As far as iconic men of rock go, is there anyone who really elevates themselves above Steven Tyler? The singer, songwriter, musician and actor has made a career out of the sorts of excesses that we expect of our music men, yet always with a swagger of style, substance and panache on his way to melodic and masterful anthems that unite generations.
With Aerosmith now a solitary year away from half a century together as a band – albeit with some significant breaks in between – Tyler talks about the early days, anthemic material, growing up, and how he sees his own personal evolution, as a musician and, more notably, as a person.
RSNG Perhaps the most iconic, ground-breaking track in the history of Aerosmith was Walk This Way. Where did the idea come from?
STEVEN TYLER, FRONTMAN OF AEROSMITH ‘We were approached by Rick Rubin who was Run DMC’s producer, and the band looked at each other and said: “Why not?” It took two days and we just happened to have those two days off and we flew to New York and we did 24 hours in two days.’
RSNG When was the video done?
ST ‘It was done about a month before the song was released and we were on the road at the time. We didn’t know that we were going to do it and there was only Joe Perry and I in the video because it was last minute. Like I said, it was in the middle of a tour.’
‘We all know the route behind bullying is that bullies are very often just passing it on’
RSNG What was the funniest thing that happened when putting the video together?
ST ‘Well for me, they cut a hole in the wall and the wall was no more than about 12 inches thick, if that. On one side of that wall there was Run DMC and on the other side was I, Joe, Joe’s wife and my lady at the time.’
‘They were rapping and I was supposed to smash the wall with the mic stand and of course, they have cut the hole in it to make it easy. So, what they did was put the piece back in the wall, painted it back up and put these heat lamps up against it. What they didn’t know was that it was made of plaster.’
‘When they painted it, it made it get real hard and it made it a regular wall again. So, when I went to try and smash it down, it didn’t budge, and I was trying my hardest to break it. I actually hit it about nine or 10 times before it actually broke through.’
‘It just worked so well, white breaking into black and just “…let them in…” because who gives a you-know-what about colour when it comes to the music. You know, the song just broke down the walls between black and white in music and gave us a whole new career.’
RSNG You’ve spoken in the past about being bullied when growing up in the Bronx?
ST ‘I have and I’m always keen to speak about it because it should give hope and belief to anyone going through that, in the sense that as much as it’s difficult to believe when you are a kid, what defines you as a person is what you feel in yourself, not how others judge you.’
‘I had some rough times growing up because, y’know, I wasn’t conventional. I looked different and I acted different, but the older I got the more that became a reason to like me, not dislike me. And we all know the route behind bullying is that the bullies are very often just passing it on.’
‘I think once you get your head around that you realise it’s a waste of time being intimidated by these people. It’s best to answer them long-term. I have done that; anyone else can too.’
RSNG Does what happened still make you angry?
ST ‘No – bullies mean nothing to me, and even at the time I didn’t think much of them. I just wanted to stay away from them. I never held them in any regard, and I wasn’t afraid of them. They were just a nuisance in my life… not for long, just a while.’
RSNG Do you remember success when it first struck?
ST ‘I do, and it was wonderful. I was 26 when I thought: “Oh my God.” I remember walking down the street and a girl came up to Joe Perry and asked him for his autograph. I laughed so hard and I went: “Really? Right now?” Haha!’
‘But I realised at that moment that he – and we – were like: “Look out pretty momma. Here we come!”’
‘I suffer from something I like to call LSD or Lead Singers Disease’
RSNG Your song Love in an Elevator… you claim that that actually happened?
ST ‘Claim? What? Haven’t you done that? Haha!’
‘Yeah, you know, this hotel had a hot tub on the roof, and we put on our bathing suits and got into the elevator and one thing led to another. The door opened and we looked at one another and went: “What?!” Haha! And there were four or five people waiting to get in and I said: “I don’t think so!”
RSNG How is the relationship between you and Joe Perry at the moment?
ST ‘We have had and will always have an infectious and slightly toxic relationship – that’s why we’re called the Toxic Twins.’
‘Where love and hate collide – that’s us all over. I guess we have brought at lot of it on ourselves, but ultimately we know the way we are means we get the best out of each other. Neither of us would be where we are without the other person.’
RSNG Were you a good person to be married to?
ST ‘I wanted the dream. I knew that I could get anything as long as I imagined it. I saw a picket fence, the lake… just all of it. When I brought my first wife to this house where I still live, Sarinder, it was a freezing cold January and I brought her out here in the Jeep.’
‘The lake was frozen and pulled up, the lights were out, and the moon was shining brightly above. I drove all the way out here and I said to her: “Close your eyes…” and I turned the lights on in the car and said: “Here’s the house.”
‘I married her and we had Mia and, you know, I abandoned them. I left them up here in the house and I am not the happiest person about that. I talk to them about it a lot and I really still haven’t forgiven myself for it, I’m a realist. I know what I did regardless of whether I was on drugs a lot.’
‘People have told me. That’s okay. I hear them, I get it. But a piece of me, my heart is still broken that I did that to her. I think that’s why I am so shameful about it because the me that is me that you are talking to right now, knows better.’
‘I went on tour and stayed on tour and I wasn’t getting along with her mom and it was like I was saying: “F*ck this, I’m not doing it.” It was so wrong, and I once thought that thinking that was so cool.’
RSNG So, how is life treating you nowadays?
ST ‘Well, I suffer from something I like to call LSD, which is Lead Singers Disease. I don’t know if that means I am full of myself or full of others. All of a sudden, I saw it, I owned it and then I become it. Some call it confidence or ego and that’s all fine, but you have to know how to put it out there.’
‘It’s not a bad thing and when I went to a rehab about six or seven years ago, they said: “You got to be careful with your grandiosity.” And I was like: “Really?” That made me who I am today!’
‘But seriously, it’s been a magical journey with major ups and downs, arguments with the band, breaking up with the band, going to rehab, drug addiction, babies born, children growing up, families. It’s like a marriage where you break up and then fall in love again.’
RSNG You’re back on the road – does it ever get tiring?
ST ‘Never. For me it is all about respect. People are willing to put their money down, come out and join the party, travelling for hundreds of miles in the process.’
‘The commitment to the band and the shared appreciation we have for music is something that can never be understated or unappreciated. The truth is these people who come to see us are my lifeblood… not financially, but in giving me the confidence, the heart and the stamina to keep going.’
‘I hear a lot of musicians say they only make music for themselves, and if someone else likes it then that’s an added bonus. I say that’s a lie! Once a band is established they become the servants of music for their fans, and everyone has always been desperate to please those listeners because we value them so much.’
‘So touring is just an extension of that, and for that reason I will never tire of going out on the road and putting on a show.’
WHAT NEXT? That iconic Walk This Way video, the track that fused hip-hop and rock for the first time.