence on people.
I think people probably get into the music and then boil it down into the
different parts. I never really
considered myself as a ‘bass player’s bass player’. I think I have always considered myself as a guitar player
and I’m just playing the bass guitar. I’ve
never been one to buy music or listen to music to check out the bass.
I have, and I do, periodically, but mostly I buy music for songs.
Then, if whatever the bass player is doing for the song intrigues me, I
might learn a few things as to what’s going on there.
One thing about me that has been a hole-in-my-knowledge over the years is
that when I was young and I was learning, I wasn’t learning bass parts
verbatim. A lot of people do, but I
always just learned the framework of the song and then put my own bass ideas in
there, trying to sort of sound like the basic style of the bass player from the
CB: While developing
your own style?
call it lazy or whatever, I just never sat down and learned a lot of bass parts
verbatim. Sometimes I wish I had.
But, at other times, learning parts verbatim might not have gotten me
more used to coming up with my own parts.
CB: Are you formally
trained as a musician or did you start playing on the guitar and gravitated to
I never had any formal training.
My older brother was a Ventures freak.
He used to play their records all over the house and then he learned how
to play guitar. I used to watch him
play his guitar in the living room and then he bought a new Stratocaster and a
Twin Reverb amplifier. When he
wasn’t home I would sneak into his room and turn the amplifier on and play.
I would turn that thing up to 6 or 7 and then I would get really scared
of how loud it would be. I would
then turn it off and cover my tracks. (Laughs).
He taught me my first chords and pointed me at music that he thought was
cool. I quickly developed a good
strumming hand - a strong right wrist. The
family then moved to a little town in New Hampshire and I wanted to be in a
band, but the only band in town that I was interested in being a member of
didn’t need any more guitar players, they needed a bass player and they
happened to have a bass. So, I
tried it out and got hooked that way. So,
I didn’t start out wanting to be a bass player, I wanted to be a guitar player
and got channeled into the bass by necessity.
CB: When you picked up
the bass, was that when the passion for the instrument kicked in?
I heard what the bass guitar does the music when you have that low-end
you can feel. I never considered
myself as someone who switched from guitar to the bass, I just think of myself
as a guitarist who is playing the bass. As
the years went on, I started to seek out more training on the bass and I have
taken lessons from a number of different people. I always feel I need more theory and ear training and I’ve
done a lot of ear training because I don’t have a naturally good ear.
Whatever I accomplish in that direction, I essentially have to force out
of myself. But there are some good
music and ear training materials out there - really good computer programs and
taped ear training programs that are advertised in the back of the music and
CB: I bought that
PERFECT PITCH program a few years ago. It
CB: It’s the worst.
ridiculous!! That guy used to
advertise a Relative Pitch training course that I did buy and it was excellent.
Really, really great!
CB: There is a Relative
Pitch course as opposed to the PERFECT PITCH course?
I bought the PERFECT PITCH course a few years ago and I was three or more
tapes into the course when the taped instructor says something along the lines
of, ‘Just keep listening to notes and don’t worry, you’ll eventually be
able to differentiate the different ‘colors’ of the notes.’
I was so disappointed. I
sent it back and got my money refunded. That
program is really ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ - there is nothing there.
kidding! They obviously realized
that they can sell more programs by making people believe they can get Perfect
Pitch from the program then what people really need, which is Relative Pitch.
It’s too bad because the Relative Pitch course was really excellent,
thorough and detailed. But, there
are really great computer courses out there for ear training, you just have to
find what works best for you.
Our conversation quickly, but briefly, digresses to “Gear
Queer-Speak” when the connection is interrupted by someone – or something
– dialing on the same telephone line. This
happens twice; several seconds apart and then we hear a loud squeal on the line.
CB: Sorry, Tom.
We were talking about gear before, well, that sound is my TiVo
automatically dialing into the server to download programming. It just happens to be on the same phone line.
(Laughs) Oh, wow. I have got to get with that.
That’s a cool toy.
CB: Intensive manual.
(I quip, segueing into the next question), Aerosmith has enjoyed an
illustrious 30-year career and the group has recently been inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so at this stage of the game, what still turns you
on about playing the instrument?
TOM: Over the course of the last year, year and a half, I have experienced this total reconnection with my relationship with music. Being in a band like this, your instrument is a facet of what you do, but you have to get good at a lot of other stuff. Like the politics of being in a band and being a band member. Nobody has really written a book about being band member. But, it’s something you have to learn if you want to be doing this for a long time.
