After strutting onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry during Eric Paslay's performance last week and teasing his upcoming country album, Steven Tyler has made it official. Rolling Stone Country can exclusively confirm that the Aerosmith frontman has signed a deal with Dot Records, the legendary label that Scott Borchetta and his Big Machine Label Group revived last year, to release his debut solo album.
While no specific release date or title has been announced, the album, set for release later this year, will feature songs that Tyler has already been writing and recording in Nashville over the past few months. So far he's collaborated with writers like Paslay, Hillary Lindsey, Cary Barlowe and the Cadillac Three's Jaren Johnston.
"There was an immediate connection with Scott and Big Machine, and Nashville seems like the perfect segue for a solo project. . . and Dot Records is the right fit. My earliest influences put me somewhere between the Everly Brothers and the Carter Family, and this project is all about me paying homage to my country roots," Tyler says. "I've been working with some fucking epic Nashville songwriters, getting my feet wet with the style and groove."
"He sent me a text the other night. It said, 'Just wait until we get that big fish on the line!" He's wanting to write that big song," Johnston tells Rolling Stone Country. He predicts Tyler's album will straddle the line between the anthemic sound of today's country and the organic adventures of fellow rocker-turned-Nashville cat Robert Plant.
"It's going to be in the middle of what Robert Plant has done with T Bone [Burnett] and Buddy Miller — that kind of scene. But I think with Dot being involved, and Scott, who has that ear for radio, it can be really big, but still be really cool," he says. "The way country is going, half of the things Carrie [Underwood] is doing, like 'Something in the Water,' he'd sing the hell out of."
Songwriter Cary Barlowe echoes Johnston's thoughts. He and his brother Nathan, along with Barlowe's fiancée Hillary Lindsey, have already written two songs with Tyler. Barlowe describes one as "an old classic Aerosmith love ballad," with him playing acoustic guitar and mandolin, and Tyler on piano.
"Everything he sings is going to sound a little like Aerosmith, because he's the voice. But he's been talking about how he wants some of it to be organic," says Barlowe. "It's obviously not going to be traditional country or old-school country sounding, but he does want mandolin and a banjo in there, to change it up."
The second song they wrote with Tyler is on the more rocking side, driven by a cigar-box guitar the 67-year-old singer brought to the studio. "He said Johnny Depp had given it to him. I was like, 'I have to play that thing,'" says Barlowe.
It's interesting to note that Tyler, a vocalist synonymous with rock, has chosen the country genre in which to spread his wings. Joe Perry, his longtime guitar foil in the Boston band, has already released two solo albums, as well as his work with the Joe Perry Project, but the Big Machine release marks Tyler's first ever solo album. "I think country is the new rock & roll," he told Rolling Stone Country at last year's CMA Awards. "I grew up in the woods of New Hampshire. . . I have more country in me than people think."
Looking back over Aerosmith's catalog, there are hints that back up Tyler's claim. On 2012's Music From Another Dimension!, Tyler duetted with Carrie Underwood on the country-flavored ballad "Can't Stop Lovin' You." And had they been released today, songs like "What It Takes," off 1989's Pump, and Cryin'," from 1993's Get a Grip, would vie for country radio airplay. Even "Janie's Got a Gun," although a rock staple, follows in country's grand tradition of the story-song — and one about murder at that. But it may be Aerosmith's most polarizing song, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," that best connects the dots. Written by pop master Diane Warren, it's a monster of a power ballad — and one that would be right at home on an album by Tyler's new Big Machine labelmates, Rascal Flatts.
For his solo album, however, Tyler is open to taking risks.
"He's looking for out-of-the-box people [to write with,]" says Johnston. "I think he's going for something extremely real."