Steven Tyler Q&A: On Making 'Noise in My Head,' Aerosmith & 'Idol,' Johnny Depp & More
There's reason for his ebullience, of course; besides his stint as an "American Idol" judge that's given the world a kinder, gentler but still emotive version of the famously frenetic and kinetic Aerosmith frontman, Tyler has published his autobiography, "Does The Noise in My Head Bother You?: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir," a candid account of his life that mixes narratives from the childhood of Yonkers-born Steven Tallarico to the present day. There are discourses on drugs, band dynamics, show-biz egoism and personal relationships, as well as some axe-grinding towards bandmates and business associates.
Written in the same kind of energetic, ping-ponging style as Tyler's conversation, or his singing, for that matter -- "Hey, I never said this was gonna be a completely linear read," he writes at one point -- "Does the Noise" comes into the world of best-selling rock book by Keith Richards, Sammy Hagar and Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx and gives vent to a story that was just one-fifth of 1997's "Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith."
It's also given Tyler a chance to not only walk down memory lane but also talk to Billboard.com about his "Idol" experience, his new solo single "(It) Feels So Good" and the typically tumultuous state of his band.
Billboard.com: Why release a book?
Steven Tyler: That reminds me of Groucho (Marx): "Why a duck!" (laughs). So why a book? I've got so much to talk about and let people know what's going on and what the life has been like for the last 40 years of Aerosmith -- and how possibly, pray tell, does someone wind up like you, Steven? If I've heard it once, I've heard it a million times. So why not a little tip of the hat to what's going on and my kids and growing up as I did, and share with the world pictures of my mother and father? Why not share with the world the way it is and tell them my feelings about my cat, and how I played with my kids, and how addicted to Christmas time I am, and the smell of pine needles and hearing my kids laugh. I don't think people know that side. They just read about the greasy, grimy gopher guts side of Aerosmith.
You, of course, wrote a lot of that in "Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith" in 1997. What was different about doing your own book?
Well, the "Walk This Way" book was very much edited by Tim Collins, the manager at the time. It was kind of the same stories told by five different guys. And I love the book. It's good. But there are all of the other questions I've been asked...Like when the band broke up (in 1979). What really happened? Was it really over spilt milk like it was in "Walk This Way" or, as I put in my book, was it because it was a bad time for the band in general? There's so much that goes on in my world, the guy that writes the lyrics, that guy that has the melody in his head, and where does all that come from. I got a chance to tell a story about my father, and about (daughters) Liv and Mia and about (ex-wife) Cyrinda, who passed away and how integral she was... It's just a different take on everything.
What surprised you the most as you were writing it?
You know, I never realized how much I really love my band, and it's been a fight between band, and marriage and the band lifestyle and the family lifestyle. It's been a real hard juggle to make all those work, to make a marriage work around touring and albums, finding enough love to give to the band, to give to my songs and finding enough time for love for the children. When you're sitting down reading them a story at night, it's important. When I'm actually putting pen to paper and writing songs is important. When I'm actually spending time with my dad, that's important. And juggling all those together... it's been a struggle, and writing this book made me realize how hard it all was and why I maybe reached out to substances, for a drink, to make me feel good at the end of the day. I wouldn't have traded anything. Any one of those things where I thought, "Oh no, I can't do it," when I did do it, it made me stronger, and then I came out the other end and went, "Jeez, maybe it wasn't so bad." It was, but...
You don't seem to pull too many punches about your relationship with Aerosmith in the book. There's love, but there's plenty of the animosity, too.
It's one of the most dysfunctional bands on the planet, yet we've kept together. Why? That's the question -- why? -- and my book tells it. I wanted the world to know, yes, I fight with Joe Perry, but when we get together in a room we write songs that have greased generations. "Walk This Way," "Sweet Emotion," "Dream On," "Jaded"... there's magic there. And I hope the book pushes a few buttons in the band and jump-starts some maybe lying, dormant enthusiasm. The funny thing about the band is when we're on stage, we're different animals. We're right back to the same people we were when we were in the studio writing. It's like the five right keys that opened the lock of what-it-is-ness.
You go to great pains in the book to explain what happened when you fell off the stage in 2009, and everything that happened in its wake. Why was that important to do?
I felt bad. I was sitting in rehab thinking that the world thinks I'm a... I wanted America to know that I didn't just go off on my own somewhere and buy some street drugs. There really was a story behind it. My feet have been my best friend for the last 40 years. I've just been a dancing fool on stage, and after awhile you just kind of wear them out. So I had Morton's neuroma and got operations, and it was hard to walk on the scars from the operations and the reconstructive bones in my feet, and I got caught up in the pharmaceutical drugs the doctors gave me. But, y'know what? I didn't tell the world about that. And I don't mean to minimize the fact I have an addictive personality and I got in trouble again. I did, and shame on me for that. But the world knows I'm a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. It's a daily process, and I've got to keep my eyes open. I don't want it to bite me in the ass. I've got to be careful.