CB: Would you define
Aerosmith, at this stage of the game, as more of an industry and the five of you
are the Board of Directors?
really, no. We’re still the R
& D Department.
CB: Great analogy, I
the ones on-stage. It’s so great to be up there and just really realize that
everything you have to go through recording an album, where you really try to
stretch, you really try to get something new out of yourself, but when we’re
on-stage playing a show… that’s the real thing we do. It’s just very simple; go out and play the songs.
That’s ‘home plate’ for us.
CB: So with all the
politics, is it a catharsis just to be on-stage for that emotional release of
playing for 20,000 fans that have supported you for so long?
a way, it’s like going to Church. You’re
in this room with 20,000 people, who are all there for the same thing.
When you have that many people gathered together in one place, there is
something happening that is over and above the normal human experience.
It can go into the negative and it can be a mob or it can go into the
positive and it can be a transcendent experience for everyone.
CB: The ‘mob
mentality’ is interesting the way it can go from absolutely terrifying or
absolutely spiritual and uplifting.
intense either way. When I think about these people, the gas they had to put in
their cars, the distance they had to drive to the show, to park, to walk, get
into the arena, find their seats... it’s a big effort to go to a concert.
People make an incredible effort to come see us perform live.
We have these lights called Mole
Lights we use to light up the audience. Over
the years, these lights have gotten to be so powerful and now we have them
mounted at the back of the arena, so when they go on the entire audience is lit
up at once. And it’s like looking
out at the ocean… it’s a humbling experience.
When this happens, I realize there is something bigger going on.
It doesn’t belong to the band and it doesn’t belong to the audience.
Just feeling the presence of whatever that energy is is what it’s about
for me. It’s extremely
gratifying, very. When we play at
these outdoor amphitheaters, way out in the country with one road in and one
road out, when we have to get to the airport we have to leave immediately after
the show. These shows are called
‘Runners.’ So, we’ll go from
being on-stage, right to the cars, driving down country roads in about the space
of a minute. It’s flipped out. You have a half hour drive to the airport down a country road
in the middle of the night with the moon in the sky and that’s when you can
CB: I understand the
way a lot of bands have to ‘bolt’ from the stage to the cars… if you
don’t you’re there until 3 a.m. stuck in traffic!
a rule, I hate leaving a show like that. I
love getting off-stage and being in that world with the band and crew… our
crew is like the most elite Green Berets. They
are so good and I like being on the stage when the lighting truss is coming down
and when they have it all half taken a part and I just like to say ‘Hi’ to
CB: Is there that
simple satisfaction of just acknowledging the fans?
I do! We
started doing ‘meet-and-greets’ in the mid-1980’s.
CB: It’s amazing how
many musicians really just don’t want to deal with the fans at all.
It’s, ‘get me to the show and get me out of there as soon as the
lights go down.’
I know. I just don’t get that.
I think they are really missing something.
When we started to get into the swing of the meet-and-greets, it’s a
real energizer to see these people, the fans.
You walk into a room and these people are all nervous because they are
about to meet the band. Their
enthusiasm for your band is peeking and you feel that when you’re in or around
the room signing autographs, and then you take that energy onto the stage.
CB: It must be very
gratifying to have a stranger say, ‘your music touched me; I’ve been with
you guys since the early days, etc.
A lot of times if I am listening to a song I have
always loved and if it’s just right for the way I am feeling for the moment, I
do get the feeling I wish I could just tell that performer, that’s a great
song, thanks. People have that need
to do that and… it’s weird. You
have to learn how to take the compliment, because you may feel that you were at
only 80% of what you needed to be when you recorded a specific song and then you
meet people who tell you that you’re 110%.
That’s a shot in the arm. Before
a show it puts you in a better mood to go out on-stage and live up to, not only
your expectations, but also the expectations of the fans.
CB: In terms of writing
a book about being in a band, is that something we could eventually see from Tom
think it’s something that applies to a lot more than being in a band.
Everybody has a group of people that they see on a daily basis, such as the
people they work with who are great and caring and then they’re the other
people who are just, basically, churning their ambition.
There are a lot of aspects I’d like to address about being a musician
that have never been addressed, like getting along… maybe I should start
taking notes… (Laughs).
I write a column for www.Aerosmith.com, I think I will address those
issues sometime soon.
CB: In terms of your
relationship with the other guys in Aerosmith, it’s not like the band has not
been without its ups and downs, how are things going these days?
Things appear to be going very strong.
