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Steven Tyler on Debt to Joe Perry, Aerosmith’s ‘Female Energy’

Singer talks money, leadership and why fame is like “getting pecked to death by chickens”.

Singer talks money, leadership and why fame is like "getting pecked to death by chickens".

After fronting Aerosmith on the road last year, Steven Tyler is currently focused on other pursuits. As the famously flamboyant frontman gears up for the release of his solo country debut, we caught up with him to discuss the secret behind Aerosmith’s longevity, the coolest car he owns and why he and Dave Grohl are “birds of a feather.”

What are the best and worst parts of success?
I’m one of those few people that loves notoriety. I love being loved by people that love the songs that my band loved enough to record. Now, the other side is everybody’s got a camera attached to their iPhone, so you can’t go anywhere without a picture. I have a great T-shirt that says GO FUCK YOUR SELFIE that I walk through airports with.

It sounds like some of the time you hate it.
It depends on how you wake up in the morning. Sometimes, you’re in the gym at 7:30 in the morning, and you haven’t had your coffee and everyone you meet is like, “Oh, my God!” It’s like getting pecked to death by chickens. But then I have moments that I’m so grateful that some nine-year-old kid comes over and says they loved the Skittles halftime commercial at the Super Bowl, or some 40-year-old got married to “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

You’ve fronted a band full of strong personalities for some 45 years now. What has that taught you about leadership?
Unless you’re a general in an army full of foot soldiers, you can only guide by example. In the beginning, [Aerosmith] was just about smoking a lot of weed and trying to wake someone up [with our music], and a lot of fighting amongst the boys’ club. But they’ve taught me a lot. And staying together for 40 years has been one of the biggest joys of all. Because how many bands have fallen by the wayside?

It seems like the five of you have realised that the forces pulling you together are stronger than those pulling you apart.
Well said, my good man. One of the biggest things we’ve all learned is, “I can’t do this alone.” I could never be the guy you’re talking to if it wasn’t for the five of us sitting in the kitchen in a barn up in Lake Sunapee, the summer of ’71, deciding to move to Boston. No matter what he has said recently about jealousy, I couldn’t be here making this [solo country album] if it wasn’t for Joe Perry. It’s a catch-22, but if you slow down enough, you get to see it.

What do you now understand about money that you didn’t 40 years ago?
I wouldn’t want my kids to hear this, but I never did worry about money, until I found out that accountants and managers and lawyers and heads of record labels had stolen nearly all of it from us. I just thought, “Man, if I could write a song like the Kinks did, like Janis Joplin, like the Beatles, and I had a brother to do it with — Joe Perry — then the rest will follow.” And by the grace of God, we’ve gotten that. Nowadays, we walk around with accountants and lawyers, because once you make it huge, the vultures start circling. One of the secrets of this business is if you want to survive, you have to study the ways of the wicked. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. All of that stuff is very true.

Who are your heroes?
There’s so many, but really anyone that survived trauma. People like Dave Grohl. He could have gone the way of the rest of Nirvana, but he came out from behind the drums and became a guitar-playing lead singer. The two of us are birds of a feather. You won’t meet two more country, down-to-earth, help-my-wife-make-the-pie type of people than myself and David.

What music still touches you?
Anything with a real strong harmony, like the Everly Brothers. I am a fan of everything from The Uplift Mofo Party Plan [by Red Hot Chili Peppers] to Hendrix to Zeppelin to anything that Flea or Tom Morello plays on.

“I just finished The Story of My Life, by Casanova. …He was me in another era, half-man, half-woman.”

What is the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
That would have to be my [Hennessey] Venom [GT sports car]. It’s a 1,200-horsepower car, and it looks so futuristic. I had them make me a convertible. You feel like you want to just drive off into the desert and never come back. It goes zero to 270 in, I think, 12 seconds. It’s like a fucking time machine.

What was your favourite book as a child?
My mom used to read me The Jungle Book every night before I went to bed. That kind of put me in a direction of writing my own stuff, and learning how to pretend. Also, Little Black Sambo. The part where he runs around the palm tree so much the tiger turned into butter and he put it on his pancakes? That kind of shit is too much, man.

What books are you reading now?
I just finished The Story of My Life, by Casanova. I fucking loved that. He was me in another era, half-man, half-woman.

What do you mean by that?
Well, you’ve listened to Aerosmith — there’s a lot of female energy in that. If you’re looking for me to tell you I’m coming out of the closet, I can’t. I’m just saying that with Paul McCartney, there’s a lot of female energy in his melody. And John Lennon, I would say, there’s more male energy. I kind of always felt that.

What rules do you live by?
You are what you eat. Sleep with one eye open. Follow your dreams. There’s a lot of them. Also, people today are dying slowly. They’re either on the Internet too much and they lose their job, or they’re fucking eating too much. All that stuff is going to take you down. It’s as obvious as balls on a tall dog.