And with the [Aerosmith] guys, there was a time there when for the sake of tour and money, they didn't come to my side. I needed them the most at that time, and I just wanted to tell the world that sometimes when we need the ones we love the most, they're just not there and what that did to me and how that made me feel? Are they really fucks? Are they really what I said in the book? No. I was talking about a time. They've all apologized. They've all said they were going through their own stuff, and they've told me why and I've accepted it. I just accept who they are now, and it's a little easier to accept the behavior of a dysfunctional band when I'm sober than when I'm taking drugs for pain management for my feet.
America, meanwhile, has accepted you in an entirely different way via "American Idol." How are you feeling about the show now?
Being in a band and with Aerosmith, you're kind of depicted as Peck's bad boy. They love the bad boy, the bad boys of Boston. Everybody's intrigued by the badness of it all -- and I am, too. That's why I'm in a rock band! (laughs) I think what's happened with "Idol," is that the world sees that other side of me that I don't show as that ominous rock star thing. After I came out of Betty Ford, I just took a risk with ["Idol"] as something to do while the band was on hiatus. Some of the magazines, Rolling Stone and People, say that I was teaching the band a lesson. Well, Aerosmith's too big to teach a lesson, anyway. We are what we are, and nothing's ever gonna dwarf what we've done for 40 years. But I took "Idol" and I don't have to walk around on my poor, sore feet... and I get to sit next to J.Lo and Randy and yack it up and then give my two cents. It's a beautiful thing.
This particular judges' panel has been very kind and positive with the contestants -- and some feel too soft. What's your take?
Y'know, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. I think that it's good vaudeville to shame someone and put 'em down. The audience loves it. But it's another thing to, if someone's really trying to be the "American Idol" and they're taking it seriously, to give them words of encouragement. I know J.Lo does it very well, and I think it's because of her street and her children, and I certainly do it from my family and my kids and from how I grew up and lessons learned. It doesn't feel good when you're put down, and especially for no uncertain reason. You don't tell someone you don't like them because of the song they're singing, you know? Well, that's what the other guy did, on several occasions. It's good TV. I get that... I came into this thing scared that maybe that wouldn't work because what they did before, Simon and that type of company, worked so well. But then I thought maybe nurturing... could be the new black. Maybe compassion could be the new black instead of black being the new black, y'know?
Will Aerosmith perform on "Idol?"
Oh yeah, we're playing the last show of the season. When I came on board, of course they were talking about, "Are you going to sing with the contestants?" I said I'll do a song, sure, but it was always my intention, always, to get Aersomith on the show. I mean, Joe's done it. I'm ready for it. I would love to play with Aerosmith.
What's the next step on the album you started working on earlier this year?
Well, I sent Joe a bunch of songs and he sent me a bunch of licks. We've e-mailed back and forth with each other. All I need is a few good licks; that's the way "Walk This Way" was written, one of Joe Perry's licks, (sings) and I grabbed the ball and ran with it, and that's all it takes sometimes. We're getting together for my father's birthday -- he'll be 95 -- in May and I'm gonna have a band meeting at which time we're gonna settle a lot of the tumult that's been going on in the last year between lawyers and managers... As John Lennon said, time for a new broom to sweep things clean, dahling!
Sometimes other people try to keep us apart, so it's a little difficult. I'm with different management. They're with different management, they've got their lawyers. I've got my lawyers. When we get together in a room, magic happens. Things get settled. It's just hard right now, but who knows what this summer will bring. We're in the middle of an album cycle. We may go out and do some shows, and we're already booked for November-December, South America and Japan. So who knows, man.
Meanwhile, you have your own song coming out, "(It) Feels So Good." What's the story there?
It's a song I wrote with Marti Frederiksen about a year ago. He wrote the music and I listened to it and said, "Oh my God, this song needs to get finished." So I went down by the pool at the Sunset Marquis and I wrote all the lyrics and the melody in about two hours. It's such a good-time song. I think it's what America needs right now, just putting the roof down in your car on your way to the beach. I wanted to give it away free with the book, but Sony saw it differently. (laughs)
Would you still like to do a solo album at some point?
Oh, sure -- and I will. With [the single] I just wanted to do something on my own that I didn't have to filter through the band. I just wanted to see what I could do wtih my own songs -- God knows Joe Perry did it enough times. And I'll do more. I've just fallen in love with the oboe and a cello recently. I was fooling around in my studio, and I wrote a song on the oboe and the cello and my Fender 12-string through a real small Marshall amp. Those three things are killing me right now. They just speak to me.
Last question; who would play Steven Tyler in a hypothetical movie version of "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?"
Oh, probably Johnny Depp. I've been hanging out with him lately; we're planning on writing a song together. He asked me, he said, "I want you to come over" -- he's got a studio here in L.A. -- "and see if I'm playing 'Seasons of Wither' right." I said, "Y'know what, Johnny? No matter how you play it, it's gonna be right. It's a beautiful thing."