How’s life in the R & D Department?
great. When you get out on the
road, you start to relax. It’s
not like making a record where you have to pull stuff out of thin air.
Everything is written, you have to really just get out there and do
justice to the music. The
relationships in the band are so intense, but, it’s as if you took all the
emotions and relationships and you put a compressor on them. (Laughs).
CB: So, when you’re
on tour, if you get into an argument, you can always say, ‘Lighten up guys,
we’re going into Church in a little while.’
CB: So, where do you
prefer to be as a musician? The
studio or on-stage or is it 50/50?
have to say it’s 50/50, which isn’t a really helpful answer.
Making a record, I’ll tell you, it’s really emotionally intense, and
sometimes it’s too intense. But,
there is something about going into the studio and putting the machine in
record. You can really measure
yourself that way. And, it’s scary sometimes.
Because, you feel like everyone else in the room is measuring you at the
CB: After all these
years, you feel exposed?
It’s a very vulnerable feeling. You
want to do justice to the song and show respect for whomever wrote it, but at
the same time you want to express yourself.
You have to find your way into the proportions of that. I think this happens to a lot of people in bands; maybe one
of the other guys will write a song and then another band member will think,
‘okay, now it’s my turn to just put whatever I think it is I want on
the song.’ There is a limit to
that, especially being a bass player. You’ve
got more basic things you have to handle.
All my life, with my playing, I have
tended to instead of just keeping it simple, I will become obsessed with all the
creative stuff I think I should be doing, the harmony, theory and melody bass.
Really… sometimes, you need to just put on the metronome and play the
rhythm on just one note. The bass is really just half a drummer and between the two of
you, the rhythm section is responsible for 50% of the style of the band.
CB: Then how much of
what you create in terms of your bass parts or contribution to the song is
created out of spontaneity, how much of it do you obsess and dwell over, and how
much is just a simple recommendation from Joe (Perry), Brad (Whitford), Steven
(Tyler) or Joey (Kramer)? Is there
a common denominator? Musical Magic
versus the politics and details of what’s best for the song and songwriter?
out those details is what comes first. Generally,
the more I have that nailed down, the more I improvise and just play off the top
of my head when we’re in the studio. Steven
(Tyler) has this great saying, ‘Learn an arrangement and learn it so Goddamn
good, you can just go and fuck it up, so that fucking it up results in the raw
genius of the moment.’ But first,
get the basics down. Sometimes
it’s really a relief to realize, what I need to be getting down is the groove
of that part instead of all that stuff that has to go on top of it.
CB: Establish the
emotion and then develop the mechanics and minutia of the part?
And I am having kind of a revelation with my playing.
I was practicing and drilling so much in my studio for this last album
that I screwed up my right elbow. Too
much sitting down practicing, kind of hunched over, looking at the fingerboard
with my right arm bent at a sharp angle. I
wound up getting tennis elbow in my right elbow, even though I play tennis
CB: I knew Stu Hamm and
Billy Sheehan, as well as other well-known bassists, have developed problems
with their shoulders from either standing too long while wearing the bass, there
are elbow related problems and, of course, wrist-related Carpal Tunnel
Syndrome-like, issues from over-slapping and over-popping.
Essentially, the problems are brought about by over-practicing.
I had to go to a doctor and had to go through physical therapy and this
is all in the context of having to get these songs recorded.
I suddenly realized how hard I used to play with my right hand.
And I then realized that, all my friggin’ life, I have thought of my
right hand as the answer to playing a groove.
I have completely de-emphasized the need to concentrate on my left hand.
So, here I was in a situation where I had no choice but to play extremely
lightly with my right hand. What
that did was show me how much work I needed to do with my left hand and how much
emphasis I needed to put on that. Once,
I started doing that, I noticed that my playing was advancing faster than
before. I realized, My God, all
these grooves and rhythms that I’ve always taken for granted, that I know how
to play and I am playing well, and… holy shit, I have only taken my left hand
work on some of these grooves to a certain point and then kind of abandoned that
for forcing the notes out with my right hand.
So, now I am totally dialed into my left hand and it’s amazing how
it’s focused the picture for me. Hey,
hold on a second, I have to go to the bathroom.
Tom puts the phone down and after I hear the toilet flush
there is a prolonged delay of about two minutes before he picks up the phone to
resume the conversation.
about that, I took a minute to order myself a club sandwich.
CB: Don’t worry about
it. Did you wash your hands?
TOM: (Laughing) Yea,
CB: I hope you didn’t
pee on the seat again, damn it.
I hope you weren’t looking.
Ya know, the toilet in my room has some bizarre device in it. A nozzle or something…
(I think, Here comes more “Gear Queer-Speak”, I can
feel it… I inquire - )
sure you’re not peeing into the bidet?
(Author’s note: Webster’s dictionary defines Bidet as, bi·det
(b-d), noun. French. A fixture similar
in design to a toilet that is straddled for bathing the genitals and the
No, but what it is… is, uh… In Japan, they have these toilets that have this
sprayer built into them. It’s a little mechanical thing where you push a button and
you’re sitting on top of Old Faithful.
CB: So, in Japan, the
toilets have the bidet function built-in?
All these years going to Japan, I’ve come to realize that we’re all
CB: Well, we’re a
couple of Gear Queers, so that should really turn us on.
TOM: (Laughing) It’s
not enough work learning my gear. I
have to re-learn the process of how to use the toilet?!
CB: Caller ID is
telling me you’re calling from a Ritz-Carlton, so you probably have the finest
in plumbing technology on the planet, in your room.
technology is catching on here in the States, finally… after all these years.
(Mockingly) I just wish I had more time I could
dedicate to appreciating it…
(I was going to suggest spending more time with the manual,
but instead asked…)
CB: Getting back to the
left hand/right hand topic, I had attended a clinic with Gary Willis of Tribal
my God, that guy is stunning, he’s scary.
CB: Gary has an amazing
playing technique, in terms that combined with his stage volume, according to
what he told the class, which is very loud, he plucks the strings very lightly
with the first three fingers on his right hand.
There a piece of wood affixed to the body of the instrument directly
underneath where his fingers meet the strings, so after he plucks the string,
his fingertip is on the wood and this design allows him a very fast right hand
own a bunch of Tribal Tech CDs.
CB: Gary could be an
incredible player to model in order to develop and improve upon your approach
and left hand/right hand technique. I
can’t think of a better bassist in the world to assist you in what you hope
gain from developing this new playing technique.
(Author’s note: check out www.garywillis.com
for lessons, MP3s, QuickTime Video, etc.)
took a couple of lessons from Gary about ten years ago.
I had gone to see him play a couple of times and I thought, this guy is a
surgeon and I am a friggin’ butcher. Hmmm…
I have to email him a ‘hello.’ Well,
this new technique has opened up new circuits of creativity that are kind of new
to me and I am just having an absolute blast playing the bass guitar in
Aerosmith right now.
CB: What are the
outside projects from Aerosmith? When
you’re not recording or touring, how much of your time is spent away from the
instrument or are you always practicing, playing or recording?
Do you ever just tune it all out and say, I don’t want to see the
inside of a studio or anything with four or five strings for several months?
TOM: I can honestly say that there wasn’t one second prior to the last album where I wasn’t thinking about or absorbed in music. If you want to do something like music and do it well, you can’t just do it for a few hours a day and then go off to do something else. You have to be so uncomfortably obsessed with it that you cannot stop thinking about it. There are consequences to that and for me I was in a constant state of searching myself to get my playing to improve. Therefore, I was less than 100% there for my family and the rest of my life, such as the other things that I love to do. So, I don’t know what the answer is to that. It’s like with writers. If you’re a writer and you’re awake, you’re always writing whether you have a pen in your hand or not. It’s the same thing with music. For instance, I would be up in my studio for four or five hours and suddenly I would realize that, wow, I have been sitting alone in this room playing the same song for five hours. That’s the insanity they talk about when describing the artistic life. It has all the earmarks of being unhealthy, - you’re isolating yourself, you’re obsessed, compulsive, and you’re repeating the same motions over and over again. I had a revelation of the dysfunction of it, but the absolute necessity of it. If you want to push yourself to get better, you have to be a little unhealthy about it.
CB: Be a little
but you have to be careful not to slip into the real stuff, the real OCD, so
that when you finally do come out of your studio, you’re not totally screwed
CB: Since Aerosmith has
been around for 30 years, do you ever get sick of playing certain tunes after
all these years? For instance, do
you ever say, if I have to play ‘Dream On’ one more time, I’m going to
puke? Do you redevelop and reinvent the bass lines from earlier
work to keep the songs exciting or have you reached a point where you can
honestly say, the bass parts and my contribution to the song are the best they
kind of a nightly thing. When I am on-stage, I am basically playing the same
fundamentals of the any given song. What
I definitely have noticed is how I fill little spaces where I can improvise.
That makes it a step ahead of what it’s always been.
When we play “Dream On’, the chorus is a very simple bass part, so I
will improvise on octaves and as long as I add an improvisation that’s
tasteful and adds to the feel of the song, that will just add to it.
‘Same Old Song and Dance,’ I do a
quasi-solo at the end of the song and I see how that has progressed with the new
awareness in my left hand. The most
important thing is, it’s a new audience every night.
There is a part of it that is beyond what you’re playing.
It’s about the communication you’re making with the audience.
When you start a song you know they all want to hear, the look of joy on
their faces… it’s like a conversation.
It’s like having the same conversation with a different entity every
night, so it’s always fresh. There are some songs where we need to give them a break for a
while. ‘Dude Looks Like a
Lady’, when you think about the lyrics, it’s just silly.
But the groove is awesome and the audience goes nuts when we play it.
We’ve been trying to be brave and not play it, but still play what we
know the audience is going to love and also play some things that they haven’t
heard yet. The song ‘Angel’s
Eye’ from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack is a great hard rock song, but
very few people in our audience have ever heard it or paid full attention to it.
So, instead of singing along or smiling away because they know the song,
they’re listening, they dancing, but overall they’re analyzing and trying to
figure out what this new thing is the band is playing.
You have to be there for that, and not worry about it, because the next
song you know they are going to love.
CB: I get the
impression that you have a pretty elaborate home studio.
tell ya’, my studio is off in my backyard and when I am doing that walk from
the house up there, I feel I am just about getting away with murder.
I get such a great feeling when I go to my studio, it’s really a
sanctuary for me. It’s not very
small, but it’s a small studio with a big Mackie analog 32*8 console in the
middle of the room and I probably don’t know a tenth of what it can do.
I have ProTools and I think I know a fifth, um, maybe an eighth of it, as
well as some nice outboard gear and awesome guitars and basses and a great
keyboard. It’s all surrounding me
and I feel I am completely plugged into my imagination. I do get completely road blocked from the technical stuff.
That’s not one of my strengths, figuring out how all of the technology
works. I’ve got other strengths,
but it’s hard for me to get everything to work and talk to each other.
CB: Playing a guitar is
very biological and tactile. You
touch the instrument and you get a sound. Has
all the technology become a hindrance to the creative process?
does, unless you know how to use it and then it’s just the opposite.
Something like ProTools will unlock a lot of creativity.
But, you know how to make everything talk to each other.
If you want to put together a simple MIDI drum part, I can sit and stare
at this stuff for hours and not get the gear to talk to each other.
In a way, I think we’re in a crude World War 1 era of technology,
because all of it is not user friendly, it’s all not easy enough, there
isn’t an industry standard for all this equipment that requires every piece of
technology to work together. When
you have a problem and you call tech support, the first thing tech support will
do is say to call the tech support department for the other piece of gear
because the fault lies therein. It’s
a vicious circle. Someday it
won’t be like that and we’ll all look back on these days as the era where
nobody really knew what all of the stuff was supposed to do yet.
I can’t wait for that day.
Overall, it’s getting better, but
for the most part all the technology is way too hard to be used together. Sometimes I will be up in my studio playing the bass without
an amp and I will think of something quick that I don’t want to forget, and by
the time everything is hooked up and on, I would have forgotten the basis of
what I was doing. My answer is to
go back to the way I used to do it 25-years ago, where I would just have a
little Pearlcorder or Boom Box nearby so I can just hit record.
They have to get the technology back to the Boom Box simplicity level.
CB: The latest
Aerosmith record, ‘Just Push Play’ was recorded and mixed in Joe Perry’s
but not mastered. We recorded just about the entire record at Joe’s house,
except for some of the drums.
CB: When you record at
home, are you then taking those tracks into the Aerosmith session and is your
work from your studio winding up directly on the Aerosmith record?
of it. Theoretically, I would have
recorded my bass parts in my studio and brought a hard drive of material and
tracks to Joe’s house, but I am still not enough of an engineer to where I can
do that better than the guys that we had working on the record.
Granted, the record was recorded at Joe’s home studio, but we had
proper engineers and experts doing this for us.
I am not to the point yet where the stuff that I record at my studio is
of the potential of what I can get at Joe’s studio.
But, it’s getting closer and closer.
None of my writing showed up on this record, but I did a lot of writing
and recording. Possibly because a
lot of it was not down the same road as the typical Aerosmith style, but the
stuff that I did record sounded pretty good.
The problem with me is mixing. I
don’t know how to mix. I can put
the reverb on the track and turn the bass up to where I want it in comparison to
the snare drum, etc., but the real details of knowing how to mix and arrange
stuff in the soundstage and frequency ranges is where I need work. I have basic song ideas that I have given to a friend of mine
to edit and mix, and I am waiting to see how that comes out.
I am definitely making a pile of my own stuff that, hopefully, someday
will see some light.
CB: So having your own
studio, has it streamlined the recording process when all five members of
Aerosmith get into the studio to cut a record?
think so. Not necessarily because
of the technology, it’s because you can be that much better prepared.
How confident you are determines what you can come up with in those
little spaces when you can let yourself shine.
CB: Do you have an
engineer who assists you in your home studio?
I do it myself. We actually have a
guy who was a pre-production assistant. He
is a friend of ours named Paul Santo, who is a brilliant musician.
He is one of those kids that just got that ‘bolt of lightning.’ He’s great on drums, guitar, piano, and he knows ProTools
and he helped Joey and I in preparing our bass and drum parts.
During the writing process, Steven and Joe, Marty Fredrickson and Mark
Hudson would record as they wrote. These
cool little demos would come out of it that they would send them around to the
rest of us, so we could prepare our take on it.
It was great. Paul would
come over and he would run ProTools and help me record my practicing so I could
hear what I was doing right and wrong. He
was not only able to run the ProTools for me, he’d be able to give me
suggestions that were essentially shortcuts to getting it all good.
It’s an important thing to find a mentor, a teacher or a guru, whatever
you want to refer to that person as. They’re
not necessarily teaching you stuff you couldn’t learn on your own, but they
shorten the process, highlighting and pointing things out that you might not see
for six months or six years. I
recommend to anyone who is playing an instrument, find someone who is a guru.
I am just stopping short of saying, ‘take lessons’.
I think a lot of teachers will force you into a certain way of doing
things that you don’t want to do - a teacher sometimes does that.
You want a teacher that looks at what you do and sees that you could
potentially go in the right direction and then they just show you how to find it
CB: I know where
you’re coming from. From the time
I started playing at nine years old until I was nineteen, I had taken lessons
with six teachers and still sucked, I felt like I couldn’t learn a thing.
I sat down with a friend who is a very gifted bassist, and an all-around
great musician, and in an hour he taught me more then what six teachers over
nine years could instill in me. I’ve
always found many music teachers don’t inspire you, they just try to pound
boring stuff into your head. The
music teachers I always worked with were of the kind of personality where if you
ask them for the time, they tell you have to build a watch!
To finish that thought, you know how when you go to the doctor, you can
ask him all kinds of embarrassing questions that you would never even ask your
best friend? You get naked in front
of the doctor. So, whomever you get
for a mentor or a guru, you have to be able to let your defenses down and let
yourself just really be yourself at the point where you’re at with your
instrument. You don’t have to
worry about impressing anyone and not be ashamed of your abilities .
You have to let that mentor be the doctor.
If you have a musical hemorrhoid, he can help you with it.
CB: So, with all your
songs that are piling up waiting to see the light of day, do you anticipate an
outside project from Aerosmith?
totally saturated with what we have to do with what’s going on right now and
that’s fun. There will be a time,
after this tour or whatever, where we can let our concentration go to something
else. Right now, it’s 100%
CB: This tour goes onto
the end of 2001?
booked through to December 2001 and
then we go to Japan in January 2002 and then we’re going to decide what we
want to do after that. We might
take a couple of months off or we might just go right back out and continually
tour after Japan.
CB: In conclusion, do
you think Aerosmith will be going strong in five or ten years or will there be a
point where you agree it’s time to retire if you think you’re turning into a
parody of a Las Vegas Elvis Presley nightclub act?
TOM: Hmmm… going for the five year period, I am sure as long as - God willing - we’re all healthy and have not gone back into any destructive behaviors of the past, we’ll probably do gigs, maybe a summer tour, but we probably will not go out for two years. I’ve thought about it and it’s almost like this band really couldn’t break up if it wanted to. But the other side of that coin is we could break up tonight. Volatility could always come up and there could always be something that could make anyone of us march home and shut the door. The problem is, the phone would keep ringing. It would be somebody saying, ‘we want you to come and do a show in Thailand’. What do you say? No, I have to redo my sock drawer?
For Aerosmith tour dates and news from the road, written by Tom Hamilton, check www.Aerosmith.com, frequently.
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